A5 Big girls’ pants – rework

The physical photograms are the submitted work. The prints below are a tighter crop than the originals.

This has not felt so much like rework as like evolution. My tutor feedback was terrifically useful, when I viewed it in conjunction with other peer and hangout feedback I had a clear way forward, the most pressing feedback was to investigate making the work on larger paper than the original work. I decided to go back to the darkroom and remake the work on larger paper. I had used 12×16 Ilford RC Satin before, I talked to the darkroom owner and he kindly reset the darkroom with larger trays and a modified washer so that I could use 16×20 paper. He also ordered in larger paper so that he could make some larger prints too and I could benefit from the bulk price that he gets. We also had to mark up the enlarger table for correct paper positioning and ensure the head was correctly positioned. The reason for using larger paper was to give the images space to breathe on the paper. There is a tension in the smaller images as image and border fight, it’s not necessarily bad but I was curious to see what would happen if I used larger paper. I also wanted to ensure a greater consistency of background blacks across the photograms (or at least a narrower range of inconsistency). The differing blacks arise because photograms of much finer lace require less light in order to get a detailed image but you still need a long enough exposure length (the paper needs at least 10 seconds as a rule) without getting too much light, so you use a much narrower aperture and increase the magenta filter setting to boost contrast. This can result in a slightly lighter background black though, because of less light. I therefore worked with 25 second exposure at f22 and m=100 for the most delicate garments.

I worked with a smaller subset of garments, mainly ones that fitted well within the paper. They worked well on the larger paper, I loved the sense of isolation of the items on their velvety dark backgrounds. It did introduce the issue of centring the item on the paper, which hadn’t been an issue beforehand. One pair of pants could do with being more centred, but it was time to stop. I was then able to review my images with a peer to help identify a strong edit. At this point, I was happy with the idea of getting the numbers down. The prints are big, and will be a hassle at assessment if they don’t all contribute to the work. Looking at the work with Holly we omitted a stocking image and also the two bra images – this did hurt a bit as I loved the English Rose bra print. This meant that the set came down to four images of pants, which sit nicely in a (giant) grid. It also means that I have the opportunity to return to the original name for the work – Big Girls’ Pants – which works both in a literal and figurative sense.

The title has been something of a struggle. Here are the various titles that the work has had:

Big Girls’ Pants (this wasn’t liked by Jesse Alexander, who suggested “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”). It’s been well accepted by many viewers of the work, including women who tend to have very positive reactions to the phrase and who don’t see it as overtly sexual.

From Fox Talbot to Fetish – it took me a while to work out why I was uncomfortable with this title. It introduces the idea of the lace always being looked at and I think implies being looked at sexually probably by a man. I know that fetish has a wider meaning than underwear, but I think it’s hard to separate the two in this context. When I started the work I was inspired by Fox Talbot’s images of lace, but also by the real-world nature of underwear, that for women it’s a fact of life and a practical obect first and foremost that is rarely seen at life size. Introducing other people’s underwear to the work has muddied this intention – not for me, but for the viewer.

Smalls (this was the title for the handmade book that I showed at OCA Showcase and is also the series title for the two framed images that I’m showing at the Thames Valley Group exhibition in February 2019). People understood the title, with its reference to underwear, and it seemed appropriate for the small test strips in the book and the large matted and framed images for TVG.

A variety of other titles were considered – Full disclosure, Exposed, Over exposed.

Although this work was resolved by making the photograms bigger, the overruling direction has been to simplify. I took out the initial border and replaced it with a larger piece of glass. I took out the separate adornments. I stopped cutting the pants in half and the gussets out of the pants. I stopped using the glass, as suggested by early feedback. I only presented pants.

I am continuing with this work through my next course, UVC. I would like to print some of the work on silk or satin and perhaps sew that into handkerchiefs, silk scarves or even underwear. I’m intrigued by the idea of a coffee table book as suggested by Clive White on the forum, but I dont know if the images are now too large for that or not. I am excited by the idea of framing more of the work – pants and bra images that are individually framed and hung one above the other could really work. I also like the idea of showing the images at life size on a large screen and allowing viewers to interact by swiping across to see the next/previous image and by zooming into the detail with their fingertips. I don’t really know where this work wants to go next but it’s definitely not done and I look forward to exploring it further.

