Monday, 18 July 2016

MA-Ness Week 15 - Doing, Reading, Writing, Printing, Image Transferring, Creative Bartering, Sewing, Mapplethorpe, and that kind of thing....

Some of the anthotypes in progress - I spent last week making them - again with a Heath Robinson-esque production manner - closing curtains in workroom (as in the room that used to be known as the back bedroom)  and mincing up the kale using a handblender and squeezing out the juice using coffee filter papers, painting the paper with a couple of coats of the resultant green liquid,  leaving them to dry under a blanket that blocks out the light and then after covering them with the acetate negative leaving them in the downstairs back window as that gets the most light. Exposure time roughtly 5 days....the ones with kale have worked okay,  I also did some with some minced up weeds from St George's Field but don't think they've worked anywhere near as well so I am leaving them for a little longer in the hope that there will be something there eventually.... The weeds were minced up with a cheap hand blender (£4.75) bought especially for the purpose and now adorned with the words in red permanent marker 'NOT FOR FOOD USE'...

This weeks post it note - written on a fancy purple lined post it note, along with some of the more successful anthotype images which I have scanned, boosted the contrast and brightness levels on and then digitally reinverted using photoshop (they go a lovely kind of purpley colour) a couple of the acetate negatives I've been using, and the matte mediumed image transfer embroidery hoop framed - am rather pleased with this as a prototype and hope to frame other images like this too.
It's been a busy few days, a busy weekend and it's going to be a busy time between now and final hand in I think....lots still to do though thankfully the bulk of the portfolio overview I was working on is mostly done bar a few additions and a bit of editing and polishing, but then I have to actually assemble the portfolio in terms of the work I want to include and do a little mini overview of those - nothing too long though - just a title, the rationale for doing it and what areas of my work/theoretical underpinning/inspiration it covers. I reckon I'm going to be taking it in a taxi though as I think it's going to be a bit too heavy and cumbersome to carry in on the bus like I did last time....

What else? I do have a lovely new bag to take it in though - thanks to a lovely chum of mine who is a whizz with a sewing machine. I used a existing bag that is a good size that came from Primarni as a basis for the pattern, measured it and cut it out in paper, then used that as a template to cut out the fabric, pinned and tacked it together and she then sewed it. Also used the new technique of turning straps inside out I'd seen on the Great British Sewing Bee  - you line it with with ribbon and then pull the ribbon through.  I hope to sew one of the images I've made using disperse inks to the front of it too or maybe just print one onto it directly. The fabric was initially used as the backdrop for the Out of the Shadows Exhibition last October and I'm glad it's getting used in some way. I still have some leftover and when time is less pressing (ie post hand in) and I can afford to make mistakes and rectify them I might have a go at making another bag but this time all by myself and using my own very basic sewing machine.... 

The bag sewing was a kind of creative barter as she needed some photos taking of her partner as he needed some headshots to send some off to his literary agent. I don't often take pictures of people but I really enjoyed doing those headshots - making the most of the existing light (I rarely use flash) and using either the brickwork or the plain garage door as a background. I used the film grain function on the oldest modern digital camera we've got - I love that setting, it's by far my favourite and I much prefer it to the dynamic monochrome that has replaced it on the newer model we've got.  He was dead chuffed with his pics - I'd dead chuffed with my bag - WIN all round.

Along with the anthotyping I also did some more disperse ink printing in the print room at college which apart from me and one technician was Marie Celeste-like - once again I channelled my inner Bea from Prisoner Cell Block H to operate the heat press, and I saved the ghost prints from the scrap paper underneath and have since laminated them. It's part of my work to use as much of the process as possible - eg backing paper from medium format film as bookmarks, leftover non weed greenery from anthotyping gets eaten, acetate negatives make pieces of work in themselves as well, ghost print by products of the printing process also become pieces of work in their own right too.

