Streetlights and wastelands

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In the studio this week I continue experimenting with silver ink printing. Over the weekend I have done some test printing of one of the images I found exploring the Portway – a simple but stark image of a lighting pole on the swing bridge. I am confident in the image, and to some extent the main reason I am reprinting it again is burn in from a previous stencil on my own screen which showed through heavily on the prints.

I decide to print a colour positive under the silver – hoping to add a similar depth to this image as with previous prints. Trying to move away from the rust red I use what I hope to be a sunset rich orange, but I realise as soon as I have pulled the first print that the colour is far too strong – luminescent on the black background where I would want it to sink in, almost disappear until the next colour is added. When the silver is added it fights disappointingly with the underlying colour and I am forced to reject the (small) edition. I begin again with the remaining slabs and create a simpler black on silver version of the print which is as effective as my original test print, perhaps more so for it’s simplicity. I love the starkness of the lamppost, with its almost alien-like silhouette, stamped out against the bleached silver sky. This image pairs well with the wind turbine image from the previous week – which I feel confident enough to reprint again today – and make a reasonable edition of. Both prints are incredibly challenging to pull – every aspect requiring a level of precious that I haven’t had to mind before. From registration, to ink consistency, to screen setup, to pull angle to flood – when it’s right the result is beautiful, but when one variable goes awry the difference is immediately felt in the result. It makes printing each edition nerve wracking, frustrating and exhausting, but I feel every week that I am becoming more in control of my technique – not just as a screen printer generally – but in the creating these specific and (I hope) unique images. For the first time since starting the MA I am beginning to feel that I am creating a body of work that I understand and am truly proud of and it is incredibly invigorating.

On Friday I meet up with my friend Joe – an artist and musician and we talk, as we have for a while, about some form of artistic collaboration. He talks about how he is struggling for inspiration, and in need of a brief, and I mention, flippantly, that he should create a soundtrack to my work – a soundscape to my landscape as it were, and he gamely agrees.

In the cold light of day (with a fierce hangover) it still seems like a good idea, but it also raises a lot of questions about my work and its relation to the music I listen to, a connection that I feel at all levels. I realise I have begun to think of each print almost like an album track, with the narratives I create around the images in my head intrinsically carrying with them a soundtrack as distinctive as the images themselves. It will be fantastic to see what Joe comes up with in reaction to my work, and equally interesting when, as we have discussed, the tables are turned, and I am tasked with responding to his work with one of my images.

It is with hungover head that I visit my lastest “site of special photographic interest”. I have been intrigued for several weeks now as I sit in painful traffic on the M49, by snatched glimpses of a building buried in woodland off to the left of the motorway. It seems abandoned, lost, and somehow invisible in plain site of speeding traffic but somehow overlooked. After much googling and google mapping I stumble across an article by an urban explorer/ photographer - https://gidsey.com/2017/04/m49-m5-intersection/. Everything he writes about the site, as well as his photographic studies of the site have made me determined to explore and so this is where I find myself on a bright and far too sunny Saturday morning.

However fruitful any of these photographic explorations may be, I do find the thrill of the hunt incredibly rewarding. There is something about the itch of seeing a building or structure off in the distance, obscured by trees, remote and too distant for the pinhole lens, the hunt to figure out how to get closer via google maps and OS Explorer sheets, before finally making a pilgrimage to capture it through the lens. Whether the resulting images are themselves successful seems less important in the end than exploring this changing relationship with the landscape, with scale and proximity, with distant object that suddenly appear and tower above us.

This morning is no exception – the entrance to the strange no-mans land lying in the crook created where the M49 meets the M5 – is at the back of an urban farm in the heart of Shirehampton. Wandering through reclaimed brownfield grassland it is hard to believe that the building I am searching for could be hidden so effectively, and yet round the next corner it suddenly presents itself. A monolithic two-story sewage pumping station (oh the glamour) heavy set concrete window frames blacked out and lifeless. The sensation is beyond eerie, even on this bright spring morning, it is as if I have been transported to the mysterious other-world that I have been trying to create through my photography. Perhaps it is because nature has so calmly and quietly taken hold of this place, mere seconds away from a busy motorway, perhaps it is that the building seems so stranded and at odds with the wilderness that surrounds it. Either way I feel I have found my perfect subject and set about eagerly taking photographs. I work for over an hour, pausing only to receive the fright of my life as I round a corner to find an elderly man resting in the morning sun with his dog, nothing like thinking you are completely alone, only to find you are not, to make your blood freeze in an instant.

It has been a rewarding (if momentarily terrifying) morning, but before I head back I decide to see if I can capture another of my long coveted subjects – the gas towers on the M49. I have tried on several occasions to capture them from the motorway, and from every approach road and footpath I can find, but no exploration has yet rewarded me with a view sympathetic to my pinhole and it seems today will be no different. On the point of giving up I stop on the closest overpass to the towers, still far too far for an interesting shot, and then suddenly there it is – the shot I didn’t know I was looking for.  For all my efforts to get up close and personal with these structures, to try and express their monolithic aspect and place in the landscape, this short series of images, with a single one of the towers almost melting back into the landscape for some reason fits perfectly into my quiet earth. This is The Quiet Earth of the lonely traveller, far from home, suddenly spying civilisation in the distance, unsure whether it will be populated or abandoned, friendly or hostile. It’s mere sighting instilling dread and hope in equal measure. After two hours photographing the pumping station, it is this short series, a Hail Mary snapshot with no expectations that wins the day…

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