Avonmouth Docks

At the weekend I explore the Portway again looking to capture something of the monolithic presence of the industrial buildings in this area. Just as before I find it hard to get close enough to any of the buildings I want to photograph – such as Granary No. 5 or any of the many silos, yards and structures that I can see on my journey down the M5 every day.

I’m considering some form of pinhole time lapse of this journey – it feels so full of skylines and details that capture my imagination and excite me as I drive into work – yet I always feel so uninspired when out on a day like this one. There is something about the nature of the journey – the view is so transient, grabbed glimpse from motorway overpasses, buildings visible for a fleeting second before they are lost again. I feel sometimes that when I interrogate the view too much – when I go out with the purpose of photographing a specific building or view something is lost in the interrogation. When I look back on my prints, and the photography that interests me, it is more often the incidental shot, the hurriedly grabbed (such as the brownstone in San Francisco) that end up in my selections when considering a print. I think this feeds into my choice to work with pinhole photography, to embrace the accidental and to surrender control, to avoid overtly composing an image, or taking total control over its creation. Instead I prefer to treat my photography somewhat after the fact – almost as found imagery, given enough time from their taking to be totally removed from the choices and decisions I made in framing and rejecting them.

The same ends up being true with the images I capture on this occasion. My focus – a towering industrial elevator by St Andrews Road station – and I capture what I think are some interesting images, though framing is hard, and the sun is high, and directly behind the elevator – crushing the tones in my images into mushy poorly contrasted grey murk. There are no moments of excitement, despite my gut feeling that this would be a perfect study. As an afterthought as I return to the car, I grab images of some gas tanks on the other side of the railway tracks. The tank almost completely fills the frame and it doesn’t feel like much of a composition in truth. It’s only when I look back later in the evening that I realise this image is exactly the thing – gigantic, brooding, rendered soft and almost painterly by the pinhole with a rich and cloudy blue sky behind.

 

In the studio this week I make a brief diversion from my current practise to create a print for my girlfriend Helen. The concept of the print is based on a short piece I created for my MA Research Practice essay – 29 times it wasn’t Lupus, and two times it was in which I used the pinhole camera to photograph stills of every episode of the TV programme House where they diagnose the illness Lupus. The original print was interesting but relied too heavily on the lighting framing and overall art direction of the series itself to feel like it was mine, so I didn’t pursue the concept further. This time however I want to use the process to hopefully capture the essence of Helen’s favour film – Miller’s Crossing, by the Coen Brothers. I set up the camera rig and shoot a still every 90 seconds, before cutting down the selection to 90 prints telling the story of the film (with only the title frame photographed out of time sequence to provide reference). The print is a single monotone in paynes grey on a half sheet of Fabriano 5, and I’m very pleased with the results. The stills selected, combined with the posterising effect of the screenprint process perfectly evoke the noirish feel of the film, and there are some wonderful double exposures, and motion blurs, courtesy of the pinhole’s slow shutter speed.

Just as with 29 times… I love the aesthetic of this piece, and perhaps as a commercial outlet I think it might be interesting to pursue (copyright law withstanding), but again I don’t feel like the true creator of the work, merely the documenter, in a way that feels completely different from my work with live music or landscape. The time-lapse idea though is interesting, as it could add the element of arbitrariness, a loss of control to my work. Definitely something to consider.

I also begin printing a new set of mini-prints, based on my Iceland buildings series – with a view to creating either an artist’s book or some form of multiple sequence. I feel comfortable and relaxed working at this scale now, but I think I slightly underestimate the scale of the task and haste takes over – resulting in some foolish mistakes. I know I want to create this piece, but I need to commit to it fully and give it the time and consideration it deserves, in the selection and treatment of the imagery, in the execution and in the final presentation.

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At the weekend I experiment with another small set of mini prints using a new (much smaller) 150t screen that I have purchased with a view to creating some prints at home.

I want to take a similar approach with some of my Iceland prints as I have with other recent prints – reversing them image and printing the negative onto black. I begin with the slabs as usual – certainly more fun in my home office with no print racks and an inquisitive cat, but all goes to plan, and I have enough slabs for a series of 9 prints. Laying down the white monotone however proves a lot less successful. There simply isn’t enough contrast in the image, and it is incredibly hard to pull without dramatically under inking (on a single pull) or over saturating (with a double pull). After a long afternoon in the studio I do semi-successfully create a small edition of prints – perhaps 20 artist proofs at best. The do have an interesting ghost like quality, but the pull is not consistent, the image is under exposed and there is, frustratingly, moiré in the image. They do have an interesting found photograph quality to them – and I definitely want to explore this further with better quality transparencies (perhaps at a higher resolution, and definitely with more attention to moiré). It is however rewarding to be able to print at home in the studio and I’m keen to explore the possibilities of doing this beyond the MA as it is infinitely calmer than the normal studio environment.

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