Saturday, June 19, 2010

Studio practice workbook 1.

These blog entries represent the workbook of my studio practice leading towards MOMENT, an exhibition of Solargraphy, opening at the Temple Gallery on 21 June 2010. This is the final part of my Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art.

In 2000 solargraphy was developed in Szczecin, Poland by Diego Lopez Calvin, Slawek Decyk and Pawel Kula - known as Team Solaris. Their idea was to create an international project for people around the world to collaboratively make simultaneous solargraphic images. I first came across solargraphy through the amusing and enthusiastic pinhole and solargraphy work of UK based Justin Quinell.

I have had some correspondence with Diego López Calvín who has been supportive without giving away the techniques he uses to create his superb colours.

The technique for solargraphy is that a pinhole camera is constructed and loaded with photosensitive paper. The camera is positioned where it can view the subject, which should include the path of the sun, and will not be disturbed. The aperture is opened and the camera is left untouched for days, weeks or months. The usual practice in pinhole photography is to expose for seconds or minutes and then in the darkroom process the paper normally. That is to develop and fix the image.  The technique used in solargraphy is somewhat different. Since the images are exposed for such extreme lengths of time the usual photochemical process is altered. The negative image becomes visible on the photographic paper without the need of chemical processing. In fact, my own experimental attempts to develop and fix solargraphic prints were unsuccessful. My results were either blackened images from the developer or completely faded images from the fix. Solargraphic practice is to remove the photographic paper from the camera under safelight conditions and scan it directly to a computer. The light from the scanner will degrade and “fog” the original image simultaneously as it is scanned. With each successive scan the image will lose definition. This means that there is only one chance to get the best possible image transferred to the computer and the original will be destroyed. Once the image is scanned and loaded into a photo editing program, it is inverted positive to negative and flipped left to right. Various adjustments are made to contrast and colour according to the whim of the artist. I see this part of the process as where much of the artistry as opposed to technique takes place. 

The process, then, is something of a hybrid of new and old. Lensless photography using a light sensitive medium is a technique from photography’s earliest days, although the light sensitive emulsion used these days is the result of a century and a half of development. The digitising of the image is of course a relatively recent innovation. It is this that makes the solargraphy technique possible. Digitisation makes it easy to handle, manipulate and print many copies of an image.

A fundamental difference solargraphy has to other photography methods is the destruction of the original work in the process of realising the desired image. The little black package that was the camera may have spent three seasons held to the discreet corner of a wall by the chemical faith of double-sided sticky tape. The camera, usually made in batches of dozens, might not have cost much in materials and time to construct but it gains value by it’s sheer good fortune and longevity. A steady stint will pay off in light absorbed and information collected. The reward to the photographer, if he has composed his shot well, can be immense. Of course many cameras don’t make it home and some philosophising over loss and attachment is sometimes called for during their harvesting. There is also plenty of room for misadventure in the rest of the process of digitisation. A mis-scan can easily ruin the result of half a year’s work.

Once the photochemical pattern is transduced into binary code the original paper will become useless. If the act of creation is related to destruction, as in “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette”. The sacrifice has been made and the equation is seemingly complete.

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This work by Chris Reid is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 New Zealand License.