I did do some filming last week - or rather I accompanied one of the much more digitally competent film makers from college and told them what I wanted shooting in St George's Fields, and did a voiceover of one of my favourite pieces of traditional grave poetry. This was for the degree show show reel.  I still hope to do a film of my own at some point - one that would either be digitally filmed or individual digital photographs put together to make a film. I want it to be of one of my anthotypes or lumen prints fading so I would have to set up a camera and one of the prints and take photographs at the same time/in the same lighting conditions twice a day til it has faded. As well as make a print in the first place. I think this would be part of my work that deals directly with memory and how it fades, but I could also reverse the film and make it come back to life again - the way memories can when you encounter something material that prompts you.

It was the second visit I made to St George's Field this week - earlier in the week I went there to show a chum round it (and discuss possibilities for the Gothic Festival in the autumn) and to harvest the weeds which I then tried to anthotype with. I love that space and I love showing it to others, although I go regularly I invariably see something I have never noticed before - this time it was a more personal dedication on the subscription graves which have been laid flat to line the pathways. Need to go back and take better pictures of it though rather than just the aide memoire image I've got on my camera phone.

I've been doing quite a bit of reading and watching too recently - I read some appallingly bad but much needed brilliant bubblegum brain reading in the form of Original Sin (2009) by Tasmina Perry which I got from a charity stall a while back. Utterly ridiculous much needed distraction, as was watching The Seventh Veil (1945) last night which featured James Mason as a rather revolting (but oh so physically attractive) bachelor who takes charge of his younger second cousin when her parents die and makes her into a concert pianist. She tries to escape from his overbearing and domineering ways but ends up running back to him. It was gorgeous to watch as it was monochrome, her outfits were stunning, James Mason both looked and sounded amazing but it was also quite difficult to watch a female character being so dominated. 

I've also started another Elizabeth Gaskell which I got over the weekend from another charity stall - this time it's Cranford from 1851-1853. I tried reading it before but just couldn't get into it, but this weekend something kind of clicked as I started it and I've got as far as the cow wearing flannel after it lost all its hair. I also started a book called The Easter Parade by Richard Yates which was first published in 1976 and is set in the 1950's. I'm enjoying being transported to different eras. I've still got college library books I need to finish though....but realistically I can't see me finishing them before they have to go back so I might have to read them in the library instead. Which reminds me - I really must do my bibliography too....I know I should have written it up as I went along but I haven't. Bugger. Oh well.

Along with lots of doing, lots of reading there has also been lots of watching at the cinema or as my 3 year old nephew calls it (who has just been to the cinema for the first time) 'the big big big tv'  Absolutely Fabulous (2016)  was a good giggle in places and good distraction and Mapplethorpe (2015) a documentary about artist Robert Mapplethorpe was excellent. It was a mix of interviews with some of the people he worked with - both gallery owners, collaborators and assistants, siblings, some of his muses, some of the people whose portrait he took,  footage of interviews with him and one with his father, exhibitions and the reaction to his work and analysis of his work. It looked at the different elements of his work - from portraiture, flowers as well as the infamously famous S+M ones.

It was quite thought provoking and a bit of an eye opener (no pun intended) as it's quite disconcerting to see a picture of a fingertip being inserted into the urethra on a big screen - just from a 'surely that's physically got to hurt/sting' point of view but then I am somewhat of a huge vanilla wuss and the only thing I have pierced is my ears and them only once in each ear. The especially infamous fisting shot led to him taking a self portrait of himself being 'fisted' by  the handle of a bullwhip as it was pointed out to him that it was only fair he be on the recieving end of similar treatment.  Much was made of his quite ruthless self centred behaviour and how he used his charm to get what he wanted from people and how drugs were part of his working process both for himself and his assistants - for example giving a bit of coke to his in-house film developer and printer (he neither developed or printed his own images) to get him to work a bit quicker when exhibitions were needing to be finished. This makes me feel a little better about my handing over my film to be developed or just digitally printing certain images though I only do this in return for cold hard cash, though I did once also ensure I got a quick job done by bribing the printer with Tunnocks Teacakes. 

