Self assessment

I’m still a bit stunned that A5 is finished. It seems to have been here for ages, we’d got used to each other’s company. It’s over, but I’m not finished.

What went well?

I feel as if my technical skills are improving, though this has not necessarily been the project to showcase them. Exercise 5.2 was a watershed moment, and I am happy with the jpgs of the Polaroid backs. I’m even reasonably happy with the picture side of the polaroids, they worked well in black and white and carry the mood of early photography. I’m happy with the work creatively too. I tried absolutely everything that occurred to me, some ideas worked, some didn’t, but I feel as if I explored it from the inside out, and extensively (not completely, there is always more). It feels like my work too.

What didn’t go so well?

Decisions! Well the easy ones were fine. This is going to sound like an ungrateful complaint but sometimes it felt like I could barely keep up with my ideas, which is probably a good thing as it took me to some interesting creative spaces, but I do wonder which bit of my brain is in charge sometimes. I’m aware of a lack of polish on the physical work too. One of the acrylic blocks didn’t clean up too well after I decided against the emulsion lift on it… I should have bought a spare. I could have done with more polaroids too, as I used quite a few testing out techniques and making test books. Contact sheets caught me out, I should have photographed them as I went.

What would I do differently?

Everything identified above. I want to continue developing this work, the next step is photographing emulsion lifts in water to show motion, both sides, and the light through the image.

review against assessment criteria

A5 submission

Photography is Simple is about curiosity, following up all those I wonders and what ifs. It’s about the origins of photography in the UK, via Fox Talbot, Lacock Abbey, and experimentation. It’s about the technical simplicity of the Polaroid.  It’s about inside-out and back-to-front, about the bits that we ignore – the backs, the guts, the negatives. It’s about exploring a single object and multiple possibilities, like Masterchef and coriander. It’s about tampering with prints and memories. It’s about windows – seeing from the inside out and the outside in; like how Barthes talked about how we don’t see the photograph, but only what it’s of (2000, p6), like how we see through/into a photo rather than looking at the object itself.  It’s about looking through the same windows as Fox Talbot, working with the same light, and the photographic window on the world that he gave us all. It’s about frames – both for windows and for images, and that Polaroid frame on every print. It’s about my creative journey – taking ideas from FiP, tending them and testing them. It’s about taking inspiration from the Revelations study visit two years ago and putting it, via Polaroid – onto watercolour paper bought at the Wolfgang Tillmans study visit,  or magnetic acrylic blocks as helpfully identified by an OCA Fine Arts student (Stefan). It’s about trusting that Walter Benjamin was right when he said “In artwork, subject matter is a ballast, jettisoned during contemplation” (Benjamin, 1979 p66-67 cited Campion in (Berg and Gronert, 2011)), and still wondering about aura. It’s about risk, each Polaroid is a one-off,  if the emulsion sticks or processing sucks, there’s no way of just running off another one. It’s about my friend Clare, who said there’s no point altering something that isn’t precious, that doesn’t carry a risk. It’s about chemicals, it’s about instability, it’s about change, it’s about time and it’s about me, my creative foundations and my creative future.

The book has been submitted for tutor critique, however you can see a 30 second video here:

In addition to the physical work, I have some jpgs of the backs of the Polaroids immediately after manipulation. With my tutor’s agreement, I am including eight of them here to seek guidance on the better set to develop for assessment. Please click to view a larger image.

Finally, the course notes requires me to direct my tutor to exercise 5.2. I chose to respond to Moyra Davey’s Copperhead and you can see the third iteration of the work here. Please note there will be a 4th iteration added, with sharper images of the coins, however this is how it is at the moment.

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage Books.

Berg, S. and Gronert, S. (2011). Through the looking brain. 1st ed. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

A5 Research

eyv a5 vennOne of the areas that has changed the most for me during EYV has been research. I’ve learned to be braver about just starting the work, rather than researching extensively before even picking up the camera. Part of my learning is redefining exactly what research is. It’s not necessarily a search engine inquisition of the internet looking for similar work. It can be exploring tutor suggestions, or just starting the work and figuring out the influences later. I did wonder if I had done any research at all for this work, then remembered the hours spent reading, wondering, and trying things out. Research can be about your influences, but it can also be about testing out gossamer thin threads of logic between things that you think are relevant. Even if I choose not to follow up every artist who’s worked with Polaroid, every Fox Talbot image, every use of a die-cutting machine, I still need the ability and knowledge to place my work in the canon of work that is out there now. I came to the decision that my work is in large a tribute to Fox Talbot but through a vernacular lens – the architecture of his ancient home, captured with a camera typical of the 1970s, processed through a manual system used for die-cutting and embossing that is used as much as a diversion today as watercolours were for Fox Talbot’s family and friends.

