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!
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.
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.
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 attend a wet plate collodion workshop, 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 Trevor Yerbury, a 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.
The last 12 months have been some of the most productive and creative so far of my journey into photography. They have also been some of the most hectic as I try and balance my full time job as an archivist with trying to develop my creative projects. In some ways this has made things slightly more difficult, however it makes me appreciate the time that I do have more, and helps to drive me harder. In 2010 I have been lucky to have had the support, friendship and encouragement of many people and without them this year could have turned out very differently indeed. I just wanted to take a few minutes to thank them and what they helped me achieve this year.
2010 got off to a good start when I was announced the winner of the Dewar Award. The award allowed me to travel extensively throughout Scotland to reach locations such as the Orkney Islands, the North East & West, and allowed me to take a few weeks off of work to concentrate on my practice. It will allow me to do the same in 2011 when I hope to visit the Outer Hebrides, Mull and St Kilda which had to be put on hold this year due to the weather. The award was made possible due to the hard work of Rachel at the Dewar Awards who was of great help during the application process.
In March I had my biggest and most important exhibition of the year when ‘Sonnets’ was shown at the Scottish Parliament in a solo exhibition. I was honoured to have my work exhibited in Scotland’s most prestigious venue, and was helped along the way by the exhibitions team most notably Alan who has been and continues to be a great supporter of my work. I was delighted when several Members of Parliament (MSPs) from all parties put their names on a daily Parliamentary motion celebrating my work, most notably my local MSP Irene Oldfather, who suggested I show at the venue.
Shortly after the excitement of the Parliament, It was announced that I was one of the winners of the Scottish Art Fund Award, which allowed me to upgrade my equipment, and was of great help during my Dewar Funded journey around Scotland. This was followed with several days of location shooting in Skye with the director Michael Prince who made a short film ‘Sonnets of Scotland‘ about my work which you can watch here. It was great fun working with him and Mark Huskisson – two talented individuals who between them have created films about artists such as photographers Brian Griffin, Rankin and exciting films about mountain biking, such as Mark’s must see film Way Back Home about world champion Danny Macaskill.
In July I was invited down to the Italian Cultural Institute in London as a finalist of The Renaissance Art Prize ‘Heroism of Vision’ photography award. I was delighted to receive the award of a Residency in Tuscany in May 2011, and was thankful for all the hard work done by the committee, most notably Alessandra Masolini of the art group Sharp Cut who was chair. In August I embarked on several Sonnets journeys around the country, and later that summer had the good fortune to study under photographer Carl Radford, who taught me alternative processes such as Wet Plate Collodion which have really caught my imagination, and which I hope to incorporate into my own work in 2011. Carl has also given me friendly advice and guidance, as well as introduced me to the work of photographers such as Deborah Parkin who is no doubt destined for great things.
Towards the end of 2010 I was invited by curator Michelle Browne to exhibit at the TULCA Visual Festival of Art in Galway, and spent several happy days taking in the work of the artists, scenery and people of the South West Coast of Ireland. There were also commercial projects such as covering the Minimal Music Festival in Glasgow, portraits of authors at Glasgow University, and of course working with poet Edwin Morgan who sadly passed away this year after his 90th birthday.
I am greatly thankful to my printer James Gaughan of Deadly Digital who has produced some excellent quality prints, as well as helped when everything has gone wrong, such as when one of my images was destroyed in transit to the exhibition in Galway, and he was able to produce a replacement in only a few hours, as well as replacing a 2 metre wide print another printer damaged. Most of all I am grateful to Henning who has accompanied me throughout my journey, driven, modelled, climbed hills, stood on cliffs, froze in Lochs, and generally been a good friend. I’m also grateful to all the people who write to me on flickr, Facebook and twitter as well as email me on the site.
2011 will begin with the 10 year anniversary of the Dewar Award, which will include a ceremony with a screening of the Sonnets from Scotland film by Michael Prince at the Glasgow Film Theatre, an article written by myself in the Spring Edition of Scottish Photographers Magazine, the completion of Sonnets, a possible book, a project with the Bergen Belsen Museum in Germany, a new project which I’ll currently just call Symphonies, my B&W project Ohne, and a project documenting a rather remote location in Scotland. I’ll also try to keep this blog updated, and maybe even write a few articles on my thoughts on photography.
Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read this, and I wish all of you a successful and enjoyable 2011!
From November the 6th until the 21st I took part in the Tulca Arts festival in Galway in Ireland. A selection of images from the Sonnets series went on display at the Galway Arts Centre.
Curated by Michelle Browne, the festival opening night was a great success, and my wife Louise and I enjoyed a few days exploring the local area, making trips south to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, areas of spectacular natural beauty. You can read more about this years TULCA Arts Festival here or read a review of the event in the Irish Times here.
In 2010 I first made contact with the Poet and Professor James McGonigal, who was both a colleague, and a close friend of ‘Makar’ (National Poet of Scotland) Edwin Morgan. By this stage in his 89th year, Edwin Morgan was now in a care home in Glasgow, and acting as an intermediary, Jim was happy to relay messages between myself and EM regarding projects I was working on which took inspiration from his work.
Jim told EM about my Sonnets project which owed its name to one of my favourite collections of his poetry ‘Sonnets from Scotland’, which was published in the year of my birth, 1984 – later I would sit with him and show him a selection of these images.
I will be talking more about my experiences working with Edwin Morgan, and my first meeting, and subsequent portrait session with him (pictured above) in an article for Scottish Photographer’s Magazine later in the year.
During my long correspondences with Jim, I was both surprised and happy to learn that he was working on the first major biography of EM, which gave a rare insight into his upbringing, academic life, and later literary career on the world stage, not to mention his struggles as a gay man living in the west coast of Scotland.
Having studied a post-graduate to become a qualified archivist as he wrote the biography, I was able to work with some of Jim’s original source material as Glasgow University holds an extensive collection of the poet’s writings and correspondences, and was happy to see many of these appear in the book Beyond the Last Dragon.
I was honoured when Jim asked if he could use several of my images of EM, such as a portrait which adorns the cover, as well as include a few short entries in the book itself about my work with Eddie. Jim had this to say about Sonnets:
“A haunting series of Scottish landscapes with a single figure, not seeking to illustrate Edwin Morgan’s work in any sense but to respond to it in a different medium. Similar structural elements in each picture play the role of octave/sestet or rhyme in the sonnet form of which the poet was so fond.” McGonigal, Jim – Beyond the Last Dragon – Sandstone Press (pp.434-435)
You can pick up the book from amazon here. It’s a great read, very accessible, and one of the best biographies I’ve read of a literary figure. You can read a fascinating interview with Jim about his relationship with Edwin Morgan here.
My Sonnets project was celebrated in a daily motion by all parties in the Scottish Parliament on the 18th of March. You can read more here
*S3M-5986 MSP Irene Oldfather: Sonnets from Scotland—That the Parliament congratulates Irvine-based artist Alex Boyd for his Sonnets from Scotland exhibition, a photographic exploration of Scottish landscapes and their depiction; welcomes the exhibition to the Scottish Parliament between Tuesday 16 and Thursday 19 March; believes that the Scottish Parliament has an important role in highlighting and supporting the work of young and emerging artists, and therefore wishes Alex every success in his future endeavours.