One of the points raised in the film was that he believed the best way to see photos was as a physical print, he died in 1989 so I don't know what he would have made of the way the bulk of images are consumed today ie as pixels on a screen. Much was made of his working methods and how he worked hard and played hard (again no pun intended). His early work consisted more of collage work (using images from porn magazines) and how his life changed both when he met Patti Smith but more importantly Sam Wagstaff who became his partner and patron. Sam also bought him a Hasselblad camera and who in his position as an influential and rich collector championed photography as an art form in its own right - equal to that of painting. The point was made that the rise of photography to be accepted as an art form in its own right as opposed to just a form of documentary has coincided with the rise of both gay visibility and gay rights though I'm not sure if the person making this point was pointing this out as a coincidence or if they believed there was some causal relationship between the two.

There was also some interesting discussion of how some of the S+M imagery was similar in composition to some religious iconongraphy - but then I don't see how crucifixion pictures can do otherwise - whether they are religious in origin or S+M club based. They also showed some images he'd taken using polaroids and had floated the emulsion off the photograph and then stretched the emulsion into a new image. Might have to research that as a method and give it a go myself.

Right - had best crack on with with portfolio stuff the bibliography note on my to do list is also calling....

Monday, 11 July 2016

MA-Ness Week 14 - Doing Things Slightly Differently, Plastic Bags, Image Transfers, In Our Time and Big Big Big TV

this weeks post it note with the 'bonkbuster' I'm reading for some light relief  (it really is quite dreadful and reminds me of the bit in the Victoria Wood programme 'We'd Quite Like To Apologise' in which the character played by Julie Walters talks about a book she'd reading called 'Groin' which apparently is 'not just sex but has quite a lot of literature in it as well' After the demanding rigours of Gaskell's North and South though it is perfect bubblegum for my brain and a cinema ticket for Jane Eyre from 1943 on monochrome 35mm which I saw on Saturday - leaving aside the problems of the Jane Eyre story  - it was glorious, full of pathetic fallacy, Joan Fontaine looking gorgeous and Orson Welles looking like a v blinged up Mr Rochester indeed.

Am doing this slightly differently to how I usually write my blog aka research journal entry, as am downstairs on the sofa on the laptop with the tv on in the background. I've spent most of today ironing a job lot of husbands shirts and pillowcases so I don't have to do it again for a while and also seeing how some of the disperse ink prints I had done last week work using a domestic iron as opposed to industrial heat press - and the answer is okay.

They look slightly better on the industrial heat press but that could also just be because they were the first pressings of them there and they get paler with each use. Anyway enough to see that they'll work in a domestic setting so it's all good and I have printed pieces I can sew onto the bags I'm hoping to make to put my portfolio in - the other thing I've been working all day on. I am hoping to make a bag and yesterday I made a simple basic pattern based on measuring the bag I got from Primarni a while back. It's a fairly simple gusseted bag with handles and I've cut out the panels and pinned them together ready to sew them - a chum is going to help me with that bit though as I don't quite trust my ancient sewing machine or my ability to sew in straight enough lines.

I spent the rest of today working on my portfolio overview, it's just under 4,000 words and bar a bit of editing and adding the references it's done. PHEW!!  Just need to check I think I've covered each of the objectives listed in the module details and that's it - my last MA module done.  So after all that writing and deciding on the structure my portfolio is going to take I now feel I can crack on with actually putting the pieces of visual and written work in it. I want it to be as good as possible - not just for my own satisfaction but also because if I want to get Phd funding then getting as high a grade as possible ie a distinction can only help towards that aim.

The deadline for handing it in is still just over a month away but as I hate rushing round doing everything at the last minute I'm trying to get it done at a reasonably leisurely pace with enough time to redo bits if need be. I could do this blog post tomorrow but I decided I wanted to get it done today as that way I'd still feel on track with everything as Monday is usually blog day.

But as I'd been sat upstairs all day I decided to do it downstairs instead as that way I could watch University Challenge and also keep my husband company whilst he watches something with Professor Brian Cox in. Afraid I'm no longer able to take Prof Cox seriously since it was pointed out to me that he has similar vocal inflections to Philomena Cunk. But I am getting distracted...upstairs in my workroom it's usually just by my own desire to look at the tinternet especially in these politically febrile post Brexit-times...but down here it's both tinternet, telly and husband - but am just about managing to get it done. It's the news now though and I keep stopping to shout 'fuck off' at the seemingly endless deluded line of voters, politicians and so called pundits on the screen.

