I decided to make a film to illustrate my process, which I think will fill the gap that the audience pointed out when reviewing my work. Here it is:
An experimental photography project exporing ideas of digital and analog balance.
Submitted PDF, 100 Photos, Process Filim
Key Things You Learned:
Analog Photography techiniques – Photograms, Pinhole Photography, Cyanotypes, Argyrotypes.
Information about RGB colour levels, and advanced photoshop editing.
Presenting a the process of the project to people in an effective way.
Luke Watson, Professional Photographer
Danilo Piga + Tutors
Every one of the 100 photos was technically a test for the next. The idea of the outcome was to show all of the tests and mistakes too, showing the learning path.
I got the chance to set up my work in the studios and get really valuable feedback from people who had never seen my project before.
Influencing your Future:
In this project I learned that I’m really passionate about processes and deconstructing them. I’ve learned a lot about the history of the digital and now I can better make choices about using language of both analog and digital in my projects. This way of thinking will definitely be carried through to my future work.
I have 1 week to finish the project. But how? I think I need to bring the process to the forefront, make it bigger and better. What I think I was missing when I presented in this week was first of all the original picture. I think the interactivity of it was very well received, but maybe not executed the best. If I want to go down this route, I think I will still display all the photos together, this time on a wall and enable the audience to draw their own connections between the digital image and the analog ones. The other possibility was to recreate the process I went through myself, and get people to engage with it in a more or less realistic way, although this doesn’t appeal to me as much for some reason. I want it to look finished and polished, be fun and educational. I imagine for example having the gridded photos displayed and then a pointer on a string attached to the digital image that people need to use to make their guess. The pointer/wand could slot in to show the result of their guess, so they can try again until they get it right. By this trial an error process they are quickly somehow going through my testing process two, while getting a gage and focusing their eyes on what balance really is. This forces them to really look at the pictures closely and learn to notice the differences, just like I did. And it’s a game. Everyone loves a bit of gamification! I quite like this idea so i might try to make a mockup of it to see what it would look like. I might have to spend some time in the wood workshop, since at the moment I imagine the photos being displayed with their individual inserts in a perfect grid, not just hung with pins. If I want some moving parts, maybe I should be realistic and only expect to create one module of the larger grid just to illustrate how it would work and slot together.
I displayed my 100 photos today and got some feedback on the project. While it seems successful in its intent and concept (people understood and appreciated the effort), it didn’t seem completely resolved. It feels like the project has been cut off a bit too early, not at its natural ending, which is the reality of the industry so I’m not complaining. I just think there’s a lot more I can do, this is a nice initial experimentation. We’ll see.
I’m not satisfied with my way of presenting it, it was rushed and not fully considered on my part. I think I’ll spend the next few days figuring out how to display them best. I’m planning to do a proper photoshoot with all the bits and maybe make an small installation/setup. More on this later.
Setting up (digital stencils, trays & chemicals):
Blacking out the windows using soapy water & tin foil (a tip learned from my spark training on the film set). You can see the shiny reflective windows of my darkroom from the street outside my house:
My first few pictures:
At the end of the day, I’ve done 20 photos today. It doesn’t sound like many but it took a long while to set up and to figure out a system and to get the hang of the order of things. I also had to keep re-evaluating and writing down comments to try to improve the exposures. You can clearly see a progression in the first 7 images I made (above), just by realising what type of lighting to use (and side of paper!) I’m still aiming to do a hundred, to maximise my chances of getting that perfect balance. After my first set of 20 I think I might have to change my strategy a bit since I’ve been finding it really hard to align my tonal stencils perfectly. More pics tomorrow!
Since my last post I’ve been having a bit of trouble getting my head around the project. While I’m still interested in analog and experimental photography projects, I’ve found it difficult to find an interpretation of the theme of ‘balance’ that wasn’t to do with the simple chemical ratios of darkroom developing. Honestly I was hesitant to just start making without having a direction because of how expensive everything was. Although I got chemicals, paper and film from Photofusion in Brixton, I didn’t want to waste all my time on something that might leave me frustrated, off-brief and empty handed. Yet I have this gut feeling that i was supposed to go in this direction. There’s something magical about black and white photography that I have yet to discover for myself, and now seems like a good enough time to do it.
