Returning to the Darkroom

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Yesterday I had my first session printing at the new Old Laundry Darkroom, a new community space run by Made in Roath.

When Ffotogallery moved from Chapter in February 2018, I found myself without dark room facilities for the first time since taking up photography again about four years ago. Thanks to friends, I was able to digitise the negatives I had, and continue to work on my photos using my computer. I also bought developing kit and continued to develop a few films at home. As the only place dark enough is the toilet at night time, this proves pretty challenging during the summer months.

Without a darkroom, I found that my enthusiasm for my photography waned, and the space was taken up with my Lino cut and silk screen projects which have been a great diversion and allowed me to work with wonderful people at both the Cardiff Print Workshop and Printhaus. Long may those associations continue.

However how did it feel getting back to dark room photography yesterday? It was a shock to realise how much I had missed it! The truth is that for all my conviction that losing these facilities enabled me to learn new digital skills, it is just NOT THE SAME!

There is a magic to being in a darkroom and seeing the prints appear out of the red gloom. It is a physical process – a slow one. In three hours I made four prints. It is more meditative – and in yesterday’s case – more collaborative. Instead of working privately at my computer, I was in a space with Mike – also printing his own work. We took to taking our test strips and prints into the light at the same time – and discussing the pros and cons of where to go next. Mike is clearly a more accomplished printer than me, and so I got to learn a couple of new things. However our work is very different and ultimately the artistic decisions we take are our own.

The prints are better too. I can’t put my finger on it, but the photos have more punch. The blacks are blacker and the pictures are less – well – flat. I didn’t realise that without the darkroom, I had stopped focussing on the changes at Central Square. Well now I’m back on track and can’t wait for my next session!

 

Temple of Peace Linocuts

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I have been printing this week in readiness for the forthcoming Penarth Print Fair this Saturday and Sunday in the Pavilion.

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The series that I have been working on are based on photographs from the Temple of Peace inauguration ceremony in 1938. Gentle/Radical reimagined this ceremony last November in an extraordinary event which I was proud to be involved in. http://gentleradical.org/projects/a-new-mecca/

I plan to create a zine using these prints, some of the original photos and some of the text written especially for last year’s event. Until I do so, suffice it to say that the images of mothers who had lost sons in the war, wearing their medals, are extraordinarily powerful.

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The printing of these plates should have been relatively simple, but I have learnt a few lessons nonetheless… Firstly there should have been five images. However one was ruined by a loss of concentration at a crucial point. I diligently cut out the wrong bits, resulting in a black face with white shadows which couldn’t be salvaged.

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Secondly, I used new paper – Fabriano – which was too thick for hand-pulling prints. As a result a friend of mine tried to set me up on the press which resulted in further prints slipping all over the place and a near nervous breakdown on Sunday! Reverting to the old standby of Seawhite paper and hand pulling the prints allowed peace to be restored today.

Back at The Printhaus

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I’ve just spent a couple of frenetic afternoons at The Printhaus doing 1-2-1 sessions with the ever patient Shaun. It was quite a task this time, squeezing five images into six hours of printing. The final bit – actually printing – takes seconds but the prep is something else!

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After exposing the screen, we removed the excess by pressure washing to reveal the image. Once the screen is dried, it needs oodles of tape on both sides to ensure that nothing is printed that we don’t want.

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Despite being pressed for time, Shaun did encourage me to print the image. It is not as easy as he makes it look, and given the scale of the images, the time constraints and the fact that I wanted good editions, I wimped out largely. However I did print two duds, and this lovely one. Very acceptable! Check out the box I’m standing on specifically designed for short people using the large press…

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Each image was printed in an edition of 10 (plus a couple of extras) before cleaning the image off the screen so it can be used again. During this process I spent my entire time soaked or covered in ink. Except for the half hour where I managed to be both. Practice makes perfect, and less mess …

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The half tone at 25 lpi (for printing geeks) gives gorgeous texture and an added abstraction which demands further attention. I’ll be cutting up my acetates now that the prints are finished, and look to playing with elements of the images, along with some funky colours. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Bauhaus Centenary – Alfred Ehrhardt

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In 1919, shortly after the horrors of the First World War, Walter Gropius founded a school with a modern vision, bridging the gap between art and industry by combining crafts and fine arts. The Bauhaus movement was formed. In Germany they are not letting this centenary go unmarked, and there are exhibitions, talks, ballets etc., across the nation revisiting this movement, its origins and its legacy. (https://www.bauhaus100.com for more info)

Squeezing in as many of the exhibitions as I could in Berlin recently (including a trip to the iconic Bauhaus buildings in Dessau), I met the work of Alfred Ehrhardt. The photographs in the exhibition focussed on his work in the early 1930s exploring the textures of the natural world. The photo I posted here is extraordinary. I can’t quite work out what kind of wind and/or water movements led to this formation. But equally as captivating is the way he has captures the holes left by tiny bubbles of air. A common feature of sand.

I spent some time a couple of years ago photographing the stones at Monknash which are gorgeous. However by the end of a long day, I felt drawn to the sand. I can see now that I barely scratched the surface, and will need to return!

 

 

 

Marrakech

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In readiness for another trip to the Printhaus, I have been sorting out my photos of Marrakech. Taken at different times during the last couple of years, most of my images are of the ever photogenic plants in the parks out there. Especially the glorious Jardin Majorelle. The photo on this blog looks to me like Yves St Laurent could be about to appear any minute!