So best crack on so I can get this finished before the weather forecast after the local news....I've taken to carrying round those zip lock style plastic bags with me everywhere I go so instead of trying to hold lots of of bits of fallen petals, feathers, leaves and other bits of detritus to make lumen prints with on my walks round places I can put them in a bag, plus there is also space on the bag to write the date and location. It also has the added benefit of keeoing the inside of my bag cleaner too.

Every time I pick something up though - especially feathers I can hear my Mum saying 'oh that's filthy, put it down, you don't know where it's been, it's carrying diseases''s just as well she doesn't come with me in person on any of these walks - she'd be disgusted and forever at me with an assortment of wetwipes. I must be honest though the first thing I do when I get in is wash my hands very thoroughly indeed.

My work with image transfers is continuing and I am enjoying seeing images I've made or taken appearing on fabric, I'm trying to do things in a thematic way so I have some positive and negative fish eye lens views of St George's Fields as well as digitally reinverted lumen prints of my favourite grave monuments.

I've also had another go at some more DIY methods that don't rely so much on fancy inks and printers - namely a photocopy of an image, acetone nail varnish remover, a cotton wool bud and a spoon. Had some limited success with it so far, apparently it works best with freshly photocopied images and the only ones I had were a few old weeks old but I did get some transfer of pigment so think it will work much better with fresher copies. I won't be trying it again on the synthetic coffin lining offcuts though - it just made the material kind of fuse. But I think it will work on canvas and organic fabric.

In Our Time last week on R4 was about the early history of photography and it was fascinating. Partly because of the exotic sounding names of some the ingredients involved in early image capturing like gun cotton and bitumen of judea, partly because of details like applying for patents for the new photographic processes was expensive and had to be applied for separately in England, Wales and Ireland and Scotland and the advice was not to bother for Scotland, hence Scotland then becoming a centre of photographic experimentation and excellence. I must listen to it again when I get chance.  

My youngest nephew is 3 years old and went to the cinema for the first time this weekend or as he called it 'the big big big tv'. I was the same age when I first went to the cinema and saw The Jungle Book at what was known as the fleapit aka The Savoy and which has long since been demolished and flats built in its place. He saw The Secret Life of Pets and loved it. I am loving his calling it 'the big big big tv' and think I might take to calling it that too. As well as the pictures of course in my old fashioned non metropolitan manner. I hope he grows up to love the cinema as much as I do. Watching a film at the pictures is one of my very favourite things to do.

One of the films which I have never seen on the big big big tv but have seen many times on the small screen is In Which We Serve (1942) directed by David Lean and Noel Coward. Designed to boost wartime moral it is full of stiff upper lips, fortitude in the face of adversity and Noel Coward plays Captain Kinross who serves fellow officers they've rescued his special fortifying drink which is 'bovril heavily laced with sherry' which I made a note of on my post it note last time I saw it as I'm thinking I might have some of this once I've handed in...


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

MA-Ness Week 13 (hopefully lucky for me) Printing Adventures, North and South, Lumen-ness+Cyanotype Failure, BFI-Ness, Procrastination Lurg and WW1 Photography

this weeks post it note - along with my current reading - I have 71 pages left to go and I am LOVING it - I bought it some time ago from a charity shop for 50p but only recently got round to reading it. It is quite a tatty copy and whilst the pages are secure - some of the cover is held together with sellotape.
The green sticky tabs are marking pages that had particularly useful/resonant quotes re death or funeral practices - there have been 3 funerals in the book so far...

Well the end date for this MA malarkey creeps ever closer and though I've made lots of lists about what things I need to do to put together my portfolio I haven't done much actual compiling - partly because I have *so* much work to sort through and partly because I've come down with cough/cold/flu lurgy (so poorly I missed the all day extravanganza of Silent Film with live musical accompaniment loveliness that was on at my favourite cinema The Hyde Park Picture House) and so my energy and concentration levels are somewhat lacking. But also partly if I'm honest - because if I put it off I can pretend the end isn't happening. But I'd best get over this a)lurg and b)endavoiding feeling-ness or else I'll be running round like a headless chicken come deadline time and I hate feeling like that more than the feelings of  enjoyable incredible things coming to an end.

