In mid-January I made an early morning journey from Scotland by train to London, having been shortlisted for a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship. I was on my way to an interview being held in Westminster to meet a panel who would decide if I would be successful or not in my application.
The Trust was established in 1965 on the death of Sir Winston Churchill, and is seen as a living memorial, annually awarding people from across the UK Fellowships to travel overseas to study or gain experience for their profession or their community.
My own proposal was to spend 5-6 weeks travelling across the US to study the rise in popularity of historical photographic processes such as wet-plate collodion, and to do this by interviewing practitioners from LA to San Francisco, from the Mid-West to New York. It was an ambitious plan to cross the continent of America and also visit the museums and galleries which have been dealing with this re-emergence, and to learn more from the US, which has a far more sophisticated and established photography market than here in Europe.
I arrived at the interview running slightly late, having come from another meeting in London with a former director of Magnum, however luckily the other candidates were running slightly behind schedule, so I had time to gather my thoughts and calm my nerves before meeting the panel.
Eventually the fateful time arrived, and I was escorted through and took my seat in front of the three interviewers and the Director General of the Trust, Major-General Jamie Balfour who introduced me. One thing that I had not expected was to be interviewed by one of the most prominent former Fellows of the Trust, Nick Danziger - a photographer whose work I deeply admire, who travelled in disguise across asia for 18 months, taking some of the most hard hitting images of poverty I have ever seen, experiences which were later published in his book Danziger’s Travels. His work documenting the Iraq war from within the corridors of power are also incredibly revealing, with his images of George Bush and Tony Blair being some of the most iconic of the last decade.
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t however have time to ask him a thousand questions, and concentrated on the task at hand, which was answering theirs. Firstly I was asked to explain the aims of my project, and how it would benefit both me personally and professionally as well as the UK community – with a variety off questions from “why is it important to preserve these processes?” right through to impossible questions such as “what is the current number of glass-plate images in collections in the UK today?”.
The questions came in thick and fast, and I stood my ground, giving the best answers I could, knowing that Nick is incredibly familiar with photographic developments in the UK and would have the ability to ask me a huge variety of very specific questions. The final round of questions centered on my itinerary, and I was asked by Jeremy Soames (the grandson of Sir Winston) how I intended to carry out my Fellowship. After this it was over, and exhausted I left the room feeling slightly dejected but glad it was over.
A few weeks have passed since then, however yesterday I received a wonderful letter from the trust congratulating me, and awarded me a Fellowship. To say that I’m excited is an understatement, however the real work is now only just beginning as I plan my journey across the US as well as to Europe and beyond.
It is an exciting time for wet plate collodion photography, and with the emergence in full swing across the world, I hope to be able to meet and work with those who are leading the revival, and to bring these lessons back to the UK and share them with the wider community.
Find out more at www.wcmt.org.uk
It’s the start of a new year, and what better way to celebrate than to pack my cameras, chemicals and supplies into my car and spend a day making some images on glass. It’s something I had been wanting to do for couple of weeks now, however the Scottish weather had other plans, and December was a month which set new records for severe weather warnings. Given that making images with wet plate requires UV light (at its lowest in the winter) and negligible winds, things didn’t look too promising.
I’ve always slightly obsessed with weather forecasts, and noticed that the 2nd of January had a few hours of minimal wind, and while not sunny it was at least not raining! Not ideal conditions by any stretch of the imagination, but I decided to make the journey over to the magnificent ruins of Caerlaverock Castle near my home and set up for the day. The castle has a long and turbulent history, with its defensive walls and towers forming a triangle which is surrounded on all sides by a wide moat. You can read an excellent history of the castle with many images here.
Unpacking the car in the cold conditions, I tried to set up in one of the defensive ditches in front of the castle, but found myself sinking slowly into a bog and opted instead to set up behind the only shelter available – a holly bush. Having set up the dark-box and sorted out the chemicals, I slung the heavy tripod over my shoulder and made my way across the bog to my subject.
