Recently I was asked to choose an image, any image, from the Beaford Old Archive http://www.beaford-arts.org.uk/index.php?id=5 and respond to it in a creative way. I had to limit my time to 3 hours, although this time restraint was creatively interpreted. If you want to see this image framed and hung on a wall, you’ll find it alongside other artists interpretations of Beaford Old Archive images, at the Boston Tea Party Cafe in Barnstaple, North Devon, during October and then it travels down to a cafe of the same name in Exeter.
Old Archive image chosen: ‘On the beach, Appledore c1890’ (ref. b08514)
Contemporary response titled: ‘Still on the beach, Appledore 2009’
I’m drawn to pictures like this, they fascinate and excite me. They talk of a recent past, where our North Devon ports were full of sailing ships, importing tobacco and exporting products like our sgraffito slip-ware pottery to the Americas and all over the world. It’s surprising how few images there are showing scenes like this until they are compared to the modern day vernacular equivalent, the lorry park. I often catch myself imagining our rivers full of moored tall ships like ghosts of the past making a trace on our 21st century world. Walking on the quays in Bideford and Appledore I can feel the past, just like one can sense the layers of history in an old house.
This image from c1890 was most likely exposed onto a glass plate negative and printed onto light sensitive, fibre-based, silver-salt rich, photographic paper. It epitomises the worst attributes of the old silver based technology. Dust and hairs have left their white marks as they’ve stubbornly clung onto the negative at the printing stage; fingerprints have been left on the surface from the photographer who uses his hands to move the print from developer to fix but doesn’t clean and dry them properly; stains miraculously appear through uneven agitation, irregular fixing or uneven washing; more stains and marks are left from over 100 years of being passed from family member, to friend, to nostalgic collector. The photograph, like the image it holds, is a testament to the passing of time.
This image of Appledore’s shoreline is a fading reminder of it’s past. By this date our ports were little used, the railway had taken over transportation of goods although it hadn’t reached this village yet. Appledore here is a scant reminder of North Devon’s heyday in the Elizabethan era when ships sailed from here taking the 1st colonists to America and 5 ships under the leadership of Sir Richard Grenville left here to fight against the Spanish Armada.
We can learn a lot from old pictures, we can learn more from trying to re-photograph them. To place my camera where the original camera had be mounted I would need to dig up some of the car park today. The quay at Appledore has been raised and widened, quite considerably, although the part of the waterfront seen in this picture is relatively the same. New houses have been added and some of the original outhouses demolished.
The tide and position of the sun have proved to be my most difficult obstacles. From observing the shadow I estimated that the original picture was made mid-afternoon, and from observing where the tide was and it’s direction (or direction the boats are pointing) I estimated a couple of hours after high tide. To get the tide and sun like this I needed to make my new pictures around a neap tide, which I’d get every 2 weeks. Then, of course, I needed sunshine; something we never get on demand in North Devon. And finally 3 free hours, the allotted time for this commission, when all of the above were in place, to make my images and construct them together in PhotoShop.
I hope with this new digital image something of the view back, through the layers of time, can be seen.
His work is a continuation of his childhood fascination with ‘looking for that elusive hidden rock pool teeming with life or being the first person to tread over the sand and discover a cave’.
Seemingly undaunted by tides, he continues to ‘discover’, squeezing his adult self into narrow tunnels formed by the pounding ocean and wedging himself at the back of sea caves. He documents his artistic endeavour using a digital camera. In Turbulent Passage, Baggy Point, North Devon 2008, a trail of sea foam on the smooth, untouched sand creates a feeling of isolation and imminent danger, but also wonder at being able to see something usually hidden from the human gaze.
In these meticulously-created Constructed Photographs, Green overcomes the problem of lighting in the cave that would result in dark, detail-less images by taking many different, long-exposure shots and stitching them together in Photoshop. The edges of his work are often left jagged, as if individual photographs have been placed together à la Hockney. The results are images that reveal the exquisite tones and textures of the rocks within the cave and pictures that have both depth and movement. The viewer is taken on a journey from the dark space of the cave to the glare of the outside light, the secret openings and slick, smooth rocks provoking analogies to birth and ‘the feminine.’
The biggest surprise, perhaps, is the way in which Green’s images manage to turn the most hostile and remote of environments into an almost comforting space.
