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.
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
I’m not normally a fan of top 10 lists, however my last post looking back over 2010 has me in a reflective mood, and I’d like to share some of my favourite images made over the previous year.
1. Sonnets – Bow fiddle Rock, Moray Firth
This image was made during my August journey around the North of Scotland, and shows the appropriately named Bow Fiddle Rock on the North East coast. This shot was a long exposure taken over a duration of 30 seconds in strong winds and heavy seas. Conversely the final image has a calm quality not present at the time, when large waves crashed over the rocks and Henning, who remained still throughout.
2. Sonnets – Loch Maree
This image of a calm Loch Maree in the Scottish Highlands was made at around midday, as I wanted strong contrasts in the image. Many photographers would frown at such an approach, as it forsakes the ‘golden hours’ of light at dawn and dusk, and makes it much harder to retain detail due to the bright sun.
3. Sonnets – The Thirle Door, Duncansby Head
This location wasn’t easy to get to. It involved negotiating down from the cliffs of Duncansby Head, walking along the deserted beach and then scrambling around some thin rock ledges with the sea roaring and rising at our feet. To get an impression of where we are standing look at this image. We are standing inside the archway on the right hand side looking outwards.
4. Sonnets – The Black Cuillin, Isle of Skye, Sunset
Taken during the shooting of short film ‘Sonnets from Scotland‘, this image revisited an earlier shot taken in 2008 at the same location.
5. Sonnets – The Quiraing, Isle of Skye
The Quiraing is an area of outstanding natural beauty. With a strange lunar landscape it dominates the North East coast of the Isle of Skye. This image was taken shortly after dawn, and is also featured in the short film ‘Sonnets from Scotland‘.
6. Sonnets – Loch Rannoch and Schiehallion
Loch Rannoch is a fresh water Loch located in the Highlands of Scotland, and is a place I visited for the first time in 2010. On it’s eastern bank the mountain Schiehallion towers above, and in it’s waters lie the remains of a drowned forest. This image owes much to the work of Bill Brandt, whose landscape photography is largely overlooked (read an excellent article here), and has echoes of a few of Sally Mann’s images, which I had recently seen in exhibition.
7. Sonnets – The Old man of Hoy, Hoy, Orkney Islands
For a long time I’ve thought about how I would make this image of one of the UK’s most famous locations. Trying to convey the sheer scale of the Scottish landscape is one of the hardest aspects of my Sonnets series, however being familiar with The Old Man of Hoy through the work of other photographers, I eventually decided that I would shoot from the north of the stack looking south. On arriving at the location after an enjoyable 3.5 mile walk however, I noticed that setting up in such a way would create an optical illusion – The Old Man appears much closer to the cliffs than it actually is. The drop however is still considerable, and one fellow walker turned away shaking in fear after peering over the edge! Overall this was an interesting technical exercise. Composed of four separate vertical panned images, each was given a 30 second exposure and later joined together digitally.
8. Sonnets – Loch Assynt, sunset
This image was made in the dying light of a Summer evening, and is of Henning standing on an island just offshore at Loch Assynt. When I first viewed the scene, I instantly visualised him standing to the left of the trees, giving the image a quiet sense of balance.
9. Trevor Yerbury, fine art photographer
In 2010 I was lucky enough to study under the photographer Carl Radford, who is one of the UK’s authorities on the Wet Plate Colodian Process, a method first pioneered in the 1860s creating images directly onto glass or tin. It is a difficult but rewarding process, and I was lucky enough to join Carl for an afternoon with Trevor Yerbury, the celebrated fine art photographer who allowed me to make his portrait. I’m hoping to experiment more with this process in 2011.
10. The Makar (National Poet of Scotland), Edwin Morgan
No end of the year list of images could be complete without including my afternoon spent in the company of poet Edwin Morgan, who was about to celebrate his 90th birthday. This image was later used on the cover of the biography of his life, and was caught in a brief instant when he looked up and out of the frame. Eddie gave a name to the ‘Sonnets’ series of images which largely make up most of this list, and was active in collaborating with me in a few projects over the last year or so. Sadly we lost him in 2010, but his work will be celebrated for a long time to come.
I hope that 2011 will be a productive year, and I look forward to sharing images with you.