The castle loomed above me, and I decided to set up in a partially sheltered clearing to the west, with a view which echoed a Victorian glass plate held by the Museum I work for. What followed was an intensive day of physical labour as I ran to and from the location dark slide in hand, working to develop and pour images in increasingly rough conditions. As the day went on the wind speed increased, and it became impossible to pour plates outside, as the collodion was being blown everywhere except for on the glass! Conditions in the dark box also became challenging as well as one of my two red lights decided it had had enough for the day, which left me to develop plates largely in the dark.
It was a nightmare at times, and often when making images the wind would suddenly gust up and move the camera when a plate was being exposed. I must admit though that I had great fun, even managing to spend time with a few visitors who where intrigued by the process and wanted to learn more. More importantly working in such tough conditions is great practice for improving my skills for working in the landscapes of Scotland, as well as for my upcoming residency on the rather windy Atlantic coast of Ireland!
I’ve had the chance to scan a few images on my rather basic Epson, but they should give you an impression to what the plates look like. I’ve included two images – one which is a result of the wind playing havoc with the tripod, and the other which was developed in the dark! These images may not be perfect, but I think it’s important to share the ‘sketches’ which go into making the final images and help me develop my craft.
The Double Exposure
This image of the castle is one of several made from this angle while strong winds shook the trees around me. The exposure time was about 40 seconds,however after about thirty seconds a strong gust of wind caught the camera, shifting it slightly and changing the focus. I decided to go ahead and develop the plate rather than binning it to see how it turned out, and the result was this rather odd double exposure. While the image is a ‘mistake’, it’s one that I quite like, and I feel that the spectral outlines of walls and towers reflect the history of the castle, which has been rebuilt and destroyed many times over its history.
The ‘Classic’ View
This image of the castle is the same as the one at the top of the page with several key differences. I’m constantly debating whether I should follow in the footsteps of Victorian photographers such as Francis Frith or John Thompson, who after making a plate took the time to ink out the skies of the their images, as well as removing other chemical distractions. As you can see I’ve done a bit of that here. Many contemporary wet-platers prefer to keep the sky in but I’m not sure – what do you think? Please Take a moment to compare both images. Is it better to see clean ’finished’ images, or do you like to see the hand of the maker, chemical spills and all?
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, and please leave any comments below. Also a special thank you to Historic Scotland who have allowed me access to this site.
You can visit the castle by clicking here!
The end of 2011 is upon us, and as I sit here in my new home overlooking the river Nith in the South of Scotland, I can see that the cold winter rain and gusts of winds bending the trees at odd angles are temporarily precluding any photographic ambitions!
The year ahead…
January is now only a few days away, but it’s going to be one of the busiest months I’ve had in a long time! I’m currently in the process of selecting and framing the final few images for my first exhibition of the year to be held at the beautiful House for an Art Lover in Glasgow.
The show will be one of the last showing images from the Sonnets series, and will feature a selection of work which has never been seen before. It’s quite a large show and will also feature an artist’s talk which I will give at a private opening on the 19th. To be added to the guest-list for the event please get in touch.
There will also be an additional event in February featuring one of my favourite poets, Scottish Makar (National Poet) Liz Lochhead, and recent winner of the Saltire Award James McGonigal – who are both coming together to celebrate the work of Edwin Morgan. Ticket information for this event will be released in January. There will also be a private exhibition of Sonnets work in Glasgow in February with a leading sculptor, however more information on that soon! March will also see the release of the new BBC series on Victorian Photographer Francis Frith which I contributed to, as well as a new book which features a few images. I will also be giving a demonstration of the wet plate collodion process in Glasgow on February 18th, which again will be very limited in numbers.
What about new work you might well ask? In March I will be leaving these shores to start a 6 week residency in Ireland which you can read about here. On my return I will take up a year long Artist in Residence role, but again more about that soon. This will be followed by a series of planned exhibitions across the country which should take me to the end of the year.
All in all a pretty hectic year ahead – I wonder if I’ll have the time to work on all these projects? Either way I’m looking forward to seeing how far I managed to get by this time next year!