A5 finished.

I went back to the darkroom. I’d had feedback from two tutors and some peers that it would be worth trying the photograms a bit bigger.  Fortunately, the dark room owner was very positive about this, which is what made the work possible as going from 12×16 to 16×20 required setting up with larger trays, more chemicals and a modification to the washing tank to accommodate the larger paper. He had also ordered paper so that I could use what I needed and pay per sheet, and he would have plenty left to do some larger prints of his own.

Over time, this work has become increasingly simple. I ditched the microscope slide style border in favour of larger glass. I ditched the bows and trimmings in favour of empty space. This week, I ditched the glass entirely; embracing the risk and opportunity presented by bra cups sitting proud of the paper rather than squished, mammogram style, under a glass plate (this was another feedback suggestion). The logistics of cleaning and placing an 18x22inch glass plate in the dark did help with this decision. I used guide marks on the enlarger table to ensure that all of the paper was exposed. I made an embarrassing number of test strips, working with small apertures to provide longer exposures (the paper works better with exposures of longer than 10 seconds) and boosted magenta filters to increase the contrast – important with the finer fabrics. I laboured to get the blackest blacks I could. I’m happy with the result. I think the next step would be to even up the positioning slightly so there is equal space left and right… and there’s a tiny white spot on each print in the same place, I think because of a speck of something on the enlarger lens. I could spot it out with watercolour, or I could, and probably will, accept that it’s an indication both of the hand-made nature of each print and my newfound skill in accurately positioning each sheet of paper in the dark. Unexpectedly, after quite so many darkroom sessions, I feel increasingly at ease with the process and it was good to see my “hit rate” increasing. Howard – the darkroom owner – commented that the images would work well on gloss paper as this would add a shiny, reflective quality to the blacks. I am inclined to agree, but the satin finish provides a very velvety matt black and is better suited to assessment requirement.

The images have space to breathe – the underwear really does seem to be floating in space or deep under water. The blacker blacks play a part here. The extra three-dimension-ness is engaging too – one peer said it looked like you could lift the garment straight off the paper. I am considering making a much tighter edit – these prints are big – perhaps just 2-4 images. I need to live with them for a little while and think on what would work. For the moment I am enjoying the unusual feeling of work that feels balanced on the seesaw of what I would want it to be versus what it actually is.

I will add photographs when the quality of daylight improves. In the meantime here are some phone images.

Test strips
In the fix tank
In the fix tank
Detail of loosely folded print in the wash tank
prints on my dining room table
more prints on my dining room table

A5 Shared Intimacy Tutor feedback and response

My tutor feedback arrived yesterday. As always it is very detailed and has provided me with some more ideas to explore and some thoughtful guidance on submitting the work for assessment. I am very grateful for the level of scrutiny, thought and engagement that I’ve received in tutor feedback from Andy. Linked pdf file is below, I shall return to this post with more detail over the weekend as there is a lot to unpick and consider.

Kate Aston Assignment 5 feedback

Several weeks on this has not been an easy post to write. The feedback was terrific. It has thrown up a bundle of questions to be considered, thankfully I don’t think I need to answer them, just put them out there in the cosmos.

The biggest issue has been considering the sexuality, or otherwise, of the work. Three tutors have commented on the work via the various feedback mechanisms with which I’ve engaged. My tutors comments:

Before I read this on your blog I also thought about the importance of embracing the expression ‘fetish’ and accepting that the work cannot be perceived as asexual – this is intensified by your approach of using worn items which have been sourced from other people through the Internet. Your texts are still coming across as reticent in this area.

