Silver

This is the week we I start working with silver ink. The first print that I attempt this with is of the wind turbines I captured at Christmas – another of the “not what I’m here for” selection of odds and misfits I made a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve printed this image a couple of times as a simple positive at home with some success. It’s a simple but mysterious image, but too simplistic and naïve as a single colour print. Printing it silver on black totally transforms the print however, and it’s an incredibly successful process.

The silver, far from feeling gauche or over the top, adds a subtlety to the image that I hadn’t expected, allowing the black to seep through in one instance, before revealing the image overlaid at second glance. Whilst the white overlay created an almost binary distinction between light and dark (or conversely a foggy mess) the silver seems to preserve and even enhance the tonal range of the original image. I feel buoyed and excited by this breakthrough, it offers me a palette and an aesthetic that perfectly embodies the mood and tone I am hoping to set with this series of images.

All this said, the technical hurdles presented by printing in this way are not insignificant. The silver is incredibly hard to pull. It’s a very translucent ink and requires repeated pulls (as many as 5 or 6) to come through strongly on the screen. This creates issues with registration which are compounded further by the fact that it’s nearly impossible to see on a flip sheet, making initial registration onto the slab incredibly difficult. Repeated pulls mean the ink dries in incredibly quickly, and with the fineness of the screen it becomes even more essential that every pull is perfectly balanced in terms of pressure and speed. Even a bad flood can result in tide or squeegee marks that are visible on the print for several pulls to come, and if the screen doesn’t snap, the resulting tide mark, however small ruins the print.

To which, this first set of prints, as rewarding as they are, are on reflection pretty much duds. Where the registration is good, the pull is bad with either tide marks, squeegee scars or dry in. I keep a couple of prints for reference but most go into the increasing pile of Fabriano test sheets in my work drawer.

Today has been a success though - I have discovered a process and an aesthetic that is incredibly transformative, maintaining the richness of the original pinhole imagery, but bringing something new to it also. Technically hellish and requiring a precision and skill that I’m not sure I have yet – but which I am desperate to attain in order to bring my work to life.

Energised by my success in the studio I feel compelled to seek out more imagery. Working in Bedminster, and at UWE it is hard not to be drawn to the monolithic structures of the Tobacco Factory buildings that tower over the surroundings, visible for miles around. I drive within them and around them every day on my way into work, and have always dismissed them as having too much of a sense of place. That said leaving work early on Friday, the slightly later evening finally affords me the opportunity to do some after-hours photography. Attempting to capture these monoliths through the pinhole lens provides the usual challenge of finding the perfect distance from the subject – no mean feat in amongst the tangle of slip roads, carriageways and waterways that surround the factories. I immediately fall into the trap of finding perfect angles and projections to perfectly frame the factory buildings, and it’s so hard to move away from this deliberate photography style when the subject is so eloquent. As aesthetically pleasing as the images I am capturing are, they are lacking what I hoped I would find – some way of expressing the sheer monolithic stature of these objects, the sheer weight they express on the environment around them. I want these buildings to take on a looming weight and crushing gravity in my quiet earth, but they refuse to transform, so weighted by their own historic and iconic sense of place.

It is only as I start to lose the light entirely that I being to find any real intrigue. The detail in the buildings is all but lost to camera noise and evening shade, with only artificial light from windows piercing the monolithic structures to give any indication of the form’s real identity.

As I walk back to the car I am presented with three perfect subjects in quick succession, each totally at odds with the evenings planned monolithic subject matter. The resulting images – of the Plimsoll Bridge guard house, random factory roofs, and a solitary lamppost silhouetted against the last of the setting sun – that will provide the most fuel for the upcoming weeks printing.  

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