Bibelots

a place for the curious

Category: creative photography

Thoughts on the creative photography process and way of thinking.

Staying blue

two types of cyanotype images on paper - one pale, washed out blue, the other a vibrant cyan blue

feeling a little blue

A bit of backyard science

A few weeks ago I was experimenting with a different sort of cyanotype – a digital image of an underground tunnel, printed on a clear transparency. I had captured the slow steps of someone moving through the low, dark space. I’d hoped to use it in a group ‘thing’. Unfortunately, it failed terribly. That is to say, the chemicals failed.

I’m used to photos not successfully translating to cyanotype, but this image seemed to have the right stuff. After waiting through a week of rain and sunless sky, I was at last able to set up. I painted my paper, watched for a longish moment of late-winter sunlight and exposed the cyanotype in the usual way. A raindrop or two got caught with the sun, but as it’s a ghostly and indistinct image, I figured it would be okay. It looked beautiful. I rinsed the paper and let the chemicals wash away… and with horror watched the lovely blue image wash away too. I had managed to produce a damp, wrinkled, blank piece of paper.

A couple of weeks later, when the sun reappeared, I tried again in the somewhat futile hope that I’d mixed the solutions incorrectly. But, no. That image washed away, even after a 40 minute exposure – longer than needed in Australia at that time of year. There was no more than a hint of an image.

It turns out that the unmixed liquid cyanotype solutions have an end shelf-life. The best information I could find was ‘it should last a few months’. I did my googling, as any good internet citizen would, but couldn’t spot anything more definitive.

In case you’re one of the few who want to know, I’d kept the two solutions in separate bottles in a dark cupboard for about six months. One week they were working pretty well. A few weeks later, not so much. Obviously, I’ve had to discard the solutions. New chemicals have been ordered and I await their blue-toned arrival.

Next time I prepare the solutions, I’ll put a date on the bottles and track what happens. I’ll do one test strip a month, and keep a record of the date and changing sunlight. I’m sure can get a better idea than ‘a few months’. Data, baby. That’s what I want. Data. Failure is okay, so long as you learn from it and try again.

And that, my friends, is my little bit of backyard science. Science in the sun. Cool, huh?

The well

a mountain in cyan blue

Dark and brooding:
Curman’s Los Molinos

I’m occasionally surprised by how dark my storytelling can be. As often as not, I’m happier when I write about a brooding, towering mountain than a little, yellow duck. When I open the big book of writing, there’s often a dank, mossy well to draw from. It’s deep and it’s far from pretty.

I sometimes wonder where my ideas come from, but I really haven’t a clue. I doubt anyone does. I guess it’s a matter of ‘take life, stir and turn up the heat’. What boils over isn’t reality. It’s something else and when it arrives it’s barely controlled. It’s easy to go too dark. Just as it’s easy to get too silly.  However good or bad I am at this, I know that telling stories isn’t merely about trying to come up with ideas. It’s about control. Watch the beast grow, give it a name in the night and see it come to life. A realistic life. Does it look real? Can you smell it? Taste it? Touch it?

If you can you see the strings, I’ve probably done it wrong.

Every creative endeavour seems to be a little like this. There’s a freedom and beauty to creativity, but there’s also a lot of precision. Capturing the moment just once might take no effort. But do it again. And again. That’s what they call practice. Ultimately, it’s also a fine-tuned level of control.

Next time the ideas come calling, be they dark, be they feathered, be they scaled, I’ll be there. And one day perhaps I’ll even be ready.

House of film – The Black Rose

A personal note

This is not a review of Trent Parke’s magnificent and sombre work, but a gentle personal impression.

This last week found me once again in the beautiful halls of the Art Gallery of South Australia, seeing Trent Parke’s ‘The Black Rose’.

One series of images from the exhibition showed a defrosting snake next to a demolishing house – ‘The house of film’.

For me, the house of film was about decay and destruction. It was one of many series and images in the exhibition that flirted with the same theme.

I won’t say more than that. It’s early in the exhibition’s run and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone else. I will say that if you go, take your time. And go more than once. There’s a lot to take in.

In the same week, I also went to hear Trent’s talk with exhibition curators Julie Robinson and Maria Zagala and guest speakers Alasdair Foster, freelance art writer and curator, and Bronwyn Rennex, Director of Stills Gallery.

The combination of this talk and Trent’s artwork is an incredibly generous gift.

In addition to the particular sombre beauty of the exhibition, it was heartening for me personally. I live, with a lovely man, in a house of film. The formats come in all manner of sizes, but mostly bear shades that fall between black and white. While I usually shoot 35mm, I’m just as happy with the digital format and am willing to try whatever works. To see and hear that an accomplished creative photographer like Trent is happy to mix media – 35mm, large format and digital – was wonderful. It provided a personal connection to an incredible artist.

It didn’t stop there.

Think of your favourite artist. Is it van Gogh? Van Dyck? Imagine visiting their hometown, seeing their work, understanding that you held the same sort of brush and . . . then there’s an image. An image of a place you’ve been. A place that perhaps you even tried to capture.

For me, that image was ‘Pirate Ship’ at St. Kilda.

I’ve stood there. Same stones. Same sky. But that guy stood there too. He came out of his house of film and captured my world. And then he turned it around and showed it to me.

A more vivid and unforgettable reaction to a piece of art I couldn’t imagine.

Art at its very, very best.

Trent Parke, once again, has found the extraordinary in the ordinary.


A note for educators: for those interested in seeing the exhibition with a study group or class I can heartily recommend Trent Parke, The Black Rose, Education Resource PDF, prepared by the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Creative photography in the vanishing north

The last few months have seen me spending more time writing for other people’s projects and not so much for the little Bibelots. As well, I’ve been getting ready for a group photographic exhibition as part of completing my creative photography studies at the Centre for Creative Photography.

Our exhibition launches Friday the 7th of March at the National Wine Centre. I hope you can come along.

What follows is my artist’s statement for that endeavour. Enjoy.


Artist’s Statement: The Vanishing North

landscape with telegraph poles and a creek“…all land, no matter what has happened to it, has over it a grace, an absolutely persistent beauty.” from the artist’s statement for ‘The New West’, by Robert Adams, 1974

The world is changing. It always has been, even when we were so young we thought it would stay the same forever. The landscape, unlike the continent beneath it, changes so rapidly and so thoroughly that if you don’t pay attention you won’t see it happen. These changes are at times beautiful, but more often they are ordinary and urbane, if not ugly. 
Too often, they are irreversible.

As houses fill in the horizon, what space is left for contemplation? And is what remains beautiful or is it scarred? Look to the landscape that I grew up with. The landscape of memory can sometimes purify how things really were. It wasn’t pristine, but it was productive. It wasn’t grandiose or heroic. It was a place that people worked and lived. It was as diverse as the stories of the people that lived there.

The memory of this place is still there, out North and North-West, but it’s vanishing. And to find it, the whole story of it, I had to go beyond my own backyard.

It was only a short journey, but it was a long way back in time.


Find out more

www.hatpeople.com.au/exhibitions/

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