Photographing modern day Lacock is by no means unusual and it’s a location that appears in the blogs of several local OCA students, including my own. What I hadn’t seen elsewhere though, was the location photographed with a simpler camera, or a focus on windows, which with their associated frames seem to me to be a very photographic concept and construct. One of the photographs that Fox Talbot is most famous for is the one he made of a window in the south corridor of Lacock Abbey.

Fox Talbot deserves more attention. He is essentially Chapter 1 in most books about the history of photography and it is easy to take him, and his work, for granted. Living just down the road from Lacock Abbey I am also guilty of viewing the ancestral home of British photography as a convenient excursion when the child needs wearing out. Photographing his home with a basic camera gave me some idea of how exciting it must have been for him. Part of this was down to the Polaroid too – for sure, thousands if not millions of photographs are taken at Lacock Abbey every year, but how many of these photographers get to hold their prints in hand, at Lacock, as William and I did? To stand in front of a photographed window, holding its likeness? I do somehow feel as if I understand him, and his legacy, better, as a result of the reading and visiting that I did. I spent some time looking at the Bodlean Library Fox Talbot before photographing, and that helped me to determine what I wanted my Polaroids to “be of”.

Similarly, die-cutting and embossing are very popular techniques with card-making crafters, but I hadn’t seen the techniques applied to photographs, and particularly not to Polaroids, where they allow the exploration of the print, and its integral mini dark-room – as an object. Finally – Polaroid emulsion lifts – again a well-used technique in the field of Polaroid manipulation, but I wanted to explore the link between this fragile, elastic translucent image and the window that it represented. Could I get a Polaroid of a window to actually be see through? Could I mount it in a transparent medium?

I did a fair bit of exploration. I think my key research was looking at the work of Fox Talbot on the Bodleian website, the Fox Talbot Photography Museum and in visits to the Abbey, repeatedly taking Polaroids in colour, in black and white, of everything, of the windows, with people and without people. I talked to the volunteers, taped over the flash on my Polaroid, talked to them again, and kept going. I looked at calotypes, I tried making some ( with the slightly discouraging result that the best ones were of my pants). I drew encouragement from everyone who looked at my Polaroids and said they looked like old photographs (rather than modern photographs of something old).

I read OCA DIC student Stephanie d’Hupert’s critical essay on images as objects. Her work embraces the print, the physical, the old, the cherished, the broken and the repaired. You can see the assignment that bewitched me here –  Her essay can be read here – I also followed fellow EYV student Alan’s exploration with a found suitcase full of found images the suitcase.  Again, he was inspired to explore both fronts and backs of the prints, despite being completely unfamiliar with both the context and content of this case of prints. Finally, I looked at Anna Goodchild’s experiments with Polaroid print., where she manipulated them in her work about prisons. You can see some of her trial prints on the OCA discussion board here Despite us both working with Polaroid 600 prints and manipulating them, the results are very different.

I collected all the Polaroids that I was happy to sacrifice and tried out techniques on them, varying the film type, the colour, the age of the print, the shape, the pressure….

I discovered the heartbreaking story of the Polaroid collection – around 1200 images by esteemed artists that were auctioned following the conviction of Tom Petters with large-scale fraud. He had “rescued” Polaroid from an earlier bankruptcy but then used it as a front company for a £2.4billion Ponzi style fraud. He was jailed in 2010 for 50 years, Polaroid went bankrupt again, and the creditors moved in. Artists had often donated work to Polaroid in exchange for film, on the understanding that the works would be maintained as a collection but sadly this was not honoured and the works were sold, despite many believing that the works were not actually the collection’s to sell. You can read a summary here and there’s a detailed set of blog posts on A.D. Coleman’s blog here.

