A small gallery of photos of the final version of one of my books of letters, made from photographs of Mynydd Llangyndeyrn and letters I had written to myself. They are hand printed, using cyanotype print processes and toned with green tea, and I am very pleased with the work.
Photographs of the work are not the work, they are a representation of the work. It can become complex, layered, enfolded.
I take a digital photograph using my mobile phone. I get a print shop to print it, and then I draw on it, and screen print words onto it, in layers.
Then, I try to photograph it for a digital display. I discover this: these photographs, all of them, and especially the ones with the gold leaf, do not photograph easily at all. Everything shifts with slight changes in angle, in light. Actually, this is what I love about them. Words come into visibility and out. Whole paragraphs disappear and reappear.
Are they impossible to represent? Not quite. I don’t believe that. It’s just harder, it takes a long time and fortitude. Because I did not want to admit defeat, I felt like there was something so important about them, I wanted so much to show, to share.
I’ve been printing short randomised parts from my notebook onto small mixed-media photos and watercolour paintings, to make pieces of work in response to walking through the winter months at the mountain at dusk.
In order to do it, I’ve been working on improving my screen printing skills, and finding a good way to set up so that I can print accuately, and very clearly, but with slight faintness, and disappearing out in places. Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve managed to make it work using small screens on a board on the kitchen table, although I still can’t exactly say how to make the images disappear at the edges. I am starting to suspect that it partly has to do with putting packing underneath, and partly has to do with using old pots of ink, and letting the screen dry out a little, not something that is normally advised.
A trial or prototype for a concertina book, using images of my photos and letters.
Today some small experiments – making scroll forms from one of my prints.
By unrolling the taller one, you can read the writing: a paragraph from one of my letters to myself:
Yesterday you wrote about the strangeness, the unfamiliarity of the ordinary. This is a fundamental perception, that we don’t know reality until we go out of ourselves to meet it; we mustn’t assume or pretend knowledge. Reality is brutal, it has hard edges, and we want it tame or knowable, but this is a failure of courage. The roughness of rock, this is part of what the mountain is. These elemental conversations. The spin and orbit of the planet, the depth of time. The seen and the unseen, the ‘tidal conversation’ in us. There is no standing still.[NB, the idea of ‘tidal conversation’ in us refers to David Whyte’s writing, and is from his wonderful book, ‘Consolations’ ]
Today I used a photocopier and slide (acetate) transparencies to make negatives for a photographic print process called cyanotype. You may have seen cyanotype used for botanical prints (a 19th century pioneer of the method was Anna Atkins, who made books of algae prints). [For botanical prints no negatives are needed – instead the plants are placed directly on the paper].
The first picture shows a negative that I made today, using one of my drawings and a piece of my writing; the second shows some blocks that I made a couple of years ago – by folding papers that had been printed using this process.
To make the prints, you mix up a UV sensitive ‘paint’, and paint it onto paper indoors in a room that is not too bright, and then expose the paper (through the negative) to UV light – which I hope to be able to do by the simple method taking it outdoors and putting it under the sky, perhaps weighted at the corners (hopefully we have enough UV in the middle part of the day, by April). Once exposed, the print is rinsed – the paint exposed to UV remains on the paper and darkens, the rest washes off. I have almost no expertise in this process – only a good instinct for it – so I’ll need to experiment and be flexible. Very fun.
The colour of the prints is a very strong blue (this is the ‘cyan’ in cyanotype) – but I was taught a method of bathing completed images in a tanin-rich liquid such as tea or wine, which alters the tones closer to browns, which I will follow.
working on these gilded photos again…
continuing with the thought of using gold leaf to create gilded landscape photos.
these are strange, and very imperfect, but I’m persevering, I feel like there may be something yet to come from it.
I went out again to the mountain this evening. I realised that the pure consistency of showing up there, day after day, is in itself valuable, and worth at least as much as anything else that I do.
Although the grasses, reeds and thorn trees are still sparse and dry after the cold, there has been a gradual change, a lifting of the winter. There is a smell of spring and of soil. Today I lay down on a mossy hummock and listened to the birds in the thickets.
I am fascinated by the photos that I take as the light is falling away and things are disappearing, and I sent off today for many of my mountain photos of the last few months to be printed, to try to use them with the small drawings and paintings that I am making.
These ones seem like too much sweetness, but this is pretty close to what I saw – apart from some strange effects of the camera, and apart from the way that the sky goes right over and all the way around…