One tutor, via the OCA South West group, commented that the work had a fetish element to it and suggested a title of “From Fox Talbot to Fetish”. Another tutor, via the Forum Live Hangout, commented otherwise (heavily paraphrased). Some students have seen the work as forensic, as the work being presented for examination, of it having an element of the exotic, the other. Indeed, my tutor also refers to the work touching “on the language of evidence or specimens”. My intention was not to make overtly sexual work – it was to reference Fox Talbot’s use of lace in his early shadowgrams and to use lace from a contemporary setting. I used underwear because it fits with the way my practice examines the familiar but less visible aspects of life. It seems to be the use of other people’s underwear that is provoking the reading. This makes me wonder how the reading would change if I presented an edit that was openly entirely of my own underwear. How would the reading of my own used, but laundered underwear differ from the reading of random strangers’ used, but laundered underwear? Is other peoples’ underwear more or less sexual than my own (if anyone reading is in a position to answer that question, please don’t)? Would the readings of fetishism change to readings of exhibitionism? Would it make any difference? Why? A peer reminded me of Barthes view that there are three parties to every image – the subject, the photographer and the audience and their views all interact. How does this change when you have the photographer, the audience, and the underwear of an unknown person? Another peer pointed out that I don’t need to answer these questions, so I’m not going to. I am however going to continue this work as a side project through UVC.

The rest of the feedback is thankfully easier to address. I was fascinated by Andy’s observation that the designs in the lace echo not only the original work by Fox Talbot, as I intended, but also the work of Blossfeldt and Haeckel. I was delighted by Haeckel’s work, well delighted is an understatement, it makes me fizz with joy inside at how he manages to combine exuberance and precision, and the colours are exquisite. Perhaps flowers are something of an archetype, or perhaps a trope, the way they have endured in art and design, there’s something interesting that the lace in modern underwear has such similar design to the lace that Fox Talbot photographed. Where is the modern lace design? Do we still see women as delicate Victorian/Edwardian flowers?

I was encouraged at his commendation of my presenting the work at full size. His comments did make me consider carefully how I was going to make the work for assessment, and I decided on a larger paper size with objects that fitted well within the paper.  I was intrigued by his suggestion of printing the work on a lighter weight foldable paper, which led me to wondering about printing onto silk at life size. I think they could look really interesting in black and white, with the same handle as lingerie fabrics. I reluctantly decided that the key to this work is simplicity, and that my assessment submission is complicated enough in terms of the variety of formats being submitted. Although I don’t have easy access to a large flatbed scanner or photocopier I did try scanning some underwear into my home printer/scanner. The results were interesting but I stand by my photogram presentation. The use of contemporary technology added another (more unwelcome to me) layer of context, and more importantly, the results were not as good. This might be something that I explore further over the next year or so. I do like how the labels have rendered though.

Andy’s suggestions for further reading/viewing are always challenging and rewarding. The Shadow Catchers exhibition material online has been a “go-to” resource for me since I worked with Polaroids at Lacock Abbey back in EYV, however I was delighted to see that the book has been republished and this will continue to be a baseline inspiration for me. Christian Boltanski was thoroughly intriguing too. I enjoyed his literal approach, the translation of memories and moments into carefully orchestrated and lit objects. This text from his website resonated with me:

The durability of certain materials that very effectively evoke the passage of time allows Boltanski to simultaneously establish a difference and an analogy between synaptic (organic) memory and the memory that is implicit in objects’ forms. Remains of the past, the residue of distant lives, render the persistence of materials evident, even though these also disappear in time.

This resonated because of the issues and opportunities presented by underwear that holds a memory of its wearer’s form, years or even decades after it was last worn. Flattening the garment under glass gave a clearer image, but letting it just breathe allowed an extra dimension, hinted at the curves. A brilliant reference and undoubtedly one that I will use again.

In summary, this work is now at a point where I’m happy to submit it for assessment. I’ve been very happy at how it has developed over the last six months and am keen to develop it further.



More smalls, and the project that won’t stop.

I found that one of the antiques shops in town has a vintage clothing section at the back including a box of underwear, and much more offsite. Pricewise it is better than eBay and there may be an option to rent and return.

The vintage garments are different. Oddly – there is less lace. The fabrics are worn with time and generally more transparent. Pre lycra, so much less stretch. They are often repaired too which should make for interesting detail. I bought some vintage silk stockings too which are proving a challenge to photogram but should prove rewarding. Again, one of these is darned, over a delicate woven pattern. I don’t think that would happen often today.

So I bought underwear and went back to the darkroom. I talked to the owner about how to get clean edges and ended up removing the whole framing/positioning mechanism and working on the base plate, and then I taped a ruler and a paper guide to the base to help me position the paper correctly in the dark. This worked, and I only ended up with two photograms with edge marks.

