Tuesday, 10 May 2011

"Light was needed to create the images but ultimately it also caused their destruction."

This is some brand new experimentation of mine but it is something I have been thinking of doing for quite a while. I have always struggled with the fact that my pieces of work are ephemeral and that if they are displayed they will fade and, in a sense, be destroyed.

My third year work did concentrate more on allowing the pieces to fade over the time that they were displayed in a gallery space and it soon became linked to performance art. The work had a life, once it was taken down from its space in the gallery it would have completed its life cycle.
The work I am currently making allows the image to be preserved.

In the early days of photography Fox Talbot and his associates were attempting to find the most effective way to fix the photographs they were making. Light was needed to create the images but ultimately it also caused their destruction.
The desire I have to show people the images I have made and the fear that too much exposure will eventually destroy them was felt long before my time in the early 1800s by Thomas Wedgwood. He created images, which were probably very similar to ones I am making today, but frustratingly found no way to fix them,

"only by keeping his results in darkness could they be prevented from becoming total dark blankness: he showed them almost furtively, by the light of a candle" (Newhall, 2006, p13)

When methods were discovered that would allow the early photographers to fix their images there were still problems with how to display them. Too much exposure to natural light would still cause some damage to the image. Delicate daguerreotypes were kept under glass, in velvet lined cases to prevent them from becoming damaged by light and to stop their surfaces becoming worn away.

Later ambrotypes, which are negatives on glass displayed on a black background to produce a positive image, became more popular as they were easier to produce and slightly less delicate than daguerreotypes. They were given the look of the daguerreotype by being placed in similar decorative cases.

Having a photograph in a small case gives it a more personal aura, it is an individual and private experience to view it. It gives the photograph status as a precious object. It says this image should be viewed on its own, separate from any others. Even a series of them would demand that they be viewed as individual objects.

I purchased some ambrotypes from ebay, removed the original images and replaced them with my own prints. I made these prints specifically for this project. The silhouettes of the plants are delicate and soft and they would disappear very quickly if displayed in a frame in daylight. In their cases they are protected from light and other damage. However each time they are opened and viewed they will fade a very small amount, something that would only be noticeable after a long period of time. This allows for only short viewings of the image, which adds to the preciousness and importance of them.

The images themselves comment on nature and its fragility, they show the simple, but beautiful forms of plants. They could also relate to those first photographic experiments and the botanic cyanotype documents created by Anna Atkins. The images reflect the fact that nature is ever changing, even if we don't notice it at first and that it needs to be protected before being damaged forever.

Newhall, B. (2006) The History of Photography, New York, Museum of Modern Art