“You have to be in it to win it” – how many times do you say that to yourself and so put time, effort and finance into a project and nothing comes of it? But then another well-known saying comes to mind “all things come to those who wait”…. Well my good artist friend Rosie Burns tipped me off on a competition, leading to an exhibition, which she suggested I should enter as she felt it was perfect for the body of photographs I was working on. It was Earth Photo 2019 organised by Parker Harris and with the biggest sponsors/stakeholders being the Royal Geographical Society and also Forestry England.
I’m very excited that the exhibition ‘Here: Uncovering North Devon’ is opening on Saturday, 4th May at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum in my hometown of Bideford. This will be accumulation of three years work for Beaford Arts Hidden Histories project, of which I spent 18 months digitising 10,000 images by James Ravilious and Roger Deakins. Many of my worked-up images will be in the show alongside oral histories and a whole bunch of workshops talks and activities.
I’m going to be leading the following workshops myself starting on the 5th May where there is an all day workshop making “sun prints”. This is a free drop-in workshop from 11am-4pm and doesn’t necessarily need sunshine! Traditional photographic paper is exposed outside but in contact with various translucent objects like leaves or plastic litter etc, photographic chemicals do most of the work here transforming a white sheet of paper into an image which is often rich in warm tones; browns, oranges and yellows.
On bank holiday Monday, 6th May I’m leading a morning session 11am-1pm making photographs with a pinhole camera. Again free, this will take place upstairs in the Kingsley room at the Burton Art Gallery. You’ll ideally need to bring a light tight box for this however, I will have some that you could also use to make real photographic images, in this most primitive of cameras.
In the afternoon 2pm-4 pm you’ll have the opportunity to experience being inside a giant camera obscura, again in the Kingsley room. The room will be completely blacked out and you will be able to see the world projected onto the interior walls.
Near the end of the exhibition, 15th and 16th June, I’m leading a couple of days using traditional photography, using film cameras and a photographic darkroom with enlargers. Here you will get a rare opportunity of making your own print from a duplicate of either a James Ravilious or a Roger Deakins negative.
…an update on this exhibition:
It was really nice to see that I was credited for my digitisation and enhancing skills for each of the images on display!
Hidden around the back of Saltram House, near Plymouth, and standing at head height in an alcove, was Isis the ancient Egyptian goddess. She was first mentioned over 4,000 years ago, in the age of the pyramids where she resurrected her slain husband, the divine king Osiris. Isis had greater magical powers than all other gods and was worshipped throughout the Greek settlement of Egypt and well into Roman times. She holds a sistrum in her right hand, an ancient percussive musical instrument. This 18th Century lead sculpture by John Cheere fixes her protective gaze over Plympton and Plymouth alongside Venus, Mercury and a Vestal Virgin each in their own alcove and two sphinxes mounted outside the south front of the National Trust’s Mansion House.
My work was to photograph Isis and 26 other sculptures at Saltram House for ArtUK. Usually the outdoor sculptures have been photographed by volunteers but these 6 were considered challenging enough to have me add them to my list.
The weather forecast had always been ‘changeable’ with snow in the early hours, a frosty start and more snow coming later. I was ready for anything, but I was given some wonderful sunshine. However, the sun kept disappearing behind a cloud, so I needed a little patience even though I was against the clock! Studio flash is always used for indoor sculpture, but long trailing mains leads outside were not going to work. Instead, I set up a small, battery powered flash on a stand, through a softbox and fired it wirelessly to lighted the heavy shadows cast by winter’s low sun. Added to this was a reflector which Helen, my ArtUK regional coordinator held. After the standard pictures were taken ArtUK encourage a more creative photograph or a close-up. In the picture of Isis above I did both, making the most of the sepia toned, monochromatic look and using the shadows to emphasis form and bring balance to the composition.
I’ve recently been photographing for ArtUK again, this time in South Devon and Bristol. Firstly, after a treacherous drive on snow packed icy roads over Dartmoor to National Trust’s Buckland Abbey. Here my trusty two wheeled cart, over-loaded with studio gear, was no match to the flights of stairs up to the top floor where the sculpture was located.
The biggest challenge here at Buckland Abbey was photographing the huge plaster sculpture of Sir Francis Drake. The sculpture had been discovered in 1999, hidden in undergrowth in the woods on Haldon Hill in Devon by a member of the public. The image top left is from the National Trust website. Towering over 3 metres high and set even higher on a plinth; it was displayed at the top of a steep staircase. I would normally want to position my camera at a height mid-way between the top and bottom of a sculpture, or a little higher than the centre when the top has important features, but this was impossible with Drake without moving him or making a heavily distorted image with an ultrawide lens from close up.
Lighting and background was also an issue: I would normally use studio flash and reflectors to submerge the sculpture in soft light to reveal its features against a plain grey background. But here the shear scale of Drake (the original plaster model for the bronze statue of Sir Francis Drake at Tavistock) and the limited time I was allotted meant a compromise had to be met. Controlled lighting was achieved by balancing flash with ambient daylight and making a long shutter exposure. Care had to be taken to prevent overexposure due to the slow shutter speed by positioning my backdrop in front of a window and using stiff foam reflectors to disguise bright highlights elsewhere. With no plain background it was important to keep the images as simple as possible by removing any ‘clutter’ visually through my camera angle and position, and, in the example of the front view, by keeping some of the straight lines parallel to the camera frame.