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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

01/09/23 - Land Samples & Artistic Outcomes

1st September 2023:

Making: Working with Samples

I am finding my practice starting to move at quite a rapid pace at this moment in time. I have several elements within the practice firing on all cylinders and it is a wonderful position to be in... a little chaotic trying to put everything in place, but great to be seeing outcomes occurring. This conversational entry discusses one of those artistic outcomes and that outcome is that of a response/reaction (interaction is probably the more suitable word to use) to my residency at Auchope Rigg. I will discuss what I came across and why I collected such samples from the location, the intentions of using such samples, how I worked with the samples, what was produced and my thoughts on those outcomes.

On the 7th August I headed up once again to Scotland but this time I was on the border of England and Scotland (literally). This residency was one I had planned to complete during Easter, but due to severe weather conditions I had to abandon it. I did, however, manage to complete this residency early last month. During this residency I walked a part of the Pennine Way immersing myself into the surrounding landscape, experiencing it as it is. I walked myself through and within the landscape, and at times I collected elements of the landscape (moss, fauna, earth etc) within petri dishes. These elements within the landscape were elements that I deemed to be dominating certain surfaces and so I believed them to be a good representation of the Pennine Way.

My intention for the land samples was to document/archive them through the form of a photogram. A photogram being a type of photographic silhouette, simple to create and effective with its crisp cut black and white appearance. I have created many photograms within my teaching practice and several during this stage of the research journey. My reason to use photograms as a means to document the land samples and rather not using a camera to simply photograph them, is because I want to work within a non-digital method. By using a photogram process, it enables me to create work without a real power source (not including the enlarger power), and this is important to me as I can create this type of work when on residencies. I do not need a power source for an enlarger, as my enlarger would be that of the Sun, a natural power/light source.

I set up my new darkroom space within my garage and began testing the exposure time. I was looking at around a very quick exposure time of two seconds however, I decided to turn down the aperture a couple of clicks to reduce this quick light reaction. Keeping the samples in the petri dish would continue with this idea of centralising the sample within the frame of the image. I did not put the whole sample into the petri dish as this would not work well for a photogram. It would look muddled and chaotic and although the samples may not come out clean, reducing space for light to pass through is important for this type of work. With all photographic dark room work, this series was a working experiment. Many samples would be photographed (photogram) and all would take some alterations with the quantity of sample, exposure, and focus. One issue that occurred early on was that I was noticing a double edge on the border of the petri dish. My sample looked like it was escaping and or sat within the border. I came to realise that this was due to the depth of the petri dish. The base of the dish has a higher wall and so I decided to use the roof of the dish which is lower in depth. Low and behold this swap worked and the border became shallower and refined. You can see the differences in the images below.

A second issue that was arising was the development of the image. I wanted a true black to arise from the development process, but my first batch of images were returning grey and fogged. When an image is fogged this is most likely due to the photographic paper being exposed before the enlarger has exposed it. My dark room is not completely light tight, and my red safety light is just a red coloured gel. Something I will have to sort out over the next month. Luckily for me I have access to the dark room at work and decided that (after tinkering with development time) that I best ask my photography colleague for some advice and develop in the dark room. Sarah suggested a much longer exposure time with a low aperture and then when developing within the tank, allow that to elongate. This would in theory enable me to produce a richer black. Sarah’s advice was spot on, and I am thankful for it as it worked very well when I implemented the advice. Below you are able to see the original photograms above the second batch of photograms. There is a clear difference in contrast.

With outcomes complete I am asking myself, what am I seeing with these prints, or should I say, what do I feel is being communicated now that an ‘end’ product is visible? Maybe an answer lies within that latter word ‘visible’. What I have done is taken visible natural elements from the landscape (moss, fauna, earth etc) and presented them to myself (and to my future audience) as a ‘product’ of the landscape that I encountered at a close proximity. I picked those elements up and I have presented them as a centrally fixed entity within a border. There appears to be two encounters in play with this work. An acknowledgement of the act of gathering natural elements and the encounter of formalising the elements as an artistic outcome. I am attempting to demonstrate the intimate action from my residency and place that experience within an artistic environment. *Side note here, I am thinking around this idea here of the wanderer within the landscape and the wanderer within the gallery space (not the same wanderer but the term wanderer used as an action i:e walking in an environment). Is there something within this action within two separate places, one being natural and one being man-made? What I do believe can derive from these formalised natural elements as artistic products is that I can see them demonstrating the interconnectedness between one and other. They work individually as captured elements framed and disseminated but they work within a system, one great totality that makes up a bigger picture … a landscape. There is a physical network between live objects projecting their own visual appearance and role within nature and within Morton’s mesh system of interobjectivity.

As with all these conversations, it is further formalised thinking from me put onto a digital document, attempting to put together a series of questions. Something to continue on with until my next entry.

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