It wasn’t until late March that I finally got the chance to finish the double exposures which began life on my makeshift kitchen table studio. By then the late winter darkness had started to open up to the beginnings of spring and a weak sun shone through the bare branches of my chosen location. I had nicknamed this place Mirkwood (the title I also gave to one of my Stag Skull pictures that began this series of work), not only as a nod to the dark woods of J R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but also to William Morris’s anglicised term for Myrkviðr the mythical black forest of Norse poetry. It’s a strange, sombre kind of place, tucked deep into the side of the dale and divided by a clattering moorland beck, while the high sided fells cut out most of the sun light. The ground has always been damp when I’ve visited, centuries of fallen leaves have turned the woodland floor into a marsh which sucks at your boots. The little direct daylight and the sodden ground has forced the trees to grow gnarled and twisted, hung with lichen and scarred by past winters, their knotted boughs creaking in the gentle breeze. The wood has proved inspiration for a number of my pictures and I never tire of the myriad of shapes the branches form, every corner provides something new, it really is a place that envelops you and takes you out of modern world.
As with the other pictures in the Dain Series I had taken multiple exposures in the studio to experiment with in the wood. So armed with four pre exposed film holders I spent the afternoon exploring the different contorted shapes of the ancient trees while all the time surrounded by the sounds of running water and early spring bird song. Hunting around the wood it didn’t take me long to find some possible backgrounds to compliment my fox, but one of the things I love most about this double exposure method is that no matter how much I try to envisage what my final picture will look like, it is not until the film is finally developed when I really know what I’ve managed to accomplish. But thankfully once again Mirkwood did not let me down and one of the negative compositions turned out just how I hoped.
Fox Wood. Fompan 100 5×4 sheet film. Double Exposed in Camera and then developed with Tanol 1-1-100, printed with Foma Liquid Silver Emulsion.
In my last post I spoke about the new Gallerina HQ opening it’s doors to the public and how I had pushed myself to create some new work for this special occasion. Well so far the response from the public for my latest pictures has been tremendous, it’s been so great it has inspired me to expirement more and see where it takes me.
One of the most daunting aspects of these multiple exposure pictures is choosing to work in a studio (as you can see it’s a very make shift one on my kitchen table) for the first time in a decade. It’s been a long time since I had to deal with the complications of lighting and I’d almost completely forgotten anything about compensating for extra bellows expansion or the dread Reciprocity Failure. The memories of my student days, and the boxes of beautiful Polaroid film I would waste, send shivers down my spine, trying to get my lighting and exposure right, it would cost me a fortune now!
But as an artist we should challenge ourselves, it can be so easy to stick to what you know, to follow the well worn path that you have created for yourself, mostly because it feels safe. Any artistic process involves putting a certain amount of your own emotions and personality into your creation, so there is always an irrational fear of it failing and being criticized, and you with it. But these fears are irrational, artistic expression will always be open to interpretation and we should fight against being stuck in that rut! Because that is often when we achieve something we are really proud of! Oh and I still haven’t remembered how to compensate for bellows expansion and Reciprocity Failure and I’m not sure I ever did, I think I may have always been working on intuition..
Happy Christmas everyone. There have been plenty of ups and downs this year, and though I would have liked to spend a lot more time in my darkroom (once again I have too many yet unprinted negatives) there have been few highlights for me.
Many of you may have seen that back in April I had my first ever article published in the brilliant Fallon’s Angler publication, well would you believe it, they liked it enough to publish another of my articles in issue 8!
Another highlight of my year has been Gallerina, the wonderful gallery that have represented and supported me for so many years, relocating to their brand new home at No 1 Victoria Road Darlington. Richard Gwen and Helen worked tirelessly to transform a tired and neglected old building into a warm and welcoming contemporary art space. So for this new setting I decided to try something a little different, push myself outside of my comfort zone and began work on a series of new pieces using multiple exposure techniques to combine traditional still life photography with my liquid emulsion landscapes and using this new process to explore more deeply the folklore and mythology connected to our landscape. More to follow…
So finally I would just like to say thank you to everyone for continuing to support my blog it really makes it all feel worth while. Merry Christmas to you all and a happy New Year!
Many of you may not know but photography is not my only passion, I have another which has sometimes kept me away from the darkroom when I should have been working and sometimes away from my bed when I should have been sleeping, and that is the gentle art of fishing. So I was over the moon when I was given the opportunity to combine my two passions and create an article for the wonderful fishing journal Fallon’s Angler. I had a fantastic time exploring some of my favourite rivers with my 5×4 camera and a fishing rod while trying to capture some of the essence of being on the bankside and fond memories of fishing with my grandfather.