More photos on the Marrakech tab to your left.

Printhaus: Discovering the Art of Collaboration

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Lack of knowledge in one area does not, I realise, mean that I can’t go there. Having completed a fab beginners course on screen printing at Printhaus on Llandaff Road, I decided to forgo hours of trial and error (and wasted ink and paper) and sign up instead for a 1-2-1 session. It was a revelation!

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I met up with Shaun for a half hour cup of tea and a chat. We looked at my images, and with his help, realised that some photos were much more suitable than others for this process. Through discussion, we decided on A1 prints (yes – bigger is better in this instance) and a coarse mesh. The finer mesh produces such a good image you might as well consider digital printing instead… This process of discussion really helped me to focus on what I wanted to achieve.

We decided to go for 4 screens and 10 prints off each, sticking with black ink on white paper after much discussion about the alternatives. I prepared my four prints digitally for best effect, bumping up the contrast and forfeiting some of the detail in return for more graphic imagery. Shaun then turned them into half-tone images – a process of turning a greyscale image into black dots which can transfer to the screen. This is the same process which has been used by newspapers for decades which pleased me greatly.

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On arrival for the first day’s printing my A1 transparencies were waiting for me. I was gobsmacked at their impact and spent too long (probably) gazing at them. Seeing these images in a new way will encourage me to further abstraction down the road.

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I was encouraged to do as much of the process as I felt able to, but I left Shaun to do the actual prints. It’s harder than it looks. Especially at this size! Don’t you love those screens with the negative images?!

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Final prints. The concrete in half tone on a rough mesh is gorgeous.

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A visual trick. The out of focus areas in half tone still give the same effect. How does that work?

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Beautifully framed by Free Range Framing in The Bone Yard round the corner. Thanks Kath.

 

Cracks in the City

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Not before time, here are some photos from the exhibition I was involved in at One Fox Lane as part of Made in Roath 2018. The exhibition comprised artists involved with Foxy’s one way or the other whose work responds to living in, navigating through a city in the midst of change. I was delighted to have work alongside Vaida Barzdaite, Imogen Higgins and Ian Cooke-Tapia.

Despite my horrible illness in the run up to the event, I managed to pull together some of my work from the developments at Central Square. Along with my photos, I also exhibited four A1 screen prints which I printed with the help of Shaun at Printhaus. I’ll do another blog on those in more detail.

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My signs were borne out of my need to remain in bed. Plans for Lino cut signs were abandoned in favour of channelling my ‘inner Matisse’. Armed with a load of redundant photocopies of my work, some offcuts from a local framer and a bright, shiny, sharp pair of new scissors I knocked out these babies.

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Cheap, cheerful and instant curation!

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The beginnings of my journey into linocut also makes a guest appearance.

To complement my exhibition we had Metropolis running on a loop. It would have been wonderful to cut out the story and instead have a string of those wonderful images of the city – above and below ground. Unfortunately this was beyond my wit in the time given, but thanks to Dan we did have a stupendous new soundtrack. This imbued the entire space with amazing atmosphere. Check it out here:

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Not shy to ask people to pitch in, our opening was a ‘bring a bottle and a plate of something lush’ party. None the worse for that – especially when the space is as glorious as One Fox Lane.

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Repurposing the signs after the event into funky little notebooks

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While in London recently I was lucky enough to trip across a fab gallery on the South Bank, in the Oxo building. I was drawn in by the arresting black and white photographs of prison cells in South Africa. Stark, disturbingly brutal but really beautiful photographs of the long abandoned holding cells of the Baakens Police Station in Port Elizabeth where numerous political activists were among those incarcerated.

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It’s worth quoting Shoemaker directly on his project:

Gaining access from the building’s owner, once inside Schoemaker discovered graffiti documenting names, dates and crimes.

Taken over three months, Schoemaker was mindful to never spend more than two to three hours in the cells, afraid of becoming desensitised to the enormity of the history recorded on the walls. 

“Its also a foreboding and frightening place to visit on your own” adds the photographer.

Schoemaker captured the images alone: “The place was dark and dank, and to shoot the cells properly, I always closed the heavy cell doors which gave me the feeling of being trapped. At other times I would go down and simply read the stories scratched into the walls, not photographing anything. But sitting with their energy, imagining the emotions they felt.”

Instagram: @karl_schoemaker

Getting back into the swing

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It would be fair to say that after my initial flurry of activity setting up this website back in March 2018, it has not seen any action.

It is not because I haven’t been busy. Far from it. Since the loss of my darkroom facilities last March, I learnt in triple quick time how to digitise my 35mm negatives and manipulate them on my brand new (then) MacBook Pro. I also learnt Instagram and WordPress. None of this stuff comes naturally to me, so once up and running I heaved a great sigh of relief and promptly forgot all about it.

Meanwhile, I have been enjoying creating linocuts, silk screen prints (with a little – ok – a LOT of help) and taking lots more photos – mainly, but not exclusively, of the continuing developments at Central Square in Cardiff.

My current mode of working is to develop my negs in the dark of the night in my bathroom and hang them up over the bath – about as old school as it gets. From then on it is all digital as things stand. I would love to get back to darkroom prints. There really is nothing like them. But for now this does have its advantages.

I have quite a backlog of photographs to put on this website. While I sort that out I’ll write occasional blog posts with gloriously de-contextualised images. Hope you enjoy the one here!