Wherever you are, I wish you all the best for your plans for 2012! May it be a happy and productive one.
The past 12 months have been some of my busiest, with my personal work switching largely from digital to using more traditional film based photography, such as 120mm (medium format) film and experimenting with the historic collodion process. My choices this year reflect this, and are quite different to those selected back in 2010, which was largely made up of images from my Sonnets series of photographs.
Many of the choices below should not be viewed as images ready for exhibition, but more as sketches, experiments and ideas made real, poured on glass.
1. Portraits of Louise
These images were created during the summer, and are of my wife Louise. They were made during a period of trying to make as many plate of friends and family members as possible, and allowed me to try out different poses, looks and styles. Louise has an interest in Japanese art (she is a curator as well as a PhD candidate at The University of Glasgow specialising in this area) and wanted to try out a ‘geisha style’ of make-up. With her blonde hair and pale skin covered with white make-up she caused me a few exposure issues, but I love this image on the left due to her rather unique look. The rather abstract chemical trails on the bottom of her portrait also added to the effect, and I decided to keep rather than remove these. The photograph on the right is a test using different types of lipstick and make-up to see what would show up under the UV light which is needed to make wet plate images.
2. Lochan Na h’Achlaise - Rannoch Moor
Landscape photography is never far from my mind, and for a few days I decided to take the camera and rather cumbersome dark-box with me to make some images in the Glencoe area. This image was made during one of those visits, and is of a location known for its picturesque little islands set on a loch which is bounded by mountains. This location was also one of the first places I visited during my Sonnets project over 5 years ago, so it felt fitting to make some of my first landscapes here. I’m still unsure if the collodion process has added anything to the scene, but it was fun to make, and I haven’t felt that for a long time in landscape photography.
3. Portrait of Hugh Loney
Hugh Loney is a close friend and artist based in Ayrshire on the West Coast of Scotland. In 2011 his work was celebrated in a large exhibition at the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, and he remains one of the most important artists of his generation. I’ve enjoyed many hours this year in Hugh’s company, and he has made me stop and think more about what I’m doing with my art, and has often encouraged me when times have been hard. This portrait was made in May and shows an artist at the height of his powers about to head into his 60th year.
4. River Etive, Glen Etive
Another Collodion image, but this time of Glen Etive, the beautiful valley located off of the more well known Glen Coe. Making this image was great fun, but involved a lot of work! The equipment (including the darkbox) had to be brought by hand to the river side, which involved a long journey too and from the car up the side of a very steep hill! It was a very warm day indeed, and I learned to respect those early photographers who traveled across the distances taking all their equipment with them. If you look closely you will see that this image contains a figure, and that figure is myself!
5. Portrait of Tom Henning
While setting up my equipment at my friends home, his father made an unexpected visit and I had the perfect opportunity to make his portrait! I’ve known Tom for many years, not just as the father of my friend, but as an instructor of the local rugby team where I played as a teenager. He is a larger than life figure, and if you didn’t know him he can appear to be quite imposing. He is however very friendly, and was one of the people who first showed me how to use a film camera all that time ago!
6. Self Portrait – Glen Etive
I had mixed feelings about making or even showing this portrait, but I thought it was important for me even if it does not have great artistic merit.
I’m not an exhibitionist, and I’m someone who is generally not a great fan of revealing my body, with the idea of presenting myself as nude filling me with horror. Attitudes towards the nude vary from person to person, however over the years I’ve come to feel generally ambivalent about the art form, feeling that if it wasn’t saying something, or executed with some conviction or skill then it didn’t really merit my attention.
These feelings came to the fore this year when I started talking to my fellow collodion photographers, several of whom seemed to focus almost entirely on the female nude. Many of these photographers had created something akin to contemporary pornography, with women dehumanised and rendered anonymous, with their faces out of focus, the photographer instead making his focal point somewhere lower. This image is a direct response to that – that most rare of collodion subjects, the male nude. Instead of a depiction of an alpha male this is something slightly different – something more vulnerable, and more reflective . A rather average, mid twenties male trying very hard not to meet the gaze of the viewer. This therefore was my own little attempt to at least redress the balance and start the debate of subject matter which has alluded many of my contemporaries.