If you want to find out more and maybe purchase a copy to read for yourself please follow this link
It’s been a harsh winter so far with days and days of high winds and rain battering the North of Engalnd and Scotland. Rivers have been bursting their banks and destroying bridges roads and worst of all people’s homes. Like usual I have fallen behind with my blog posts but back in November before the worst of the weather hit I visited the Low Barns Nature Reserve which is run by the Durham Wildlife Trust with the aim of testing out some more expired Polaroid Type 665 a photographer friend had sent me from Sweden. The reserve is nestled in a broad bend of the River Wear and it’s made up of a fantastic landscape of deciduous woodland and reed fringed lakes and ponds, perfect environment for wildlife of all kinds. A brief gap in the weather meant I had chance to explore. By all the flotsam spread in amongst the trees along the river bank it was obvious it had only just started to fall back but it was still very high and was running the colour of strong tea. I slowly worked my way upstream finally reaching the remains of an old ford which had become a torrent of churning water. It provided the perfect subject matter to sum up the weeks weather.
The pack of Polariod worked perfectly producing a lovely fine grain negative full of beauiful tones, starting to really get rehooked on this expired Polariod malarky sadly some stocks are becoming harder and harder to find!
It was a great afternoon spent in a wonderful place but this was only the beginning of the wet weather and soon Cumbria, Yorkshire and now Galloway in the South West of Scoltand were being hit with massive floods, very sadly causing wide spread destruction to some of our most beautiful towns and villages forcing people from their homes.
If you have ever driven across the A66 motorway as it crosses over the wide expanse of fell and moorland between Bowes and Brough called Stainmore you may have noticed a black metal sign standing a short distance below the road. The sign is a replica of one which stood beside a train line that once past by here and simply reads “Stainmore Summit. Height 1370 Feet” this is the highest summit of any railway track in England and was an engineering feat of it’s age. But like so many of these rural lines “The South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway” didn’t survie the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s and the last train to pass this point was on the 5th of April 1965.
The Stainmore line has interested me for a while and few years ago I visited it not far from the summit sign and the photographs I took became one of my first posts on this blog called “Return to Bleath Gill” . On that morning in March 2013 a late fall of snow had covered the hills and the old railway embankments were covered by deep drifts. However this day couldn’t have been more different as I stepped out of the car to meet my friend and fellow photographer Gary Liggett on a bright crisp Autumn morning. So under a clear blue sky we started to follow the course of the line towards Bowes, soon reaching a shallow cutting lined on both sides by crumbling stone walls and the occasional gnarled alder tree. The rains the night before had turned the old bed of the railway into a quick flowing stream, almost transforming it from it’s heavy indusrtial past back into a moorland beck. It was then that I realised that in my rush to get ready I hadn’t brought all of my film. All I had was my 6 sheets of 5×4 in my grafmatic back and one role of 120 I found at the bottom of my camera bag, but luckily for me I still had what was left of my pack of Type 665 polaroid. So I was going to have to be careful with what I chose to shoot especially as the light was becoming more and more promising. Clouds had started to sweep in from the west casting long shadows over the landscape, it was becoming a perfect day to be on the moors with a camera.
All Became Water, Stainmore. Polaroid Type 665.
We continued on and soon the cutting opened out onto an embankment with a river, in fact River Greta running below us and infront wide views across the Forest of Stainmore. In the far distance a small plate layers hut came into view, it still had it’s chimney but it windows had been blocked up long ago. As we got closer we could see it’s door had been left off it’s hinges but inside it still had it’s small open fire hearth. These little shelters must have been a real life saver in cold days, which are common up here even during the summer. How many times during the life of this hut had it provided a respite for the railwaymen caught out in the snows and driving winds of deep winter?
The Long Haul, Stainmore.
As we passed by the hut and carried on it became obvious it was going to become increasingly difficult to get much further so we decided to turn round and start walking back towards the cars. Throughout the morning we hardly noticed our slow descent, but now Gary and I could really start to feel it as we headed back up towards the summit. It was turning out to be a long and steady haul and things were being made harder by the fact the ground which seemed solid at the begining still frozen from the previous night, had now thawed turning everything into oozing marsh. By time we reached our starting point we were both covered up to our knees in mud. Well at least it was at the end of the walk and not the begining.