As I write this my submitted work is with my tutor. I am still making the work because it’s not done yet. Two framed photograms will go to Woking for the OCA Thames Valley Group exhibition – at the moment I am not sure which two. The frames are made though, with temporary photograms inside them, and they look great. Holly (who’s on the Digital Image & Culture course) came over last night before we went to a private view at Lacock and picked out two prints from my reject pile. They are less obviously underwear than the others, but definitely lace, and in that way are closer to the Fox Talbot original. The one of the slip needs remaking at higher contrast so the lace is more white and ideally the background more black, though that can be harder with the finer fabrics.

Another interesting comment from Holly is that I might have been making these upside-down. When I include both sides of an object, such as a pair of pants or a bra with the back hooks closed, I’ve been placing the item back-first onto the paper. Whereas it probably needs to be front-down, back up so that the photogram shows the front and back the right way around. It might not work with the lightest of fabrics but is worth a try. It seems obvious now! Then I think about and wonder if it’s more to do with the relative opacity of the front and back – the more opaque the fabric the whiter the image produced beneath it, and the white will always suggest foreground rather than background.

A5 Tutor submission – Shared intimacy

Please note that the submission is in the form of physical 12×16 photograms. These phone jpgs are included here for convenience.

Self assessment A5

I’m quite satisfied with what I’ve achieved on A5 and excited about what it might lead to in future work. Every so often a piece of work coalesces absolutely with who I am, what I think and what I make (like the pregnancy tests and the Lacock Abbey polaroids in EYV and the self portraits on C&N), and this assignment feels like another solid step on my learning journey. I did change direction on A5 from the initial work with pink in my archive. I don’t regret that and feel as if I’ve finished A5 with two strong candidates for further development (I suspect that I will return to the pink project when I reach Digital Image & Culture on Level 2).

I was thrilled with the continuity that I’ve found, the way that the initial inspiration from Fox Talbot’s salt lace prints has filtered into my own work and gradually developed via experimentations with both subject and media into something that is undoubtedly my work, undoubtedly paying tribute to Fox Talbot whilst being firmly contextualised in the present day. I have worked with my underwear and used underwear from Ebay allowing me to use objects that are familiar and everyday to many of us yet because of their extremely personal and intimate nature they still have something of the other, the exotic about them. The use of alternate processes – photograms in this case – also feels true to my practice and has allowed me to explore 1:1 scale, something that normally photography doesn’t do because it’s constrained by online storage or paper size. To see this evolution of an idea over about 18 months is very satisfying indeed.

I have been working on extending my peer networking and have had some very helpful feedback by engaging with the Thames Valley and South West regional groups as well as the Critique threads and the Forum Live Hangouts on the OCA site. The peer collective that I am part of has encouraged me too, and a small concertina style book of test photograms has been submitted for the OCA Showcase exhibition in London at the end of October.


self assessment

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

While on C&N I have completed three days of dark room training and started to build a relationship with a local commercial darkroom. I’ve also been working more with film photography although this is less apparent from my blog. I therefore feel that my technical skills are becoming broader and developing outside of the digital arena. This assignment probably counts as still life or straight reproduction in visual terms. Precision is an area that I still struggle with, and there is much room for me to improve significantly. Checking the edges of the frame when I’m in the dark, and can’t easily locate the edge of the “frame” is proving to be something of a challenge. I can also improve the location of the object within the frame and the way it actually sits on the paper.

Quality of outcome

I’m happy with how the work has turned out. People engage with it, it looks both familiar and alien at the same time. Yes, I would love it to be neater at the edges and better laid out in some cases, but I can do that on the next darkroom session and book time with the darkroom owner to learn more about managing the layout without borders.

Demonstration of creativity

I’m happy with this too. I have been wanting to make work that combines both lace and Fox Talbot for a long time and feel slightly more creatively at peace as a result of this assignment. I showed what I wanted to show, how I wanted to show it. I explored photograms, I explored materials, I explored bits of ebay where I’d never ventured. The work is absolutely mine in its combination of the familiar, the intimate, and its physical presentation. I am still considering the final presentation for assessment but think it will be prints in an Ilford paper box, separated by either glassine sheets or textured interleaving paper.


