Back to the darkroom (possibly not safe for work)

I was hoping that I might wrap A5 up yesterday, but it wasn’t to be. I’ve switched to working with two layers of garment rather than one resulting in less simple exposures, but equally giving results with more depth. I was keen to explore some ideas generated by feedback from the OCA South West group.

Working without the glass wasn’t successful – too much definition was lost, and also the frame that the edges of the glass provided wasn’t there, and somehow that frame adds to the image for me.  The two layers of fabric added more depth though and I was keen to try things out. I had a mixture of garments, some from home and some from ebay.

Some garments were harder to work with than others. The diaphanous net pants almost disappeared on a standard exposure and required a mix of narrower aperture and darker magenta filter settings to actually show up on the photogram. Gussets are inevitably thicker than the rest of the garment, as are bra straps. Although I had trimmed out the linings from these in my first pass at work, I decided that I was uncomfortable with removing them and decided just to remove the opaque foam from bra cups rather than any of the fabric that was skinside. A very frilled pair of pants was too opaque, though I will try again with a longer exposure as there was detail starting to emerge on a longer exposure and this one might work as a contact photogram (see below).

The work remaining for me:

  • remake the photograms that have unexposed white strips at the edges. To do this I need to make card templates to allow more accurate positioning of the glass on the paper (as I won’t be using the marks on the enlarger frames.
  • remake the image that has a mark from the glass
  • remake the image that needs to be higher on the paper
  • make photograms with the garments that I didn’t get to on Tuesday. I am still waiting for one ebay purchase to arrive but that is so late now that I don’t actually expect it to arrive.

I would like to try making contact photograms from these too, which should result in a black on white image rather than white on black. The dark room owner had tried this process on one of his images and it looked very striking. So I will need another day at the darkroom.

I am wondering again about presentation. I love the images at life size, so many people are surprised by the size of a relatively small female bottom in two dimensions. I am also wondering about scanning them and taking them smaller, to present in a small handmade book with a tactile cover and a ribbon tie. Or perhaps keeping the size the same and presenting in a black portfolio.

Here are phone images of the photograms that I made. I will also add in some of the test photograms once I’ve photographed them.




Feedback on my A5 photograms at OCA South West

I took my photograms with me to my first visit to an OCA South West study day. I was fortunate enough to receive some very helpful feedback in time for my next darkroom session this week. It’s invaluable to receive honest critique and I am very grateful to everyone for their thoughts. Feedback is summarised below. Please feel free to add more in the comments – I have not remembered all the names and may have missed some of the ideas.

What’s the title? (Jesse Alexander). Jesse thought that my working title of “Big girls’ pants” could be refined to better reflect the Fox Talbot inspiration to the work. He suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish” which I think has a lot going for it. It reflects the inspiration, and it also suggests the underwear fetish and I think also alludes to the fetishizing of the photographic print, the precious object. His use of the word “fetish” really made me approach the work anew – am I photographing fetish objects? Well yes, especially as everything photographed is underwear and has been worn. Buying used underwear is a “thing”, in Japan there are vending machines for used pants, in the UK we have carefully worded Ebay descriptions (“I have only worn these at the gym and will launder on request”). Am I making work that’s approaching soft porn, or is that a function of the perspective and proclivity of the viewer? Perhaps there’s a social context to this work that I haven’t really looked into yet. It’s probably not actually possible to present a set of these images in an entirely documentary asexual manner – underwear and used underwear carries too much meaning for that and perhaps I should acknowledge that in the work and its title.

It’s very flat (Jesse). Jesse said that my specimen-style photograms were missing the shadows, the dimensionality that makes photograms interesting. This made me think. I used the glass because I liked the feel of a “specimen”, but also because it minimises the places where the lace lifts itself away from the paper, perhaps because of the cut (eg in bra cups) or because of the curves and stretch that it’s acquired from being worn. I have plenty of paper and can make photograms of each both flattened and unflattened. It will be interesting to see how the photograms turn out with less definition.

