Mo' mini - Mo' problems
One of the images I am happiest with from the Iceland shoot – was taken at the site of a downed United States Navy DC plane which ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur. It was one of (I felt at the time) my most successful shoots, and I had already done some fairly successful photo-etchings of it over the summer.
The depth and darkness of the dark sands lend themselves perfectly to my next experiment – inspired by fellow MA Graham Cook to play around with the effect of printing the negative elements of the print - printing the white positive back onto a black slab.
I begin, working with a small 10cm x 6cm image, which is inverted in photoshop, colour adjusted to raise the contrast and then bitmapped (300dpi, 85lpi, 75 deg). I then create a positive bitmap of the same image (again adjusted for contrast) – with the view that this will create a midtone underneath the white and on top of the black – with both the positive dark ink, and the negative white/light ink both pulling up out of the black slab underneath.
I also decide to revisit some of my old live music photography with a view to trying the same process with my old subject matter. I select an image of the band Protomartyr, taken at Primavera Porto a couple of years earlier. I am intrigued by this concept of printing “out of black” – and this is one of the few images I always wished I had taken then opportunity to print when I was still focussing on live music, in spite of it being something of a throwback to my earlier work.
In the studio things don’t go according to plan. I begin by test printing the positive image of the plane in payne’s grey – but there simply isn’t enough contrast in the image to register any detail – especially when printed onto a solid black slab.
I print the screen again straight onto white, but I’m still not satisfied with the quality of the image, there is very little detail. I talk to Dave and he suggests I move up to using a 120t or even 150t screen (and I realise that I have foolishly selected a 90t screen in my haste).
I re-expose and test print the positive Protomartyr image. It has terrible moiré, so I immediately abandon it – though I think I am still keen to explore this technique with my music photography given later successes. Irrespective of moiré I don’t feel these images work at this scale in the way the architectural ones do – perhaps because of their subject, or perhaps simply because I understand them better, and have more confidence to produce them at scale.
I have more success with the Iceland image – printing a deep blue mid-tone down onto the small black slab before applying a the white “negative”. Mid way through I stop printing the white negative – as it is clear that the dark mid-tone, fighting its way out of the rich black is far more engaging as an image. I love the way the viewer is forced to find meaning and form in the image – the barely defined form of the fuselage silhouetted against the dramatic cold Icelandic sky.
More so even than with the mini-print I feel that I have made a massive breakthrough with this image. Not necessarily with the subject, which doesn’t feel quite right, is too showy maybe, too specifically of a place and time, but undoubtedly in terms of the process. There is something about pulling the image back out of the black slab with the mid-tone that seems to mirrors the subtlety and physicality of the pinhole exposure – as if the image is pulled from the dark, not born of the light, it creates a sense of tension and of a struggle, a
A sense of light fighting with darkness, at the birth or death of the day.