Wednesday, 3 February 2016

MA-Ness Term 2 Week 5 - Distinctive Relief, Dark Room Adventures, Real Bone Folders, Cyanotyping, Getting Cross At The Television, Diary Organisation...

this weeks post it note and notes from Julien Little's English Way Of Death

cyanotype washing using repurposed litter tray

Normally Monday is blog day - it's a habit I got into at the start of the course and it has stood me in really good stead when it comes to research journal hand in time. I had blog write up on my list of things to do on Monday but I got sidetracked by housework and then had a training session ( I am loving boxercise though I am not sure my joints are as fond of it as I am as they are creaking and protesting somewhat more than usual today) and then when I sat at my desk ready to start writing I saw the email with my latest module results - for both research journal and what became known as 'the bastard dissertation'. The actual title of it is: The Possibility, Impossibility, Wonder, Insight and Potential Obfuscationality of Language as Used in the Art World or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Start Using Some Of It.

Anyway to my delight and relief I got the kind of marks I wanted and had (in the case of the bastard dissertation) sweated blood for and so my first reaction was to burst into tears, then I shook for a bit, grinned like the cheshire cat, emailed my husband, phoned my Mum and then burst into tears again when I got a reply email from my husband telling me how proud he was of me. We celebrated with champagne and fishfinger sandwiches because we are reet classy.

The champagne was bought before xmas (when it was on special offer in the supermarket) and at the time I said I wanted to keep it for results day - we would drink it in celebration  if my marks were good enough (or of course drown our sorrows if I wasn't pleased with them)  So in spite of temptation to drink it we had to spite of my no longer following the superstitions I was brought up with I am reluctant to tempt fate and if I'd really wanted fizz in the meantime I would have had to go out and buy a different bottle. But aside from this not wanting to tempt fate quirk I no longer feel the need to salute magpies, I can see knives crossed on a table without fretting, I can put umbrellas up inside, walk under ladders if I want and I can put new shoes on the table all without fear for my immortal soul. All of which events and actions would have had my Nana in connuptions, crossing herself and muttering prayers. I am fascinated by superstitions and associated behaviours though - the folklore from various cultures around reflections and water fascinate me the most.

It's not just relief though - it's also affirmation of what I'm doing and what I'm capable of so I feel I can further my potential plans for studying for a phd , it's not just pie in the sky day dreamy thinking on my part. Looking at options is on my to do list. I think the hardest thing is going to be coming up with a research proposal that I will not get sick to the back teeth of (so something victorian and death related most likely - bet you're surprised to read that, not...) but also that is attractive/supervisable to and by other academics and institutions and of course potentially fundable.  I still have doubts though about the amount of words involved and how mad it will make me go writing them - so as ever lots to think about there. Plus unexpected and unhappy events in non academic life like bereavement or illness  and how they can be coped with also need to be thought about too.

So lots of being very giddy indeed on Monday, hence writing this today - whilst also in an ungothlike manner wallowing in the sunshine and taking advantage of it to do some cyanotyping. Have done 6 in total this morning - a couple I'm really pleased with, one will be salvageable if photocopied, a couple have worked a bit but not quite enough and reminded me that a) I need to photocopy onto acetate at the highest density setting and b) although a negative version of a cyanotype can look good - it suits some subjects better than others and that doesn't include figures atop of graves so I need to to make some new inverted properly dense acetate negatives.

One has barely worked at all - even with a bit of bleach solution assistance - but never mind* - it's all a learning experience and I have made improvements in my technique by taping the paper and acetate to the board before putting the glass on (I use the glass from clip frames so it's not very heavy and can shift about and so disturb the paper and negative underneath it - even when clipped) but I did forget to shut the bathroom door whilst rinsing them to keep Mapp out. Just as well she is currently addicted to her old washing basket bed by the is firmly shut now though.

Best of all I've really enjoyed doing them - as I enjoyed the dark room refresher I did last week - which included using a fully manual camera to take around 10 pictures with in and around Millennium Square, then develop and print from. I find loading film onto a spindle prior to putting it into the developing tank fiendishly difficult - hence I usually offer to make tea whilst my lovely ever supportive husband does this. He also usually stands in the cold dank garage (aka pop up meth lab) and does the necessary agitating. Bless him.

There was the Dee like-thrill of alchemical magic when after the application of chemical solutions and a lot of wrist action and then washing - you take the film out of the tank and hurrah - there are images on it..correctly focused and exposed ones too.

I was pretty chuffed with a couple of the shots I took but getting a decent print was harder and less rewarding. I love looking at the results of other people's hard print making work. But as a process - despite its alchemical magic it doesn't make my heart sing in the way that cyanotyping does.

The unintuitive maths/numbers/counting involved coupled with the difficulties I have seeing what I'm doing thanks to my poor eyesight make it a process that I struggle with. I think I'd find it less difficult if I had full dark room printing facilities at home - I find it difficult to focus (no pun intended) if there are lots of people about plus it's extremely frustrating when folks (in spite of being told umpteen times not to and explained the reason why you shouldn't) continue to dip tongs from one batch of chemicals in to the next batch thus contaminating and decreasing their efficiency. The darkroom staff have the patience of saints as well as great insight and constructive advice as to how to develop (again no pun intended) your work further. There are short courses starting again soon - you can find details about them here - I did a short course in black and white photography the summer before last and learnt lots.