It needs to be bigger. (Jesse) The photograms are currently on 12×16 paper. I could go to 20×16 but wonder if this would be too big for assessment. I could make photograms on two adjacent sheets but I’m not sure how this would work… can try it out at the darkroom.  I think in the interests of expediency I can make the work on 12×16 and ask my tutor when I submit the work if I should make it on larger paper for assessment.

Can it be less arranged? (I can’t remember who asked this, apologies!) The garments are currently very flat and precise. What would happen if they were dropped onto the paper, as if they’d just been taken off? I think this would be interesting to try. Obviously, multiple layers of lace would increase opacity. Would it be less obvious what the garments are? If Fox Talbot was making the work everything would be flat, single layer. But how many Victorians made photograms or salt prints of women’s’ underwear? Do I want to play that true a tribute?

Could you make salt prints? (Jesse). I don’t know and I would love to. I would need to make negatives from the photograms, then make the prints. I think there are time (and possibly skill) constraints here, perhaps this is one for continuing the work outside of the assignment pathway. I would really want the work to look as precise as Fox Talbot’s lace prints.

Do they have to be black and white? (Liz Nunn). Liz suggested making lumen prints – setting the lace up on photographic paper and exposing it to sunlight for a longer exposure. This is intriguing, the paper turns pinky/purply (learned from the accidentally fogged scrap of paper that I put in my jeans pocket and removed a few days later). I could spray them silver too, but this is getting very close to Liz’s own current work and I also like the binary quality of black and white, the truth to Fox Talbot’s lace work. It is something that I shall try over the next few days though as I am curious. There’s also the issue that you can’t fix a lumen print without altering the colours. In theory, I embrace the idea of prints changing colour over time. In practice, I prefer the peace of mind of knowing what colour my work will be when the assessors take it out of its box several weeks after I last saw it.

Could they be presented in pairs – bra and pants, with the suggestion of a woman inside? (Liz). Quite possibly. I haven’t really considered the final presentation. It might be hampered by the fact that I don’t have any matching sets at present.

I like that it has the bows. Why does our underwear always have to have bows? (Liz). Absolutely brilliant and impassioned observation. I suppose the answer is the idea of gift wrapping, that the underwear is the final layer of wrapping before the concealment is removed and so on. Or the sugar/spice/all things nice version of femininity. Men have bow ties or bows in their shoe laces. Not on their pants.

The “size” logic works (Jesse) – pictures of women in underwear tend not to be at life size, either tiny on a screen or huge on a billboard. Feeds into the matters of perception of size and vanity sizing.

The little key works (Liz Nunn, I think).

It doesn’t have to be just pants. Changing the title would widen the scope for the set to beyond pants.


OCA South West, Paignton 8.9.18

I went to an OCA South West study day in Paignton with Holly last Saturday. It was a well attended day, and very thought provoking. People came from a broad range of creative disciplines from Levels 1 to 3 and brought a correspondingly creative range of work with them. Jesse Alexander talked about two series of his work – encompassing a woodland landscape series and the use of landscape almost as a “prop” in dating app profiles. This latter gave me plenty to think about, especially that it was designed to be viewed on a phone.

I still struggle a bit with finding a way “into” landscape photography. I feel as if I’m circling an enclosure trying to find the way in. Or perhaps I’m patrolling my own perimeters trying to find a way out. I’m probably over complicating it and sometimes (quite often) find it hard to imagine how the landscape genre could fit with the work that I’m making. It’s encouraging to see landscape work that sits outside traditional landscape tropes and that is still relevant. The Simon Schama video gave me something to think about too. Landscape can still seem rather vast to me, and I tend to work with the small.

It was inspiring to see the diversity and creativity of everyone’s work and people were generous with their thoughts and ideas. There was a lot of materiality present – not just on the textiles work but also across drawing and photography work too. I’m going to write a separate blog post on the very helpful feedback I received on the photograms. It was interesting to see the issues that others faced with their work – from the mental block on getting going on an exercise through to the intricacies of how to pull together different creative strands of a body of work into a cohesive whole with the different strands all working together. I felt reassured that when I get stuck there are people that I can ask.

Here are some snaps from work on the day. I don’t have everything photographed – often I was too immersed in the work to remember to pick the phone up and photograph it.


