Wet Plate Collodion Orbs
The “City” is the continuing theme of my photographic work, particularly the architecture and changing light found in such man-made environments.
My series of Orbs was created using Wet Plate Collodion methods as part of my final body of work for a Master in Fine Art at Aberystwyth University. The photographic series resulted from revisiting a number of places where I have lived and loved. Documenting the changes over time in each of these urban places became a process of reconnection for me personally. However, the intention was also to capture something of the atmosphere and sensibility of those places that will resonate with the viewer.
The locations across the United Kingdom have been a long and enduring source of inspiration. The different styles of architecture and materials used to create these familiar places are significant to the location and place themselves. Through various projects, I complied images and notes of the subtle differences I observed in the towns and cities. From the design features conceived by the skilled craftsmen who originally created them, it is possible to tell which side of the river you are on, county you are travelling through, or country you are in.
Some of these small details can be found in the lampposts and ironwork around the cities. I can walk the same route through a city and notice something new each time.
From a technical point of view, I use the historic process of Wet Plate Collodion. The process has technical and aesthetic qualities different from that of digital and other negative processes. Indeed, on the BBC Four series Britain in Focus: A Photographic History, the Photographer John Brewer said, “Wet Plate Collodion is like Victorian Polaroid”. The speed, unpredictability and fragility in the processing stages certainly support this view. Exposure times and the sensitivity to light can be manipulated to distort the image and consequently engender a certain nostalgic or romantic emotional response to each scene.
I am firstly inspired by the connections I have with a location-how the structures, smells, and sound of the place stick in my mind, and secondly, by how I can capture that moment through photographic processes that have developed and grown since these cities were forged.
In my current and ongoing series of Polaroid prints, I use light manipulation and distortion to capture a scene, and further explore locations I have visited before.
I use a Polaroid 104 camera and Fuji Film Fp100c to capture and create single, double and long exposure pieces. I have had to learn about the inner workings of my camera due to its age. When I travel, I always carry a selection of small flat head screwdrivers and electrical tape to fix it on location. I also can disable the timer and shutter release to explore different methods of shooting.
Through experimentation, I also learned to gauge the light and exposure length of the field on location. The results vary based on the quality of light available and the timing used. When creating double exposures, I make small changes to the exposure so that the colour saturation is not lost and the subtle layers can develop over each other. Lens manipulation is also important. By using fish eye and zoom lenses, I try to push the limits of focal length available.
The unpredictable nature of the camera and the film make each print an exciting reveal. Not being able to predict the final outcome of the photograph has, made thedrive for the 'perfect depiction' of a scene irrelevant. I find it more relevant to capture a time, the moment and light of the location.
As I experimented with the medium, I also explored using multiple exposures. Some images were taken at the same location days or weeks apart– taking away the ability to determine the exact end piece.
Throughout this collection of work the prints are connected; These have been selected based on the type of light, colouration, manipulation or emotional connection to that location.
The images in this set all explore the ideas and themes of enchantment and escapism, the memories of childhood, and reaching back to those environments. The carousel is a familiar ride at the fairground and yet each one has its own design. The names on the horses change and the colours of the paintings and lights vary. By using different exposures and temperatures at the development stage, I manipulated the colours to accentuate the atmosphere and look of each carousel.
The second half of the set explores escapism through architecture and light. Being drawn to gothic architecture, a mixture of monuments and cathedrals has become an ongoing feature in my work across the different formats. For myself, these places and objects are challenging paradoxes, as they give a sense of safety, surety and direction whilst dominating a landscape in an almost oppressive nature.
The age of the cathedrals themselves shows they have stood the test of time and changes within culture, faith and styles. The open halls and high ceilings, often highly decorated, were once a sign of the wealth of belief within the walls. The cathedral’s purposefully placed windows allow light to pour in, highlighting the direction to take. Through extension of the exposure, I aim to capture the falling light in these beautiful buildings. The monuments and statues I have shot also have an oppressive presence from the light cutting through the clouds or emanating from the fixed lighting.
I want to capture that moment when you wake up from a vivid dream just before the details fade away; when the morning light hits your eyes, every detail of the dream is cut through and the memory starts to fade leaving just impressions of colour and forms within the images.
As a series of work, I cannot yet see an endpoint. Each new or revisited environment has the potential to shed new light on a building or object. The loss of the format may determine the end of an aesthetic chapter within my practice.