Thursday, July 7, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Geometric Progress

Hi Spiders. I'm sorry I haven't been posting lately, I've been working on other things. Like photography with an actual camera. I've also just been feeling a bit down lately. I do have a post tonight, even if it's a bit short.

Overall, the Silver Geometry Project is going well. I've pretty much got color control down, though I do want to experiment and find more colors to introduce. I'd love a more reliable green and a true black. Palladium might work for the black, but daaaang is it expensive. So I'm hoping to find an alternative. I can get pretty close to black by using a potassium salt and silver nitrate, but I'd like another option. My only green choices so far are under-exposed cyanotype (very fugitive) and solarized silver nitrate with a sodium salt (takes way too long, and is very dull).

The biggest challenge is creating the original pencil designs, the "geometry" that underlays the chemigram and photogram. If the geometry isn't interesting, even the coolest chemical reaction generally won't save it. So I'm studying a lot of geometric art. Deco, constructivism, and futurism mainly. Abstract expressionism... maybe. There are some interesting painters from the 60s and 70s that I'll probably take a look at.

I feel like the project is on a good path. I just need to push it further, and really have the designs and the chemistry come together perfectly. I've had a few successes so far!

Oh, and I'm really enjoying the small scale. I started with five inch squares, and then tried some three inch squares. Surprisingly, the three inch squares seem a lot easier to work with and create complex designs for. They're certainly easier to paint, but the mixing of chemicals overwhelms them more easily. There's just not much space for a chemical spill that doesn't become the focal point of the entire image.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blogging for Freya: The Importance of Lite

Silver Geometry #1, kosher salt
Silver Geometry #1 (reprint), 'lite' salt.
Hello, Spiders! It's been a while, and I'm sorry. I've been having a rough spot. Hopefully things are looking better! I'm certainly being more productive!

Lately, I've been back at work on the Silver Geometry Project, because there's a few shows I want to submit pieces of it to. I think they work better as 'stand alone' pieces than my thesis work does. The thesis work needs the artist statement, the titles, and some context to really be understood fully. I think that's a weakness of the thesis, and I'm working on it as I research ideas for new pieces. Silver Geometry, though, has really strong images even if the conceptual framework is looser and less rigorous. So they're what I'm working on right now, and trying to push to shows.

While I have been making new designs, I also started to re-visit some of the designs where I like the drawing, but feel that the prints didn't work out. It's been interesting, since there are a lot of little elements that are outside of my control in the process. I've also been experimenting with altering how fast I work.

Silver Geometry #13, with most of the value variation lost
This week, I tried to create more variety of value by moving the photogram material around pretty rapidly. It worked out well, but the resulting values were so delicate (created after only minutes of sunlight) that all it took was a little hesitation and distraction for a blast of bright, direct light to nearly obliterate the delicate shading. So, while I like the idea of more controlled value variation, I probably need to do that on one print at a time, instead of shuffling my attention between several prints at once. I may also need to do that on overcast days, or even inside through a window. Direct sunlight just moves the reactions too fast.

In these recent prints, I've also been manipulating the chemistry more directly. I created some lighter blue colors by diluting the cyanotype chemistry with water. I forced the silver nitrate to turn violet and red instead of brown and black by using "lite" salt instead of regular salt when preparing the paper. Since "lite" salt is a mixture of 50% potassium chloride and 50% sodium chloride, it causes a dramatically different coloration.

Up next is really small prints made from scraps of the larger sheets of Rives BFK that I'm using for the 5x5s. These are about 2.5 inches square, so the designs have to be a lot simpler. I think that'll be a fun challenge. I'm also considering some 5x5s where the chemigram component is extremely simple, and all the visual interest comes from the value added in the photogram stage. It's been a super busy week, but I'm hoping to get a good bit done this weekend and next week!

Check back in soon, Spiders!!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Blogging for Thor: Writing in the Dark

Skotograph by Madge Donohoe, 1920s-30s.
What should I blog about, Spiders? I ask myself this every week that I haven't got an on-going experiment or process that I'm fiddling with. Earlier today, I was considering a post about lumen prints made primarily with opaque objects, like fruits and vegetables. The primary exposing agent in such a case would be the chemical interaction between the photo paper and the bio-matter, not light. Light might expose the uncovered areas of the paper, but anything that happened on the covered areas would be explicitly chemical. That's interesting to me, since it's photography without light. That should be impossible, right? Photography without light is... what? Chemistry? Chemography? Or... Skotography?

I looked up what the Greek root-word for "darkness" would be. Skotos, it turns out. Then, I had to wonder if 'skotography' is a word? Yes. Yes, it is. It's two words!

Scotography (another way to spell the same word, because going from one alphabet to another is a bit flexible) is the medical practice of using non-visible wavelengths of radiation to create images. X-Ray photography is, therefor, scotography.