7. Portrait of Mark
A slightly different portrait, this time of my brother Mark. While we share many core values, and a similar outlook on life, my brother is in many ways my opposite, as he is a rather athletic former Royal Marine Commando. Mark currently lives in Thailand where he has spent the last few years of his life training diving instructors, as well as taking the time to teach students new to Scuba diving. This image was made on the rarest of days in Scotland – a sunny afternoon. It’s one of a series of shots of my brother made that day, and shows him looking out of frame. I’m unsure of this image as it many ways brings to mind some of the sinister masculine stereotypes perpetuated in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, however perhaps that is me reading too much into what is a rather simple composition.
8. The Head of a Mummy (6000 years old)
To redress the balance, I’ve decided for my final choice to include an image of a heads made using a digital camera. This image was made only a week or so ago, and is an example of what I do during my role as a Museum Officer working with ancient archaeological items and remains. Gifted to the museum by a Victorian collector, the decapitated head of this mummy was dated as being 6000 years old and was one of those items which had me in a sense of awe and wonder for quite some time. Handling such a fragile item happened only after reading through a lengthy ethics document, and was done in a considerate way befitting human remains. It is one of the many fascinating images I’ve had the chance to handle and photograph recently, from bronze age swords, to letters handwritten by Robert Burns.
I hope you have enjoyed looking at a few of these images from over the past year, and thank you for taking the time to read the stories behind a few of them. If you have any questions or have any comments please leave them below and I’ll try my best to answer them.
It’s that time of year when I cast my mind back over the previous 12 months and try and figure out how exactly I managed to spend my time. I find it useful to take a few moments to pause for reflection, and to try and make sense of the years events.
2011 has been a strange year, and one that has kept me constantly guessing as to what will happen next. It’s been a year of uncertainty, but also a year which has brought success as well as some interesting twists and turns.
Sonnets, Interviews & Exhibitions
I made the conscious choice to put the Sonnets series (of which I had been working on since 2005) to the side, and concentrate for the time being on other projects. Interest in those images was still very high however, and throughout 2011 I spoke about them in a series of TV and magazine interviews, many of which were the result of them being the winning UK entry for the Accademia Apulia Award, which saw them being exhibited at the prestigious Royal Horse-guards in London.
Sonnets also featured in Vogue magazine as part of their ‘Hotshots’ photography choice for 2012, and on the Italian Vogue website. The series also inspired an EP from concert pianist Mike Garson, and was the subject of the film ‘Sonnets from Scotland‘ which was shown as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. A book about Gaelic Poetry by Silke Stroh used a Sonnets image for the cover, and the December issue of Fuzion Magazine features Sonnets as its 12 page cover story. I was also delighted to be interviewed by the German Embassy about my work in the UK, as well as by the Metro newspaper amongst others.
This year I spent less time arranging solo exhibitions, preferring to take part in group shows such as the Leith Festival Art Expo in Edinburgh, The Exhibition at Royal Horseguards in London, and The Scottish Photographers Exhibition at the newly opened Fife Fotospace Gallery. A few images also featured alongside a photographic exhibition by Andy Goldsworthy at the Gracefield Art Centre in Dumfries.
New adventures in Collodion
This was also the year in which I made the decision to largely eschew digital photography in favour of a new passion – that of making images using the wet plate collodion process. Much of the year was spent in pursuit of that end, and the first half of the year was spent on developing my own skills, as well as assisting Carl Radford with the teaching of students at both his home and at the Clock Tower photography centre, a new school of alternative processes in the lake district.
The summer involved me making portraits of artists, friends and relatives, and experimenting with the process to find out what its limitations were. As summer turned to autumn I traveled north to try making some plates in a few of Scotland’s wild places such as Glencoe and on Rannoch Moor. I enjoyed myself immensely, and think of those days spent making images as my own personal highlights of this year.