Context was interesting to put together. I am conscious that I have skated over the top of many of the creative pioneers of photograms. There are just so many of them. I have tried to keep my summary relevant. I would love to reference feminist work made using photograms but there doesn’t seem to be much out there – it is similar to the Gorilla Girls observation that art is far more likely to feature naked women than to be made by women.

I’m also aware that this work sits firmly within at least two contexts though most viewers will identify more with one than the other. One context is the Fox Talbot lace photogram context – making an image of lace using a much older technology. The other context embraces second hand underwear, eBay, size issues because the items are shown at real size, inevitably much larger than we expect, and feminist issues around size, what we wear, what we are expected to wear, what is sold to us, sexuality and functionality in underwear and so on. It is perhaps understandable that it’s not that straightforward to find practitioners whose work embraces feminism/Fox Talbot/photograms all within a single series.

Note to self – move last paragraph to context post.

Process evaluation for A5

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.

A5 Artist Statement

Fox Talbot’s salt prints of lace entrance me. In contrast to his images of ladders and haybales we never see an obvious provenance for the lace.  Bought by the family governess, borrowed from his wife’s sewing drawer, a memento of travels?

Lace has been a daily feature of my life from the net curtains of my childhood to my current underwear. I have been working with lace for some time, intrigued by how, like light, it masks and unmasks, conceals and reveals. Net curtains conceal the interior, lace underwear artfully reveals it.  Lace seemed to surface in my practice at every opportunity but I still wasn’t making the work I wanted to. Then, responding to Fox Talbot’s lace print I searched eBay – exploring the unknown, the exotic and the outré qualities of second-hand underwear. This enabled me to transpose the lace from the private to the public, whilst retaining elements of the unknown, paying tribute to Fox Talbot’s ground-breaking images and re-contextualising lace to the modern day.

I am intrigued by the life-size aspect of this work. The photograms are unrelentingly 1:1 – these garments are bigger than our expectations from the photoshopped models and tiny swipe right images that we see on billboards and our mobile devices. There is a shared intimacy – the intricate lace touches the paper the same way that it touches our skin. The photograms often show us the skin side of the fabric, increasing the intimacy still further. The lack of surface detail and contextual information means that we can’t tell the brand, the size, not even the colour.  With all this information removed, we are forced to concentrate on the form, the fabric, our questions and our imagination. 

A5 Context

The inspiration and overarching context for this work is William Fox Talbot’s images of lace. He made them as salt prints – basically photograms on treated paper. I’ve seen reproductions of these images at Lacock Abbey and at the Matt Collishaw VR exhibition. I’ll never forget the feeling of picking up a non-existent reproduction of a real image, to examine it more closely. With much of Fox Talbot’s work we can contextualise what he photographed – ladders, haystacks, windows, see the place in Lacock where these props were located, but we never know where the lace came from. Bought by the family governess, borrowed from his wife’s sewing or underwear drawer, a memento of travels? So the idea of working with lace has stayed with me for some time via cyanotypes of underwear, still lifes with lace curtains, photograms of net curtains and now photograms of underwear. I wanted to recreate this work but with lace from the universal modern provider – Ebay – and with the touch of the unknown, the exotic and the slightly outre from second-hand underwear.

“Talbot’s Lace is not merely a copy of unprecedented ease and fidelity. It is also a picture, which transposed the lace from the realm of objects to the realm of pictures, where it has enjoyed a new and unpredictable life.” (Moma.org, 2018) I wanted to transpose the lace from the private realm of underwear to the public realm.

My context and influences for this work initally split into either photogram based work or work exploring net and lace, with some inevitable blurring between the two categories. I have subsequently expanded the number of applicable contexts.

As with any entire genre, there’s a rich list of talented practitioners who have exploited the photogram technique. Looking at my list I see Berenice Abbott, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, ELT Mesens, Gyorg Kepes, Erwin Blumenfeld, Floris Neususs, Adam Fuss, Tom Fels, Susan Derges, Richard Caldicott. Looking for a timeline, I learn that after the base being laid by Niepce, Fox Talbot and then used by Anna Atkins (Norman, 2018), the first actual photograms were made by Christian Schad in 1918, and these were embraced by the Dada movement. After that, the photogram path splits with one path towards Man Ray and his surrealist work, and the other towards Moholy-Nagy with his science and design Bauhaus influenced work. The push-pull paradox of photograms – is it science? is it art? – is already becoming apparent. William Klein took a fresh approach again and rather than making photograms of something instead used the paper as a blank canvas and played with light over it, like Jackson Pollack was playing with paint (Campany, 2018). It’s not a uniquely photographic discipline  – many artists including Pablo Picasso and ELT Mesens have made work with photograms.