Prior to coming down with lurg though I did do some printing of my images onto the coffin lining material offcuts using disperse inks and a big heat press iron type machine. So pleased with the results - both the actual image on the fabric but also the kind of ghost print it leaves on the newsprint paper you put underneath the material. Plus you can keep using the images though each time the print will fade, you can cut bits out, layer and do all manner of exciting things. I channelled the character of Bea from Prisoner Cell Block H (one of my televisual guilty pleasures) whilst pressing and felt a mix of both really excited at the end results but also a bit 'why has it taken me this long to discover this process???' - especially as the matte medium image transfer I'd tried last week hasn't worked so well. Have lined up multiple images (mostly fish eye lens views of St George's Field)  to be printed using disperse inks and all being well I'll soon be back up to full speed and so able to print them onto various pieces of material soon. 

It's so exciting!! and has worked a lot better than the matte medium transfer I mentioned, but I did get a lumen print using new Ilford black and white photographic paper which I'm really pleased with (it's of dried flower petals I've been collecting) but alas none of the cyanotypes I did worked at all. I'm not entirely sure why but think it's a mix of over development as I left them in the sun far too long (well over 30 minutes as I got distracted by other tasks - note to self if doing a cyanotype set timer alarm on phone and don't fall into trap of fearing there won't be anything there and think 'oh I'll just leave it a bit longer...) two did come out a bit but then I almost completely obliterated it by putting it in a bleach solution to try and bring down the overdeveloped blue a bit and not washing out the bleach enough. Ho hum. But the temporary dark room tent I rigged up using a clothes horse, some black throws and my red safe light worked a treat. It was easier to work under than just draping myself under a throw and whilst complete dark is not so vital re cyanotype prepped paper, it is with photographic paper to ensure you don't a) pre expose the piece you're working with and b)don't expose the rest of the packet to light either. Being in the dark with the red safe light meant I could take a bit more time positioning the paper and acetate negative image exactly where I wanted it as I could just about see what I was doing - RESULT!! I scanned and photographed the lumen print and might get it printed using disperse inks so I can put it on a t-shirt or something....the possibilities are legion. It does all feel a bit Heath Robinson though, if I had the money and the skills I'd be building a proper shed that I could kit out as a darkroom but as I don't have either the money or the skills my Heath Robinson-esque contraptions will have to do in the meantime.

So before last week ground into somewhat of a halt with coughing and snot I did some printing and I also attended the British Film Institute Feedback Event at Leeds Beckett. I'm on their mailing list and going to a screening at their HQ at the South Bank is on my list of of places to see a film screening - they did a John Waters season a while back but annoyingly I couldn't make any of the dates. It was a mix of film students trying to get a job, film festival organising folk, cinema runners, film students still studying and people like me who love going to the pictures and are interested in film heritage and conservation. There were lots of interesting conversations - like does film mean film in the digital era, what about all the information stored on videotape in people's houses that captured things like local news and local programmes in the days when ITV was made of regional broadcasters, what is being done to ensure that a) the technology to show stuff like that is maintained and b) the training of people to operate such equipment, is the resurgence of film in a photographic sense also going to happen in a cinematic sense. Plus how much Yorkshire is a centre for film makers these days and of course hanging over it all as it is hanging over everything at the moment - just what kind of an impact is Brexit going to have?  There was also much discussion about ways of making both audiences and film makers as diverse as possible and what the barriers are to inclusion. Cultural differences were mentioned but by far the biggest barrier people talked about was socioeconomic and the lack of finance/disposable income. I am very lucky to be able to afford my cinematic habit - I don't go to the pub very often (I tend to drink at home) but I go to the pictures at least two or three times a month. 

