A haunted lady... and an unwitting tribute to Ruscha

Returning from San Francisco I feel quite lost. Pouring over the images I have shot there, and the rest of my library I am not sure which direction to take. I feel that I need to explore further than the Iceland buildings series, but I know that there is something missing from the collection of more general Iceland shots I have loosely collected together, and which includes the DC 10 image I was so pleased with before I went away. I think it would be interesting to do a series of this images “out of black” but at the same time I’m nervous that they do not feel cohesive enough as a series, and lack a narrative beyond “some images I took in Iceland” and it feels important to move beyond that at this point.


None of the images from San Francisco seems to work, a few are interesting as mementos of the trip – and not bad photographs as such. Only the few images I took at dusk grab me stylistically, but even these seem to specifically of a time and place, too San Francisco skyline. This leaves the Painted Lady.  

Scanning through in Light Room I am instantly drawn to this image and I remember vividly the moment it was taken. At dusk in the park above Haight Ashbury surrounded by the famous Painted Ladies – rows of exquisite Victorian and Edwardian houses, vividly repainted in the 1960s and which have come to represent so much of San Francisco’s bohemian and colourful outlook – I am grabbed by the silhouette of brownstone apartment blocks in the middle distance. One with a single solitary lamp burning in an upstairs window. The light is failing, and I have little hope of capturing anything interesting at this distance, but the silhouette alone demands to be shot so I do, barely able to even find the building as I point and click, aware that my work team are already barrelling down the hill to the road to an awaiting Uber. With the ISO as high as it will go, braced against the wind in the hope of reducing camera shake even a little I finally get a shot that captures the tiny point of light in the upstairs window, and the brownstone silhouetted against the beautiful Californian dusk – rendered an eerie mars red by the wildfires raging in the nearby hills.

Looking at the image now it seems completely at odds with my work to date. I have been looking at using high end cameras in order to reduce the noise in my images, and yet here is an image that seems to work precisely because of this noise and disruption of data. An image completely at odds with the soft painterly quality of my Iceland buildings (which I note now were somehow shot on an incredibly fast 100 ISO), and yet an image that for all that shares a common sense of mystery, ambiguity, so full of narrative, removed from space and time.

The next day I print the image – in the similar way to the DC 10 print – with a black slab followed by a raw umber, enhanced with crimson to bring some small sense of that burning Californian sky. With this print though, the white negative over print reacts total differently than with the previous image to create a tension and a richness that was totally missing before. Perhaps this is because I adjusted the contrast levels on both transparencies to create a stronger ramp between light and dark, or because the image itself has more contrast and lack of definition. Even the artefact of poor technique – the white drying in on the left had side of the print as I struggle to register the print – adds a ghostly quality, evocative of lost signals and broken transmissions from an apocalyptic future. For whatever reason this image succeeds where the previous one had failed. This is the first image I feel truly belongs to my Quiet Earth…


Encouraged by this success I attempt a 4 colour separation print of one of the images I shot on my visit to Aust services. I am drawn to the emptiness of this image, inhabited by the ghosts of cars - an unwitting response to Ed Ruscha’s Thirtyfour Parking Lots (1967). The print goes well, though the cyan is again too strong and gives the image a somewhat forced 1970’s technocolour feel - which is an interesting aesthetic but not one I feel I really want to explore now - in light of the more ethereal and hauting Painted Ladies print I have just completed. There is definitely something in this image, I’m just not entirely sure how it all fits together