Floriss Neususs is probably the leading contemporary practitioner of the photogram. According to Neusüss: “Perspective and horizon are absent from photograms, so the space is theoretically unending.” (Chandler, 2012). As well as removing perspective and horizon though we also lose the context within the frame, the first step in our process of locating the image within the various contexts that we know. This may be why we so often describe the objects shown in photograms as floating in space or underwater – because we struggle to contextualise the featureless black background. Adam Fuss and Susan Derges both combine both the scientific and the surreal in their work, thus bringing the two divergent photogram paths back together.

Hans Kupelweiser is “an important Austrian Sculptor, and concerns himself with the interplay between the 2D and 3D.”  (Norman, 2018). This resonated with me because I had to consider the essential 3D nature of underwear, how it’s designed in three dimensions and takes on the form of the wearer. In the end, I decided to flatten the underwear under glass but it still shows the extra dimensions via folds and the change in colour from light to dark over different depths of fabric. Picasso collaborated with Andre Villers and used flat lace, but he cut or drew on the image to add depth.

What was less visible in my research is the use of net and lace by female practitioners. When these artists do surface, it’s apparent that their work can have more of a narrative, a direct link to the world that we live in compared to the surrealism or the science of the early photograms. Their work is less about technical showmanship (though the work is undoubtedly technically accomplished) and more about using these tiny holes and diaphanous threads in support of a strong and compelling narrative.

In Helen Sear’s series Inside the View we seem to be looking through a lace-curtained window onto a woman who is in turn looking out at a view. It’s all a construction though – not just the exquisitely handmade photoshopped “lace” but the juxtaposition of the rear view of the woman with an unrelated landscape. There is a very interesting essay by David Campany who considers the ways in which Fox Talbot’s work resonates in Sear’s work, including that “a photograph is all about surface yet it appears to have no surface”. (Campany, 2006)

Liz Claffey’s work is not photograms, but looks uncannily as if it is. In her series Matrilinear she uses lightboxes and black backgrounds to produce translucent images of clothing that has been repaired and passed down/across through generations. I was alerted to her work on Instagram where there is a bra image that looks very much like a photogram and inspired me to look further at her work.

Sigalit Landau’s work Salt Bride documents a black Hassidic wedding dress that she submerged in the Dead Sea for two months. The dress turned from black to white as it became crystallised with sea salt. It was then photographed and prints exhibited at life size. This work seems relevant to me because of the change from black to white – almost like a very long exposure recording a chemical and physical change. The dress floated in the Dead Sea the way that photograms seem to float in an empty void. The colour change from black to white is binary, like the change in photographic paper from white to black when it’s exposed to light. Also like photograms her photographic prints are at life size.

I’m also aware that this work sits firmly within at least two contexts though most viewers will identify more with one than the other.

The first context is the Fox Talbot lace photogram context – making an image of lace using a much older technology.  I have explored aspects of this context above.

The second context embraces second hand underwear, eBay, size issues because the items are shown at real size, inevitably much larger than we expect, and feminist issues around size, what we wear, what we are expected to wear, what is sold to us, sexuality and functionality in underwear and so on. It is perhaps understandable that it’s not that straightforward to find practitioners whose work embraces feminism/Fox Talbot/photograms all within a single series. This is the context that I’ve struggled to find supporting references for. This is irritating as I realise that I’ve made another piece of work with a substantial feminist reading without sufficient contextual references to support it.  Update – a friend pointed me to Emily Duffy’s BraBall – a giant ball made of donated bras. The artist statement makes some interesting points she talks about the relationship that women have to their bras, and their breasts. I wonder if she encountered people who saw the work as sexual.

It has been like traversing a minefield to tell the BraBall story only in ways that promoted its positive progress, where it would be taken seriously as an art piece, and, most importantly, so it will never be used to exploit women.