As the UV light began to fade, and as wind and rain brought us ever closer to winter, I was contacted by a BBC film crew who were interested in my experiments, and asked me to take part in a new series of Victorian Photography. A day spent filming at Stirling Castle on a surprisingly sunny day led to me showing BBC presenter John Sergeant how ambrotypes were made, and the show will be shown on BBC2 in the spring.
Well 2011 is drawing to a close, and I now find myself living in the South West of Scotland and working as a Museum Officer in a beautiful part of the country. I spend my working week doing a job I really enjoy, and have finally found a calm space in which to develop my practice in a much more considered way.
I hope that this past year was a successful one for you, and that you have much to look forward to in 2012.
In March 2012 I will travel to the Atlantic Coast of Ireland to take up my first residency – at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in beautiful County Mayo. I’m incredibly excited at the prospect of spending 4-6 weeks working intensely on my own projects, as it will be the first time in months that I’ll have the chance to concentrate solely on my practice without the distractions of everyday life.
In 2010 I had the chance to exhibit in Galway, which was my first introduction to this rugged but inspiring part of the world, and since then I’ve wanted to return to the area to develop out a new series of work. I was therefore delighted when I was announced as a Fellow earlier this year, and have spent many happy hours studying books and images of the coastline and planning my journey. The fellowship will provide me with a cottage, a studio workshop and a library to help develop out my work, but more importantly the prospect of real head space.
At the top of this page you can watch a short video by Fellow Eddie Kennedy which gives a better impression of what the fellowship will involve, as well as giving some views of the surrounding area.
Learn more at http://www.ballinglenartsfoundation.org
The Accademia Apulia Photography Award is a competition which seeks to promote the work of new and emerging photographers, and deals with some of the key issues facing those living in Europe today. For the 2011 competition the judges are looking for photographers who can shed light on that oldest of human stories – migration.
This years award will be judged by Diane Smyth of the British Journal of Photography, Jennifer Francis of the Royal Academy of Art, and Susan Jenkins of The Art Newspaper amongst others. The shortlisted artists and winners will then be exhibited at the prestigious Royal Horseguards in London at a show curated by Elisa Canossa of the V&A.
In last years competition my work reached the final, with my images receiving fantastic exposure across the UK and Europe. The awards evening in London was also an event which gave me the chance to talk to art collectors, curators and photographers whom I have long admired such as Kash Gabriele Torsello.
I would urge any photographer who is interested to get involved and submit an entry before the deadline of December 30th. For more information I’ve included the press release below:
Migration, Stores of a Journey
The fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, however whilst for many migration is a positive experience, many others endure human rights violations, exploitation and xenophobia.
The focus of Accademia Apulia Photography Award 2011 aims to highlight Migrants’ struggle and difficulties as well as to show Migrants’ many accomplishments and contributions as successful members and leaders of the new host society in which they now live.
Migration, Stores of a Journey is under the Patronage of Amnesty International, the British Council, The European Commission and the international Organisation for Migration.
Entrants will be assessed by leading figures in the fields of Photography and Journalism:
Barbara Roche – Migration Museum Project, Diane Smyth - British Journal of Photography, Jennifer Francis – The Royal Academy of Arts, John Ingledew – University of Gloucestershire, Lucilla and Fabrizio Barbieri – Coppi Barbieri, Stefano Tura – RAI, Steve Macleod – Metro Imaging, Susan Jenkins – The Art Newspaper.
The three finalists will be revealed on 10 January 2012 and the winner on 10 Feb 2012. Their works will be showcased in a group exhibition curated by Elisa Canossa at the Royal Horseguards in London. The three finalists will be flown in as guests of Accademia Apulia for two nights. The winner will also receive a 1,000 Euros cash prize.
The Accademia Apulia Photographic Award is an annual international competition, open to photographers of all nationalities based in the European Union. The Award is designed to promote Cultural Diversity between communities across Europe.
The closing date for entries is 30th Dec 2011