Thank you Anna, Jesse and everyone who attended for a very rewarding and inspiring day.

Format 19

I have entered some work to the open call for this. I’ve been thinking about starting to enter for some time. The deciding factor was when discussing the disproportionately low amount of women’s work shown in many exhibitions and my friend pointed out that many organisers’ response was to say that they didn’t receive as much work from women. As a woman, if I start doing something myself to address that problem then hopefully more women’s work will be shown, even if it’s not mine.

I have to say that my gut feeling at the moment is “ooops, there goes 40 euros”…


A5 change of direction

After thinking about it and seeking peer review I’ve decided to make A5 about the photograms. This scratches the itch that I’ve had about making work about both lace and Fox Talbot and has a neat third axis about feminism and the familiar.

Discussing the work on the forum live I was encouraged by the readings that people made of the work. I realised that I want to keep this simple. I want to keep it life size, this feels important in a world where so much is seen, and so many interactions made via devices that fit in the palm of our hands. Even a relatively small size 8 looks larger than expected when shown flat and life size. I don’t want to give any sizes of the underwear, I want to show it all at life size, move it away from our conceptions of a size 8 or a size 16 or whatever.

I want to keep the spirit of Fox Talbot’s salt prints of lace, that I saw at the Matt Collishaw VR exhibition and the normal exhibit at the Fox Talbot Museum. I always wonder where the lace came from.

I am keeping the glass panels, they give an idea of a microscope slide, a scientific specimen, something that is under analysis. I am however going to get a larger panel made so that I can make larger photograms across two contiguous 12×16 sheets of paper, thus exploring taking the image outside the frame too.

To move this forward I have collated various used underwear from ebay and other sources. It feels important that it should be used, even if only once. I’ve ordered 50 sheets of photographic paper and booked the darkroom. Once school starts I shall go to the glass showroom and buy the new panel.

My original photograms were of pants that had been cut to only show a single layer. I would like to try showing both layers where possible, I think this will work with a long enough exposure. The dark room now has a point light source which I can use to provide extra light to more opaque areas. Ditto with bras, I will do a test shot to see what happens if I leave the foam in the cups rather than cutting it out.

Because of the school holidays it’s now been about a fortnight since I made the first photograms and I’m starting to worry that it won’t work so well second time round. Even though a photogram in a dark room must be one of the most consistent scenarios to reproduce!

I also need to put some context together. A peer on Instagram kindly sent me links to some similar work made with different kinds of clothes and I will also revisit the Shadow Catchers Cameraless photography online (from the V&A) and also Man Ray’s photograms.

A lesson in creativity from JK Rowling

I can take or leave Harry Potter. I never read all the HP books, and movie-wise I will freely admit to preferring Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fortunately my partner ignored all of this and booked tickets for all three of us to go to The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio Tour.

At some point after a butter beer ice cream – it may have been when I realised that there actually was a road-worthy triple-decker bus constructed for the film – the thousands of other visitors started to fade away from my concentration and I became mesmerised by the sheer forces of creativity and persistence. I think the knowledge that CGI exists had made me complacent about the artistic and creative skills required for the films. I was spellbound by the endless concept sketches, the models that gradually changed from 2D blueprints to small white card models through to a huge Hogwarts perfect in every tiny detail. Dozens of hats made by Philip Treacey, every last detail of every last object realised from a paragraph in a book or imagined and conceived into reality. Back home, I remarked that I wished I’d been able to find a book on the art of the film in the gift shop. The next day my partner presented me with a huge hardback stuffed with everything I’d seen and more.

So many things are making creative sense now. After looking at hundreds of images over the last 24 hours I am learning about narrative. An image can work just on its own, but it can also work as part of a sequence, or it can work as part of an archive. There’s a skill involved in balancing fantasy and reality, in grounding the imaginary in the everyday. Stuart Craig, the production designer, talks about the comfort of working from familiar sets “as long as you deliver the new stuff when you need to. And the spectacle when you need to.” (p9). This rang true for me – my passion for working with the everyday, but with a fresh perspective. He also talks about the need for simplicity in building a set, how one or two strong ideas make for a stronger set. “”The real world is always cluttered,” Craig says. “And clutter is not good for telling a story in a theatrical way. You need to get rid of whatever’s extraneous and just keep it simple.”” (p13) . I need to pay attention to every element in my images, to make sure that everything that’s included is necessary and part of telling the story. I feel as if the Narrative part of Context & Narrative has just swum into focus.