The physical side of the work took some research. The embossing work was all hands-on experimentation. I found various tutorials online on emulsion lifts and accordion spine books, but was still inexplicably nervous about trying out the spine (it was  still untried as I drafted this blog post, some seven days before the work was due to be with my tutor). Recommendations and suggestions were made on the OCA forum, which I followed up. I bought a discounted book on different things to do with Polaroid prints, which punched way above its not insignificant weight and got me thinking that experimenting with Polaroids really is nothing new. Somehow, that was comforting. Much of what I wanted to do didn’t seem to come up in my research, from embossing a Polaroid to using the film carton to make a book outer. It’s unlikely that I’m the first person doing these things, but it does seem to be the case that I’m the first person documenting the work on the searchable internet.

Other influences are still formative. My tutor has spoken twice to me about Walter Benjamin’s writings on the aura. This is the idea that mass production of a work somehow destroys its essence, its one-ness, it’s specialness. Perhaps Benjamin didn’t think this was a bad thing. I’m still undecided, if mass production destroyed the emotive wrench of an image then surely there would be no reason for charities, for campaign groups, for press to use photographers? I do however agree with his comment about how subject matter, in art, can be a ballast that you discard “during contemplation” (Benjamin, 1979 p66-67 cited Campion in (Berg and Gronert, 2011)). I wanted the use of Fox Talbot’s windows to be a simple jumping-off point for my work, something that provided a relevant and cohesive theme that viewers can use to access the work, then make their own explorations, circling back to the familiar if needed. Then there’s Barthes’ Camera Lucida, and his comments that you can’t deconstruct a photograph. “The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive….”  (2000, p6).  Clearly you can separate the leaves of a Polaroid, separating out to the negative, the emulsion, the transparent mylar and the strips that form the borders. Separating them does destroy the unit, but I think the component parts take on their own meanings even when separated. Similarly, I would disagree with him on his view of Polaroids. “Polaroid? Fun, but disappointing, except when a great photographer is involved.” (2000, p9).

Barthes, R. and Howard, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage Books.

Berg, S. and Gronert, S. (2011). Through the looking brain. 1st ed. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.


A5 contact sheets

Polaroid contact sheets are hard, especially if you forget to photograph the Polaroids after you take them and before you start altering them. Fortunately, most of the survivors are still in a biscuit tin so I photographed fronts and backs (where altered) today and cropped down to portrait rectangles.

Inkedearly attempts, trials, fails_LI

It took a while to get used to the idea of tampering with the prints. I couldn’t cut 7292 (Format) and 7315 (my desk) at all. I tried some with random prints on out of date film, but it felt as if they were just too random, and the work needed a subject, even if I then chose to ignore it. 7301/2 cut nicely though and I liked how it looked with the inverted cut-out. 7293 is an Instax instant print, which was a good size and cut well but bled black and crunchy when altered.

The last three are from exploring calotypes (on fabric). I was inspired by Fox Talbot’s Lace work, but although the results are engaging they were a bit too far from the concept I wanted to explore. The third was one of two that used a Polaroid emulsion lift as a negative. Sadly, it didn’t work.

Next up, I identified Lacock Abbey as a subject, and took some test shots in colour, still on expired film.

Inkedlacock colour expired film_LI

So next up was Lacock Abbey, with a twin pack of black and white film, with a black border. These delivered higher contrast for the indoor shots, the outdoor ones however were a bit washed out. I played around, again, and discovered that I preferred the results from embossing over cutting. The black and white didn’t cut as cleanly as the colour did, but I did lift a square of emulsion from one image that looked promising. I also photographed the backs of some images with my DSLR whilst the emulsion was drying, and this looked like an interesting path to follow too. By the time I was done I had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do, and ordered some more of the same film.

Inkedlacock bw black frames-1_LIInkedlacock bw black frames-2_LI

So rather later than expected, the film arrived and I found that I’d accidentally ordered the white bordered version. I was tight on time so decided to shoot anyway, at Lacock, of windows. The film turned out to be beautiful with perfect rich contrast and worked very well indoors, and the white border worked better than the black had done.  I was finally happy with the shots, and 16 exposures plus a few usable ones from the previous shoot gave me enough images and parts to make the work. Emulsion lifts were harder from this film, but did work nicely even so. It was near impossible to get the negative cleaned but I had a clean neg from the previous shoot. When I looked at these I could see that my idea of mounting an emulsion lift onto clear acrylic could work. I photographed the back of every altered shot with my dslr immediately it was altered and this let me photograph the blue colour of the emulsion which turns white after a few minutes. I like how a black and white picture bleeds blue, just for a few minutes.