They are looking for responses so they can build their programme for the next few years -and you can make your input here - and please do. They want to build on the success of Film Forever campaign. A logo and legend which I've seen at the beginning of many a film recently and one which makes me rub my hands with glee and think 'ooh I'm in for a treat'. Something which I told to one of their head bods when chatting with a glass of wine afterwards -  he seemed very taken with the fact that I still used the phrase 'going to the pictures' when talking about going to the cinema as apparently no-one in that London does anymore - according to him they only call it 'going to the movies'.  I must be honest it's only recently that I've become more aware of the BFI and their work - but I am looking forward to watching more on their website and maybe signing up for movie watching service. Plus I am more than happy being an un-metropolitan in comparison bumpkin.

I also went on a walk round Meanwood Woods - but not just any walk, this was an interactive, poetic, curated and thought provoking walk organised by the people behind A Quiet Word which you can read about here. It was quite beautiful to be in the woods - a place I often walk round but not as late at night and not with as many people and certainly not to hear wonderful poetry or watch choreography or listen to beautiful singing. It's finished its run for now - but I hope they do it or something similar again as it was very good indeed. Plus I didn't get bitten by any midges though alas my gaffer taped wellies had well and truly given up the bucket (and let in a bit of mud) by the end and they are now on their way to landfill but as I'd had them for at least 6 or 7 years and had worn them a lot (even though they were bright pink with flowers on) I don't feel too bad about that.

Thanks to lurg I've been doing a lot more reading and watching than I have any doing (apart from coughing and blowing my nose) the past week - North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell which is taking some ploughing through as the style of sentence construction is dense (I often have to read sentences a couple of times before I've properly understood them) but so rewarding - think I'll be using chapter titles from it as inspiration and possibly titles for my own pieces (same as I've done with Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon) and I've also ploughed through a few more chapters of Death in England edited by Jupp and Gittings (now understand a bit more about the decline of funereal pomp after the first world war) and watched a few programmes on BBC4 including the documentary about the origins and rise of Punk - Punk Britannia which was very interesting. There was a piece where Siouxsie Sioux (one of my heroines) was talking to camera and said 'once something becomes easy to copy it loses its power' which struck me as true in some ways but not in others.

The other fascinating, poignant, moving, horrifying and wonderful programmes were about poets and writers of the first world war (some of who survived and some who didn't) and a programme about the non military photography taken during the war - most of it on a camera called the Kodak Vest Pocket which was first made in 1912 and cost 30 shillings which was quite a lot of money in those days and so was more likely to have been owned by officer types as they could more likely afford it. I have a Kodak Vest Pocket - still working but it is a later model from the early 1920's though it looks much the same as the original model issued in 1912.

It was both fascinating and heartbreaking to see some of the photographs taken on those cameras, not just in terms of their subject matter but also in terms of the way in which they were taken as personal photography of that kind was outlawed by British High Command. Though not until the war was already in progress and an article on how best to do it had been featured in one of the amateur photographer magazines of the time had been published.

One soldier had a prearranged code with his family back in England that if he asked for a cake in his letters he meant 'send me a film' - though there was no mention of how the pictures taken were developed. The pictures featured were found amongst the belongings of two grandfathers - one german and one english and featured their grandsons comparing them. There was some interesting but to my mind also slightly misleading analysis of the pictures - ie one of the remains of a completely blown up tree being symbolic of all the destruction, or the haunting one of the nameless dead soldier lying on the ground before a crucifix. As evocative and hauting as those images were the analysis was entirely through 21st century eyes and mores, as surely trying to define the motivations of now dead photographers who left no written or verbal clues as to why they took the pictures they did. Plus as well as choosing (within the very real confines presumably of where best to stand and not get shot or be spotted by a commanding officer) where to stand and what to take an image of - they could also have moved things/bodies to be in or out of frame. I initially used the word shot in that sentence and then realised whilst this would be a technically correct photographic word to use - in this context I'm a little uncomfortable with it - mostly because people might think I was either being insensitive or deliberately flippant.

One thing I wish documentary makers would do though - instead of just thanking archives and other image suppliers in the credits at the end, would be to label each image/film clip not across the bottom with the following details (if known) who took it, where it was taken and when. Too often in documentaries there is footage of victorian era slums or somesuch when moving film images just weren't around and yes it might add to atmosphere but it's not adding to truthfulness....

Well I'd best crack on with all the other things on my not getting any shorter to do list.