There's also Skotography, which was a spiritualist practice in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The idea was that, in darkness, spirits could project energy onto photographic material and produce images. Skotography was the high-tech version of a seance, or table-rapping. Treating photography as magic has a long history, about as long as the history of photography itself. Today we have 'aura photography' or Kirlian photography. And ghost-hunters that use their cameras to image the supernatural. And, there are, of course, still people who believe in skotography.

People are weird, but the few supposed skotographs I've found are actually fairly interesting in appearance. There's even a French artist who is doing a modern project inspired by the work of Madge Donohoe, a popular skotographer during the 20's and 30's.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cameras and Caramel

Caramelized sugar, the product of thermal decomposition. SCIENCE!
Today I came across an absolutely awesome blog: Serious Eats. They are serious about cooking, as they should be. It's serious stuff. Even though my MFA thesis project is created with food, it does seem odd to feature a cooking blog on a photography blog, doesn't it? No. It doesn't. Shut up, Spiders.

One of my oldest friends shared an article from Serious Eats: How to Make Rich, Flavorful Caramel Without Melting Sugar. And it's everything I love. It's food, it's science, it's kitchen-friendly, and it's easy! I was so excited after reading this article, that I had to share it with everyone. All my friends, my Instagram followers, and you, my lovely Spiders. It seemed, though, that most people were not as blown away as I was. So, I'm going to explain why this article is amazing.

It's the science of an ordinary process (caramelization) being dissected, studied, and used to make something far more amazing than you could manage without understanding what is really happening. It's about not being satisfied with the surface, and digging deeper into the mechanics so that you can really take control of a situation.

The writers at Serious Eats are, like Alton Brown, showing that cooking is all about chemistry and physics. There's another article where one of the writers goes in-depth explaining why bleached flour has its place and why, in fact, the bleaching is entirely useful. It's sometimes essential to use bleached flour. Until reading it, I assumed that bleaching flour was just an aesthetic concern. It isn't! It causes important chemical changes in the flour that give flour new capabilities.

How is this all relevant to photography? It's relevant because all photographers should ground their practice in a thorough understanding of how their tools work. If you don't understand the physical processes involved in photography, you're not going to be able to exploit them properly. You won't be able to end-run around problems, or bend the mechanics to your advantage.

Take something simple like a lens flare. If you understand why and how lens flares happen, its easy to avoid them when you don't want them, and control them more precisely if you do want them.

...Oh, and I'm absolutely going to try burying a sheet of photo paper under a layer of sugar, caramelizing the sugar, and seeing what the resulting chemigram looks like. I will not eat the caramel sugar produced, because it will probably absorb some nasty chemicals from the photo paper. I do have high hopes for this idea, though!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blogging for Freya: Beyond Beginnings

Three Cheeses – Digital Scan
I find the obsession with original prints a little odd for photographers. Recently, as part of my graduate school program, I had a year end review of my current thesis project. I make lumen chemigrams which are inherently unstable, and can't be chemically fixed without altering their appearance. So, for the images to be viewed later, they have to be digitally imaged and reproduced. The "original image" is transitory, because even if stored in a dark environment, the prints continue to develop and change due to chemical residue from the food used to create them. The digital image is the "final print" because the physical print is a dynamic event. So why are people hung up on wanting to see that print, not the digital version?

In every understandable way, the digital image is the photograph. It's the final print. The original, food-covered paper, is not really a 'print' at all. It's my subject for a photographic image. It's not actually a photographic print in any useful way, since it can't be viewed in its "actual" state for more than a few minutes. It's not much different from a sand mandala or water calligraphy. If you're there when it happens, you can see it. Otherwise, the only way to experience it is through a photographic reproduction.

And yet, repeatedly, the panel of reviewers were upset that they couldn't see the "original" prints. They made the assumption that the original prints must have more depth, more texture, more dimension, richer colors... but they don't. Honestly. I've seen them, I work with them, I scan them. In almost all the cases, there's no visual information in the "original" that isn't in the photographic reproduction. The only significant difference is that the paper surface of the "original" might have a different texture, tooth or reflectivity than the digital print. 

But, dang, the reviewers were fixated on the idea of seeing the "original". I was even accused of teasing the viewers by 'dangling' the idea that there was an original print at all. You need to know that there is a subject print, to understand what's happening and what I'm doing, but you don't need to see that subject print. Generally because, by the time I've finished everything and am presenting the work to an audience, those subject prints are no longer anything like the image you're seeing. They've lost contrast, lost color, sometimes completely decayed into dull swirls of brown and grey. They're not interesting anymore.