A third relevant context is the recording of garments that carry a narrative without photographing the women associated with that garment. Liz Claffey’s work sits within this context, as does Katherine Cambareri’s series “Well what you were wearing?”  (Cambareri, 2018) which shows clothes worn by women when they were sexually assaulted (this overlaps with the second feminist context above).

A looser fourth context is the recontextualization of older images. An OCA student commented about this with specific reference to Sherrie Levine’s After Walker Evans series (Metmuseum.org, 2018). I can see the link, but I think it would be a truer recontextualization if I had worked with lace in exactly the same pattern as Fox Talbot had used, or if I had rephotographed his work. Definitely something to think about.

Cambareri, K. (2018). Well, What Were You Wearing?. [online] Katherine Cambareri Photography. Available at: https://www.katcphoto.com/well-what-were-you-wearing.html [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Campany, D. (2006). Helen Sear: Inside the View – David Campany. [online] David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/helen-sear-inside-the-view/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Campany, D. (2018). Into the Light – David Campany. [online] David Campany. Available at: http://davidcampany.com/into-the-light/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Chandler, A. (2012). Aesthetica Magazine – Floris Neusüss: Ancient and Modern, London. [online] Aesthetica Magazine. Available at: http://www.aestheticamagazine.com/floris-neususs-ancient-and-modern-londo/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Claffey, E. (2018). Elizabeth M. Claffey. [online] Elizabethclaffey.com. Available at: https://www.elizabethclaffey.com/matrilinear-/1 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Duffy, E. (2019). The BraBall: Artist’s Statement. [online] Braball.com. Available at: http://www.braball.com/statement.htm [Accessed 8 Jan. 2019].

GalleriesNow.net. (2018). Sigalit Landau: Salt Bride at Marlborough Contemporary, London. [online] Available at: https://www.galleriesnow.net/shows/sigalit-landau-salt-bride/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Metmuseum.org. (2018). After Walker Evans: 4. [online] Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/267214 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Moma.org. (2018). William Henry Fox Talbot. Lace. 1845 | MoMA. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/46340 [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Norman, L. (2018). Photomonitor – Collection – On curating ‘Light Works: The Art of The Photogram’ at Atlas Gallery. [online] Photomonitor.co.uk. Available at: https://www.photomonitor.co.uk/on-curating-light-works/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].

Sear, H. (2018). Inside the View – 2004-2008. [online] Helen Sear. Available at: http://www.helensear.com/portfolio/inside-the-view/ [Accessed 10 Oct. 2018].


A lumen print

Liz Nunn at the OCA South West suggested that I try making lumen prints as part of my A5 experiments. She pointed out that it would bring colour to the work and I was impressed and intrigued by her lumen prints.

The weather was poor so I made my lumen print indoors in front of a south facing window. I placed the pants on a sheet of photographic paper (in the dark) and a piece of glass on top to keep them flat and protect them from curious cats. I opened the curtains and waited for a couple of days while the sun exposed the image.

Once complete I took out the print and sprayed it with silver sparkle spray (a technique borrowed from Liz). It was looking rather brown, now it’s pinky brown and sparkly, which I suppose could be considered an improvement in a minor way.

Lumen print of pants, made indoors and sprayed silver.

I’m still curious but A5 will remain as photograms – I prefer the definition and the more photographic tones. Once the storm passes we are forecast 4 days of sun so I shall try again outside next week and see if I can get some of those beautiful pink and purple tones.

I’m also curious about exposing photographic paper in the rain. I tried with a plain piece magi-taped to a chopping board and it was quite beautiful until the sun came out and turned it brown with a slight marble. The edges where the tape was are more interesting, but I think I’m close to exhausting this diversion for the time being. The rain doesn’t seem to change the light falling on the paper for long enough and the pattern disappears with the rain drops as the sun evaporates them. Definitely a worthwhile exercise and one to explore further in the future. The paper is crooked on the board because I taped it on a pitch dark room with no safelight. If I tried again I would do it with glass on top of the paper and see if that changes anything.


I need to thank Liz for her generosity in encouraging me to try out the methodologies that had worked so well for her. If you are interested in alternative photographic processes I recommend her blog very much. Here’s a link to her posts on lumen prints: