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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

06/04/2024 - Buried Soil Prints

13th - 14th March 2024

Experimentation: Duration with soil


This blog conversation will outline recent experimental work I undertook mid-March. The work conceived was and still is a part of the research journey exploring ideas about revealing the invisible within landscape, specifically within land samples (common term: soil).

Although mid-March was just over two weeks ago, I have been setting myself targets within this project to complete within and by the end of April, hens why there has been a bit of a delay on this write up. A little side note on those targets, after a successful supervisory meeting with the team, I am writing a chapter on soil which is taking some time to get going. I have begun also exploring a new experimental method for extracting exoelectrogens from the soil samples I walk through, and that method is known as soil chromatography. This process does take several weeks to produce from start to finish and during this period I intend to work in the field some more. I am very much enjoying where my research is currently as I believe all the parts of the puzzle have finally come together, which is such a positive for myself.

With this entry then I begin recapping where my work sat prior to these experiments and that was developing/refining my electrical current land samples and collecting/extracting exoelectrogens to be transferred over to prints. My intention is very much to continue with this method of practice, but as with all good practitioners, the mind is a curious thing and so I considered other ways of collecting/extracting exoelectrogens. There was something within the photo sensitive paper I was using that caught my attention. This all stemmed from a class I was teaching about manipulating film negatives. I told my students to go bury their negatives in the ground for a week and see what would happen to them (I also intend to do this). I thought back about how I push a cathode and anode into the ground, but also how I buried an image into the landscape too (over a year ago). The act of connecting specific materials to another material can have a cause and effect or reaction and that is exactly what is occurring when I work within the parameters I do. I think about this concept through photography and the chemical reactions that occur, specifically with light sensitive paper. What then would happen if I created a contact with a specific land sample and the photo sensitive paper? And so, this is where my curious mind took me too.

My soil research is somewhere within the early stages of development, and I would state that my knowledge on exoelectrogens, bacteria, micro-organisms etc is still limited however, I have experience with working with these elements. I understand that they can react and be agitated when (as stated earlier) exposed to different materials. Photographic paper comes in a variety of types including resin coated and fibre-based, but a common solution that is found upon the paper types is a silver gelatin. This silver-gelatin reacts to light and other chemicals such as developer, stop and fix. What then if I was to take silver halide salt (gelatin coated paper and mix it with a living system of micro-organisms and bacteria? Surely a reaction should occur and that is what I was hoping for with this experiment. Would the photographic paper work like its intended use i:e capture an image. I do not mean capture a clear image of a landscape; I mean would the photographic paper react in such a way that it could capture the land/soil sample.

To support my experimental queries, I decided to work across a long period of time as I believed duration would agitate the paper and organisms enough allowing for a reaction to occur that would be visually appealing. I do not believe that if I placed the paper into the soil for a short amount of time, an infused relationship would react enough, and instead a simple photogram would appear. I therefore cut up photographic paper into 4x4” inch squares and buried each square about 3-5” inches into my chosen soil sample. I left the paper buried into the soil overnight for about twelve hours and then retrieved the paper the following morning placing it into a dark bag to protect any further from light exposure. I took the exposed paper to work and developed each square within a traditional method – dev – stop – fix – wash. To support the experimental outcome further, I scanned in the imagery at a 1200 resolution to pull out all reactive marks enabling me to also apply a digital colurised solution to the prints. This colourisation builds on previous work where I looked to visualise depth and texture within a living system. The outcomes can be seen within the following tile gallery below.

My thoughts on these outcomes are positive, again this was a simple experiment and something that I was curious to try out and from the images presented it is clear that my curiosity has paid off. The photographic paper has worked as a receptor to ‘image’ capture a living system of bacteria and micro-organisms. It is another form of analysis if I am to look at these prints as evidenced based nature data collecting or I can analyse these as a visual appealing set of prints that reveal an invisible living system.

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