In my last post I was reminiscing about the loss of Polaroid pos/neg film, especially my favourite the Type 665 pack. Well the devil makes use for idle hands and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t just sit and dream about past triumphs and I was searching through a popular online shopping site in search of a pack of Type 665. At first I didn’t have much luck, mainly because, as stocks of this film become ever more rare the price goes up but I kept on looking and eventually found a pack which sounded promising. It was pretty old film and had technically expired in August 1990! But in the description it stated the pack was unopened and had been stored in a fridge, so I decided to take a chance and buy it.
There are a few risks in buying any old expired film particularly when it comes to instant type films such as polaroid, if the pack of film hasn’t been stored correctly the liquid chemicals which do the developing and fixing can dry out and make the material completely useless. All these thoughts went through my mind as I set off to the edge of Hamsterley Forest a few miles up the road from my home in County Durham. Last Autumn I had driven past the top edge of the forest and I was struck by the stark forlorn looking birch trees left behind by the felling of the pine trees, it seemed to be the perfect spot close to home to try out my new film.
The Shen-Hao loaded and ready to go.
It was with a great deal of trepidation I pulled the tab of the first sheet of polaroid from the camera back (kindly loaned to me from my old college tutor John Quinn) and I had no idea it would work as well as it did!! I only took a few exposures wanting to save the rest of the film for another day, storing the neg part of the sheets in water to wash off the masses of black gloop that covers them after you have peeled them apart.
Once washed and dried I contact printed my favourite of the two negs on my usual Fomapan Chamois fiber based paper. I think this a negative I will definitely return to!
It’s been a while since I’ve done any wet plate photography, but with a potential portrait commission from the gallery on it’s way I thought I’d better dust off my plate camera and get pouring some collodion and try and get my hand back in!
Helen, Plate 1. f4,5 8secs
Helen Plate 2, f4,5 8secs.
I used Lea’s No7 Landscape formula collodion premixed by a company called Mamut based in the Czech Republic. The developer I had in stock was very old and oxidized so I made up a new batch using Scully & Osterman’s Formula;
15 gr Ferrous Sulfate
355 ml Distilled water
18 ml Alcohol
14 ml Glacial acetic acid
This brand new fresh developer would be too fast and contrasty to use as is, so I mixed it 50/50 with my old stock to get a solution that would be easier to use. Both pictures where taken with my vintage Half Plate camera fitted with Cooke Aviar 210mm lens on black anodised aluminium Tintypes. It was a bit of a dull day and even though Helen was sat right beside the window there was little direct sun light, the first plate had a lot of shadow so to help lift this on the second exposure I placed a full length mirror to reflect a bit of light back onto Helen.
I have to confess when it came to pouring the chemicals I was pretty rusty, and a bit more practice wouldn’t do me any harm but by taking my time and working methodically I didn’t cause too much of a mess! It was also the first time I had used the Mamut’s Lea’s No7 Landscape formula so there was a lot that could have gone wrong, but I was really pleased with the way the collodion and developer combination worked together.
Last week I had some fantastic news that one of my liquid silver emulsion pictures “Dwarfie Stane, Hoy” had been accepted to be part of the ACTINIC Festival show in Edinburgh this summer!!
Dwarfie Stane, Hoy. 100x75cm liquid emulsion on water colour paper.
I originally took the picture back in August 2013 when Helen, Alice and me travelled to the far north for a holiday on the isles of Orkney, and when I heard about this competition out of the four photographs I submitted it was this one I hoped they would pick! The exhibition will take place in July and has been organised by a fantastic group called Alt-Photo Scotland who dedicated to connecting and promoting alternative photography in Scotland and beyond so it really is a great honor to be chosen to display my work amongst some of the best in the world! More information about dates etc to follow!!
A few weeks ago me and my girlfriend Helen was chatting with my mate Gareth over a nice pint when me and Gaz started to reminisce about our recent trip to the Old Gang Smelt Mill in Swaledale, the conversation soon moved onto new topics but it got me thinking about whether I really got the most from all the pictures I had taken that day? There was one in particular I’d been really disappointed that it hadn’t turned out as I hoped. So inspired by my friend today I made a bit of spare time in my darkroom session to take a second look at the one that nearly got away.
The final photograph was made by contact printing the negative onto Fomatone Chamois paper at grade two and half for 6 seconds with a bit of extra burning in. I think in the future I should follow in my friend and photographic hero Bill Schwab’s advice and not be scared of thin negatives but love them for their beautiful delicate tones, the devil is in the detail after all!!
And of cause thank you Gareth for putting me back on track!!