Gas tower I
Some considerable time staring deep into a laptop screen later I have begun to pull out a selection of images which begin to better realise The Quiet Earth. It’s a process that sees me looking back through piles of rejected images that felt too abstract, poorly framed or over/under-exposed previously, with a totally new lens. I find it in a few places, in some of the more abstract images of wind turbines I captured at Christmas, and in the telephone exchange I printed somewhat unsuccessfully a few weeks ago. Crucially though, I am beginning to be able to test the images I have created against my fundamental concept, to see whether the image is transformed enough and removed enough to transport it to my quiet earth and embody it. It’s an easy and intuitive test, and one that sees me reject a handsome proportion of my existing photography, and nervous as to how I begin to collect more. Looking back I remember this process being much more reflexive and natural with my concert photography. Whilst I occasionally pushed for an unsuccessful image to work, more often than not the images presented themselves naturally and uncannily, and although I didn’t know it then perfectly embodied the aesthetic of The Quiet Earth.
Now I find that the deliberate images, the ones I have made a point of seeking out and capturing, are almost all on the reject pile. They are too formal, too deliberate and too literal. Instead I am left with the happy accidents, the mistakes and the randomly grabbed also rans.
And the most immediately arresting of these, which I print today is of a gas tower on Avonmouth docks. It was an image that grabbed me when I took it originally, snapped as an afterthought as I drove away from the docks. There is something about the tension between it’s intense scale in the frame, it’s brutal industrialism, and the almost painterly softness with which the pinhole has rendered it.
I start with the black slab (think we need to take that as a give from now on) and then lay a deep, almost violet red down over the top. The violet looks rich and textured over the slab, and I also do a couple of paynes grey versions of this positive for good measure as I am incredibly drawn to this image, even as a simple halftone.
Laying down the white negative screen over the top however proves disappointing. There is not enough contrast in the negative image to provide any contrast with the underlying image, and all of the detail is lost in a white fog. To be kind it has a foggy, ghostlike quality, but it seems so far removed from what I had hoped for (and from what I know is possible from the San Francisco image). It’s clear that I need to work more precisely with the original transparencies to ensure there is enough contrast in the negative – allowing the underlying inks to pull through and add the contrast and depth I am looking for. I also need to think harder about the colours I am using in my work as I’m not at as happy with the violet as I was with the cadmium red/burn umber blend I used on the San Fran image. I know I want to add a colour element to the work, it adds a richness and depth, but I need to decide whether there is room for different colours across my prints, and what the purpose of this would be, or whether I should double down on the eerie sunset cast of the rich rust red I already know I love…