I’ve been quietly obsessed with lace since exploring Fox Talbot for A5 on EYV. I always wonder where his lace came from. I loved his salt prints and enjoyed “handling” the virtual lace prints at the Mat Collishaw “Thresholds” exhibition.
I started out on EYV by making simple solar prints of a lace thong, but was constrained by the fabric size. Moving onto C&N I returned to Lacock and photographed net curtains at Lacock cottage windows for A1, but could not get the work to come together so instead set up a net curtain at my kitchen table, photographing objects on either side of it. That did the trick in terms of achieving the assignment but didn’t scratch the itch of making work with lace that was more closely aligned to Fox Talbot.
Looking at rework possibilities for A1 I found myself using newly acquired darkroom skills to make photograms of net curtains and then scanning the results. These were getting closer, however the assignment is a diagnostic and didn’t really need reworking and I still wasn’t scratching that itch. In the meantime I had continued working with other peoples underwear via mobile phone images and solar prints, with underwear that I had often deconstructed, and eventually found myself back at the darkroom with a bag of underwear that I’d bought from eBay and salvaged from my own smalls drawer. It was important to me that the underwear was used – I wanted to work with common place, real world objects. I felt that this fitted with my approach of working with familiar but intimate objects that are not widely seen.
I started off with 12×16 paper and a contact sheet sized piece of glass. Pants and bras were cut down to a single layer. I liked the result, the border that was provided by the glass, but feedback online and at the OCA SW group was that the work was missing some of the depth associated with photograms and could also go larger. I moved to 12×16 paper, kept the pants at a double thickness and trimmed out the foam pads from the bras. I had a larger piece of glass cut to give a more even frame but had to stop using it when I found a small scratch and couldn’t leave the darkroom to go out to get another piece. I ended up using a larger unscratched piece which lost the frame effect, but in return gave the impression of the garment floating in space or under water. I preferred to work with the glass as otherwise too much definition was lost from the lace – all underwear is cut to fit curves and therefore doesn’t sit flush on paper. The work constantly surprised me. Some of the much more “basic” lace garments gave stunning results that belied their cheap as chips origins. A “Cross your heart” longline bra – fiendishly sturdy in the hands was incredibly delicate under the enlarger and a double layer photogram with a tiny aperture and the shortest of exposures still turned out so diaphanous that it looks as if it’s back to front. I also made a lumen print but was less happy with the result – not sufficient definition and it moved away from the black and white dark and light qualities of the photogram.
The photograms use Ilford RC Satin paper, were made using an enlarger and then developed and fixed with Ilford chemicals before being washed and dried. I used a local commercial darkroom. After three sessions I’m reasonably confident with the whole process and starting to be more comfortable with getting the results I want. One challenge was getting the combination of aperture setting, exposure and filter depending on the colour and thickness of the lace. The edges of the paper are not always as clean as I would like – as I was working with larger paper without using the enlarger guides, plus the edges of the glass could cast a shadow if my placing wasn’t perfect. There are still improvements that can be made.
I am happy that this work re-contextualises Fox Talbot’s lace images to the present day whilst paying tribute to the physicality of his original images. I know that there is more to do with sizing, clean edges and so on, but this feels like the right time to pause and submit the work to my tutor.
746 words excluding photo captions.