This odd fixation on the idea that there is some inherent merit in the "original" print just because it is original is so strange to be. Photography is all about reproduction. It's all about making an aesthetic choice to capture a single moment of some event and present it to others, far removed in time. If you're going to demand to see the "origin" of any photographic image, aren't you questioning the very reason that photography exists?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Blogging for Freya: Fun with Food

Transference #2 – Orange juice, rice, milk, flour
Ugh, I'm getting so bad at this, Spiders! I'm supposed to blog for Thor! But I forgot entirely last week, and this week I was at game night. Sorry, Thor. At least Freya alliterates well with this week's topic! And, as a fertility goddess, she's more suited to a post about food!

My thesis project is going well. I've hammered out an artist statement that's concise and meaningful, I've produced a good start on a body of work, I've got lots of new places to go with that body of work, and I'm enjoying my work!

In short, I'm making 'chemigrams' with food, or the ingredients of food. Playing around with different bits of food science, baking, and cooking to produce chemical reactions that cause photo-paper to change color under sunlight. So, they're 'lumen prints' in that they're made on darkroom photo-paper exposed to sunlight, but they're chemigrams in that the only thing used to make them are chemically active, not negatives or inert objects. The paper does really react to the chemistry. Acids, bases, oils and salts all have distinct effects on the paper, aside from simply altering how much light reaches the surface.

The biggest problem has been that I have classes and work during the day, so I tend to leave home soon after getting up, and get home shortly before the sun goes down. That's made it extremely difficult to get much printing done. But the weather is finally turning sunny, and classes are almost over. I hope to get a TON of work done this spring and summer! I'm finally really excited about my projects, too. That's so important, because now I'm actually motivated to do work.

The failed baking soda / vinegar volcano print
My latest experiment was building a baking soda and vinegar volcano on a sheet of photo paper... it didn't come out super well. The baking soda worked fine, even created some nice patterns, but the vinegar turned the paper an unpleasant poo-like brown. I have some ideas on minimizing that, so I'll try the experiment again. Probably later today!

The next idea I have to work on is creating a webwork made out of the stringy bits on bananas (I'll have so many bananas left that I'll probably make banana bread) and the smaller stringy bits found on orange slices. The challenge will be to use the right paper. Since the banana strings and orange strings are so thin and small, it needs to be a paper that reacts to light quickly. Otherwise, I'm afraid that the light will burn through these small objects and leave a very low-contrast, poorly-defined image.

I may also give a shot at printing an image that's immersed in boiling water. I've done underwater prints before, so I know they work. Making the water boiling could be fun! I'll probably do that with something that I suspect will react strongly with boiling water. Maybe milk or yogurt, which may begin to curdle and burn? Or cheese, which may melt? It'll be fun! I could even freeze the paper ahead of time, and then pour boiling water on it while it's still frozen. I know if you do that with film it can shatter the gelatin base, causing a crackle effect. I don't know if that would be visible on photo paper, but it's worth a shot!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blogging for Thor: The Shape of Things to Come

Silver Geometry Print #2: Silver Nitrate and Cyanotype
Hello, my lovely Spiders! I'm doing very well; I hope you are, too? Great.

Last week, I talked about beginning a new project. For the moment, I'm calling it "Silver Geometry" but that's likely to change since I've already made at least one image without any silver in it at all.

Step-by-step for
Silver Geometry #1
The biggest challenge so far is the fixed 2 day exposure time. With such a long exposure, the d-max of some chemicals is reached too quickly. If I want to preserve the colors created various levels of exposure, I need to work more quickly and then cover the area with an opaque block.

My first experiment using cyanotype and potassium dichromate provided a sad example of this kind of d-max failure. I was attempting to add rectangular areas of reduced exposure to the circle-based chemigram, but even leaving the opaque rectangles in place for 6-8 hours at a time, the exposure equalized so rapidly that no trace remains in the final image. There should have been four lighter areas intruding into the circular pattern. They're gone.

If I want to continue using faster-reacting chemicals like cyanotype and dichromate, it appears I'll have to create a color with varied exposure, get it to whatever tonality I want, then "seal" it by placing the opaque shape back over that area for the rest of the exposure.

There is good news, though! The first image worked out wonderfully and the
third image came out nicely, too. The third image hasn't got very strong shadows from the paper and tinfoil triangles I used, but it was enough to make faint impressions in the silver rectangle on the right, and to create a gradient in the uppermost cyanotype stripe.

The second two prints also showed the rather lovely potential from painting the chemicals next to each other, and allowing them to overlap and mix. I'm in love with what's happening on the third image where the silver nitrate and cyanotype solutions mixed together.

In the future, I'm going to be incorporating kallitype chemistry, possibly some toners, and experimenting with painting different salts onto the page to alter the color of the silver nitrate stains. This project is looking so fun, Spiders!

I'll be using Instagram to document the progress and layout of each print as I move through the stages of designing the geometric drawing, painting the chemistry onto the paper, setting up the photogram objects and then moving them around during the exposure. So if you want to follow me for updates, that'd be pretty awesome. I love seeing Spiders on social media!