Another highlight from the exhibition is the selection of camera-less images from the1990’s. Created by placing natural materials – seaweed, nettles and leaves – directly onto 5 x 7 photographic paper and using the action of sun, water, fixer and developer to form unique pictures, these ‘photograms’ have a surprisingly wide range of colour and tone. There is evidence of Green’s love of stitching here too as the smaller images are rearranged to create different ‘wholes’.
The exhibition runs until Saturday, September 26.
I was making the most of the spring tide on Friday 18th September and exploring a bit of the North Devon coast I hadn’t accessed before, via Mouth Mill, on the
It’s unusual to find bats in these sea caves because at high tide the sea is well inside of them and the surf is pounding up the sides and back. In fact, it’s rare to find any life in these places because the environment at high tide is so violent, only the most stubborn limpet will cling onto these walls. However, in this cave, the ceiling was so high, a good 30 feet, and with plenty of jagged crevices to make a home for a bat. I’ve only found bats in one other cave in the cliffs here, and that one was always dry.
I’ve just come to the end of two weeks of workshops for myself ‘greengallery’, Beaford Arts, the Plough Arts Centre and BBC Blast. It’s funny how it all comes at once; but good that I now have a week dedicated to only the Bideford Folk Festival.
Everyone seemed extremely happy with all they achieved through the workshops, and organisers too, with many sessions being over subscribed; photography seems to getting very popular!
The workshops have covered the whole spectrum of photographic genre and it’s whole history (and pre-history): chronologically I started with the pin-hole camera, at Beaford Arts with a ‘gifted and talented’ summer school residential designed for school children. The technology of seeing an inverted image on the wall of a darkened room through light entering a tiny hole was known over 2000 years ago and noted by Aristotle. Being inside the room and gradually seeing the image of the outside world reveal itself on the walls, as our eyes adjusted to the lack of light, was a great thrill; repeated again with adults two days later with just as much excitement.
Adult students on my weekend course made pinhole cameras from boxes and tins. This is an incredible process as the raw material is simply a box or tin, made light tight through the liberal use of black tape, made non-reflective inside using black paper or card and having a lens (hole) made with a pin prick in a piece of silver foil which is then taped over a larger hole somewhere on the box. Exposures are made through the pinhole onto black and white photo paper, held in the box with masking tape. Another square of black tape serves as a shutter. That’s all there is to it and this image was made after about 5 hours of the workshop. The image above was made by ‘soon to be teacher’ Natacha Withoft.
Images without a camera follows with the making of photograms or as Man Ray coined in the 1920’s ‘Ray-o-graphs’, the placing of objects on photographic paper, exposing them to light in a darkroom, then developing and fixing the image – this process goes back to the very early days of photography 1840’s when Fox Talbot and others made similar images on light sensitive paper. Daylight prints or chemograms were also made, a similar process but with no darkroom, and giving wonderful warm browns, pinks, purple and yellow colours, with occasional greens where the paper was fixed (slightly) first and silver where a build up of the metal occurred on the paper.
To carry on in a chronological order I could give you two examples of long exposures which relate to the length of time one might have had to expose film or plates in the 19th century. One of my workshop titles for BBC Blast was ‘Action Photography’, and one of my methods for recording action/movement was to slow it down and sometimes use flash to freeze it within the same image; this image shows my Blast students photographing a dance practice with as slow shutter speeds as they could use. The process was taken to a greater extreme at the Beaford residential where, after everyone feeling really tired by 8pm we took stock for an hour then carried on outside to experience night photography. Give a few young teenagers torches and you need to do little directing to make some great images. Everyone got fantastic pictures, even those who had no control over shutter speed managed to make images by combining layers of light rings together. This image of the Beaford Centre and students was a 1 minute exposure using a tripod to steady the camera.
Another successful project during the residential was making a joiner similar to David Hockney’s images made in the 1980’s. Students were encouraged to photograph each other in situ around the building; making many images which were then printed out and joined together to make life-sized images. This one, slightly bigger than life, will be made permanent through wallpaper pasting the images onto the door then sealing it with yacht varnish.
Coming right up-to-date all of the BBC Blast workshops, the Plough Arts Centre and most of the Beaford residential were based around getting more out of digital cameras. Time was spent on all of these understanding the basics; aperture, shutter speed, focal length, ISO, exposure etc; setting the cameras up for optimum image quality and making more interesting and engaging images for any given subject. Using the past as inspiration to visualise the future.
Experiencing life inside a camera, a converted bedroom at Beaford Arts.