The Art of Harry Potter by Marc Sumerak, Titan Books 2017.


Karen Knorr Lacock Abbey

Taking children to an exhibition changes how you can respond to the work. It’s sometimes satisfying, often surprising, sometimes frustrating (rather like parenting in general). This time was surprising. I’ll have to return to this blog post with a proper response once I’ve had another look and read the essay that I found. These pictures though remind me that responding to images can be a much simpler, more immediate and visceral process than I tend to make it.

Big girls’ pants

Today I pulled off co-ordinating summer holiday childcare with a friend’s free time and dark room availability and spent a sanity day making photograms with Holly.

I am both satisfied and excited by this work. For about a year I’ve been bumbling around the edges of my “Other people’s underwear” project, trying to bring that Fox Talbot salt print quality to contemporary smalls (which actually are not as small as I expected). I couldn’t get sun prints to work how I wanted them to and was limited by the small size of the paper/fabric squares. But photograms work well and I have the potential to use larger sheets of paper still. I love how the idea of curves is conveyed, and how the exquisite private detail of the lace makes it into public whilst retaining the anonymity of the knicker donors. I like that the photograms are life-size, there’s something great to me about recording these intimate garments at 1:1 scale, and I also like that in the same way as the lace touches our skin, the photogram is made by illuminating direct contact between the lace and the photographic paper. Whilst looking at one of these images draining on a plastic sheet, I was considering whether I would return to camera club this year and Holly considered the reception that a pants photogram might have. She makes a very good point, we certainly see enough “art” portraits of women in underwear at camera club competitions.

Anyway, here are some quick phone shots of the photograms. The borders are because the piece of glass used to hold everything down was smaller than the paper. Exposure was 10 seconds with the enlarger aperture wise open. The pants had to be cut at the sides and the gusset deconstructed, otherwise there was too much opacity. One pair were trimmed slightly to get them to fit the paper. The bra also had the foam cup lining removed, the underwires removed and the lining to the back band removed.


Combining a photogram and a photograph

I wanted to make a combined photogram and photograph to see if I could. I wanted to combine lace with a portrait of my daughter. I put lace over the paper and glass over that to hold it flat, then exposed the print as normal. I had to burn in the lace slightly afterwards. Unfortunately the focus on my source image is a little soft and the negative needed cleaning, but I can see that it works as a concept.

Millenial pink

A5 continues to come together. Life is fragmented at the moment with school finishing and holiday starting so I’m getting my thoughts organised so I can crack on when time permits. The end of C&N is tantalisingly close.

I want to get a couple more images. Holly reminded me of the pink Pussy Hats that both she and I made, and I trawled my archive looking for a photo of me in mine but no joy, it’s been deleted. So now I need to find the hat and reconstruct the image as the pink hats provide great context and an illustration of pink as a colour of power, of protest. The suggestions at the last Forum Live were invaluable and I am planning to title this work “Millenial pink”.

I am going to see how the images work as postcards, Moo do heavy weight cards with a pink seam. Yesterday, I remembered that Royal Mail do a custom stamp printing service, I checked online and found that it was due to be “indefinitely suspended” today so put an order in literally at the last moment, using a stamp that looks to be a rose gold or copper colour, with a custom stamp using a background in a millennial pink colour. I love how postcards are miniature time capsules, not only for the message but also for the medium and the stamp. I am thinking about not using feminist quotes on the back, I wonder if this might be over-egging the pudding, the millennial pink on its own might be enough, conveyed via image, background, stamp, and postcard seam. Possibly a pink pen for the writing too. The lion on the stamp will also reference the image within the Brexit process with the lion and the shield.. Here’s a screen grab of the design.

pink stamps