So I started collecting my materials and I committed to this direction. I kept trying to understand the fascination that many photographers still have with this process, although it has been by far surpassed technologically. It’s a completely different way of taking pictures and, in my opinion, it embodies an attitude that still resonates with people today. And that is an approach to image making that is careful, considerate, slow, patient, which seems so in contrast with what we experience everyday. I think we are also used to technology being this magical thing we don’t understand. By this I mean that when we use a smartphone, for example, we accept the fact that it does what it does without necessarily being experts of how it works. We kind of accept it’s circuitry and mechanisms at face value. Analog photography is a technology that is less advanced and that is still visibly accessible to all of us: the process you witness is almost self-explanatory. You see the magic before your eyes and understand it.
I’ve been also thinking about how elements of analog photography have been translated into digital mediums. Like InDesign uses the terms of traditional Letterpress (think “Leading”…), Photoshop appropriates photographic concepts of exposure, vignetting, contrast etc. Colour values are particularly interesting, as are tonal values, which are the building blocks of any photograph. It struck me that every image contains in itself a balance between lights and darks, exposure and non-exposure, white and black.
I fished out a nicely contrasting image I took a few years ago, before my grandfather passed away. This is one of the few images I have of the two together, maybe just one of two I ever took myself. It just pretty much encapsulates their late life, and it reminds me of what their life was about in their home in the south of Italy: card games and sunshine.
I brought up the statistics and, once again, found many familiar terms. I really enjoy thinking about how mathematical imagery is, and how everything is fundamentally just data, which seems so devoid of emotion when compared to the content of the image.
I ask myself: what is a perfectly balanced image? The statistic would suggest a certain type of histogram in which the black and whites have about the same presence/weight, the mean, or average, value of the image occurring around the 100 mark. The Median is also helpful since it indicates something about the distribution of the pixels around that mean. But while the perfectly balanced image is easy to achieve digitally by just fiddling with a few photoshop sliders, how is it achieved manually? I’m afraid, trial and error is the answer! Partly as a personal challenge, and partly to test what is possible, I’ve decided I’m going to turn my room into a darkroom and attempt to produce that perfect analog version of that digital image.
I’m going to use some thick bin-bags to cover up my windows, with some electrical tape and the help of some thick curtains. I’ve manage to same some money on a safelight (£30-£50 online!) by finding a very week incandescent bulb, 15W and already coated in Red, and I’ve lined a lamp with two layers of acetate too.
The way I’m going to do it is mimic the way photoshop separates Highlights, Midtones and Shadows by creating my own version of digital negatives. While these are very expensive to make professionally, I’ve tested a variety of papers in inkjet and laser printers and I’ve managed to print out some semi-successful stencils. I’ve also made a mount board frame that will hopefully hold the stencils flat against the photographic paper, by slipping the overlay through the top.
Never having done this before, I also had to learn how the whole developing ‘thing’ works, so here are some of my notes on chemicals / times / temperatures ...
METHOD: So tomorrow is the big day. I’m planning to carry out 100 trials of the same image (yes, maybe a little ambitious, but gotta aim high!). Obviously working in the dark for the most part, I’ll quickly expose the tonal layers separately, first shadows, then midtowns, then highlights. I know these will take very different times (the shadows need a long time to become almost black, the highlights barely anything at all), but I’m hoping to get a better sense of them by just doing it repeatedly and recording my trials.
I think I will do them in separate batches, maybe in sets of 10 or 20. I’m hoping to get a nice visible progression in the images, showing both my learning curve and an increasingly better sense of tonal balance in the photos, ultimately leading to that near perfectly balanced image. Every so often I’ll scan the fixed images to see how I’m doing in terms of Photoshop’s statistics, and whether I’m getting anywhere close to that middle 100 average value. It might all fail, who knows?
From “Crafts” magazine, issue No.1, March 1973. (fun fact: it sold for 30 pence!) p. 21
“… [the label ‘craft’] implies a certain down-to-earth honesty, a concern for the important kinds of human sensibility and the quality of life, an antidote to the fashionable trivialities and sensationalism of present-day fine art and a remedy for the anti-human artificiality of modern technological civilisation.” – Bob Rogers