So I think I'll venture out into the garage to develop film a bit more often as opposed to just handing it over in return for my tea making abilities but I don't think I'll be doing much print making - though I might arrange a time to go in when it's quiet and have another go.

Along with cyanotyping I have been doing lots of digital printing (£8.90's worth yesterday) - mostly on my beloved translucent and cheap tracing paper but also on some hand made paper I bought a while ago from Paperchase. I've also used the same paper for cyanotyping, have used it all up now so I shall have to get some more. It has a lovely texture to it - which on one of the images I use most - a bench from St Mary's Churchyard in Whitby has really brought out the rain droplets on the beach.  I'm also experimenting with printing the same image in monochrome and colour and then placing one on top of the other - slightly out of sync as it makes a kind of slightly blurred jarring effect - almost as if looking at it in a nightmare. Need to work more on this...

One coffin manufacturer has got back to me in my quest to find scraps of coffin lining material to print on to say they've got my request and will get back to me, will chase them up if I haven't heard more by next week. I also need to make an appointment in the fabric printing room to press ahead with those printing plans too - and to get things properly costed up for my hoped for burial plot size hangings.

They also have some new paper to print on in the digital print room which when held up to the light has a kind of skin like texture - this really appeals to me so when I next go back I shall get some images printed on there and see what they look like.

I have some new equipment to play with - a bone folder made of actual bone for bookmaking/cardmaking, I already have a plastic one but ghoul that I am - I wanted one made of bone too. It has a nicer weight to it and it feels better in my hand too - though of course I doubt the animal it came from would agree with that sentiment.

I also have a new mini pop up studio which my lovely thoughtful husband has bought for me as wedding anniversary present** - it all fits together with magnets and has led lighting and different colour backdrops. It's ace. Haven't used it for picture taking yet but have already got planned what work I want to do in it - namely the loved one and their objects series which I've been thinking about for some time. One of the objects that makes me think of my Nana is green shield stamps and I found an almost complete book of them in a junk shop a while back - also need some Elnett Hairpsray and some Hermestas and her picture will be good to go.

My obsession with all things victorian continues apace and a couple of weeks ago I watched 'even more hidden killers in the victorian home' on the Yesterday channel. I saw the first lot of hidden killers on the BBC a while back (arsenic in wallpapers and green dyes, unregulated gas supplies, uncleanable baby bottles) and part two featured food adulterants, steep staircases for servants, baths heated by gas flames underneath the bath itself but I found myself tutting at the television with its partial telling of the truth as the section about symptoms of strychnine poisoning which was illustrated with an unattributed painting by Charles Bell of Tetanus (you can see it here and the original is held at the Royal College of Surgeons Museum in Edinburgh) which the wanting everything to be correct pedant in me says is incorrect - even if the symptoms look similar plus as Charles died at the age of 67 in 1842 does he really count as a victorian when Victoria has only been on the throne for 5 years - surely he is georgian...

The other bit which had me tutting was when they told the tale of the case of the poisoned sweets in Bradford in 1858 which they attributed to a chemist selling adulterated sweets...which again is kind of true but the fuller story of the case is the sweets were sold by Humbug Billy (William Hardaker who is buried in Undercliffe Cemetery along with some of his victims no doubt..) who made his living selling sweets from a stall. He didn't make the sweets but bought them from a chap called Joseph Neal who did. Sugar was expensive so it was cut with 'daff' which was the name for powdered gympsum (also known as multum or flash) to keep costs down and profits up. Neal's assistant went to the chemist to get some daff, the chemists assistant mistook the barrel of arsenic (used as poison for rodents as well as getting rid of relatives in a Mary Ann Cotton stylee) for the barrel of daff and sweets were made with it. They looked and tasted a bit different so William and Neal sold them a bit cheaper and 21 people died and an unknown number suffered but recovered. It was one of the incidents that paved the way for the Pharmacy Act of 1868.

Anyway all of that is a roundabout way of saying... yes in some ways a chemist contributed to the selling of adulterated sweets... but it makes me think about other documentaries I've watched where I've just accepted what I'm being told without thinking about it because it seems true and without bothering to find out more. I only know about the incomplete/incorrect picture with regards to the above as I've seen some of Charles Bells incredible paintings (the medical textbook illustration of their day) in the flesh as it were, and was told the full story of Humbug Billy on a tour of Undercliffe.

So I am becoming increasingly nit picky when watching television ( my husband will attest to this when watching programmes about things I know something about - like the history of anatomy or the victorian period) but also getting increasingly precise and nitpicky when I'm talking/writing about things...maybe an academic life is the one for me after all....

The other thing I've been working on have been trying to organise my diary and deciding what I want to as there are lots of things on in the next six months and I want to go to all of them but I can't - partly for date clash reasons and partly for finance reasons so I need to decide which is most important and what I'd get most out of going to. So as ever - lots to think about and to do but best go and check on my latest batch of cyanotypes as they must be dry by now......

*edited to add - it has worked better than I thought, HURRAH!!! note to self don't rush to make a judgement until prints are completely dry....

** I have bought him non photographic he might faint with shock on opening them as a result...

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