Inkedlacock bw white frame_LI

Finally, the contact sheets from photographing the backs of these images. I couldn’t leave these images, I liked the abstraction of the pattern and colour, the way the backs of the images became landscapes and abstracts in their own right.

InkedPolaroid backs-1_LIInkedPolaroid backs-2_LI




A5 ideas, thoughts and process

This will be a post that’s regularly updated as I make my way through A5 Photography is Simple. A5 feels as if it needs to be something a bit special. It’s my finale to EYV and my overture to whatever I choose to do next. It needs to not be safe, it needs to be a celebration. It’s when I can take advantage of the comparatively loose brief and can deliver what it is that I want to make, in a format of my choice.

I’ve had this on my back burner for some time. I had two ideas for development and have done a bit of work on them both, as well as discussing them with my tutor as part of my A4 feedback skype call.

My first idea grew out of the death of my Uncle David last December. A retired Manchester Fire-man, he had an acute love for life and fun. Speaking at his funeral, my cousin asked us all “to go away and do something silly, he’d like that.” Several hours later, exhausted and tearful I got off the train home at Chippenham and made a photobooth portrait of me and his order of service. My cousin and my auntie loved it, and somehow it helped with the grieving, and there’s a little series of them now. Somehow it still seems a little intimate, a little raw to be an assignment out there for scrutiny, although I am quite sure that my family would be fine with it. It is the oddest feeling to be developing a series of work featuring someone who died three months ago.

16 prints day of the funeral

Over the last few months I’ve been exploring die-cutting and embossing prints, and extended this to Polaroid prints. I posted about it on the OCA discussion board and the feedback was very positive. That was encouraging of course, but what thrilled me was the potential for adding another dimension to something that was notionally “finished”, the potential for working with the back of the print as well as the front, the inside as well as the outside, and the sheer unpredictability of the results. My tutor was very positive about the samples that I showed her, so I have decided to continue with this work for A5 whilst continuing to develop my Uncle David series as a plan B, and of course as a personal piece of work.


Making a decision should have been where things got easier, but no such luck. Below are the questions I’m considering at the moment. We are mid-Easter school holidays which means my attention is all over the place. I’m hoping to crack on with practical experiments once school goes back. In the meantime I am catching up on blog posts.

What format will the submitted work be in? Can I submit in a mix of formats? Current contenders are a photobook where the Polaroids comprise the actual pages, prints mounted in double-sided acrylic blocks (this has the advantage of supporting all the separate elements of die-cut photos but the disadvantage of losing the tactile experience of a Polaroid), or Polaroids presented in their original box. I’m also going to do some emulsion lifts and mount the lifted images on other media such as the acrylic frames, paper, or backings cut from Polaroid boxes.

What size of print do I want to use? Choices are Polaroid or Fuji Instax – each offers a different size that handles differently during manipulation. My Polaroid is in pretty rough condition compared to the Instax, but I can do more with the prints. The Fuji prints are perfectly sized for small acrylic frames whereas the Polaroids leave space for a border.  Do I want to use one size or submit a mixture?

Do I want to use colour, black and white, or a mixture? Bear in mind that colour on a Polaroid is not the same as we normally expect on a print. Linked to this is a decision about framings – there’s a far wider choice than the white borders that we grew up with, and I like the fine edge of colour that you can get on the back of the coloured mounts (see above). To some extent this decision will be dictated by my choice of subject (see below).

Finally, I need to choose a subject, something that can hold good for ten images, provide a natural progression and that can survive the physical manipulation that will happen to each print. It needs to be a subject that can hold strong as a concept even when unrecognisable. I know that technically I could make the format the subject. Much as I like working conceptually I’m not sure that I’m ready to abandon a subject entirely though, and it needs a subject to hold the set together and acknowledge the brief of “Photography is simple”. I believe I have such a subject, but it’s not ready to show itself publicly yet. Fortunately I can do the technical tests on pretty much any Polaroid print so I can continue to work even if not fully decided on my subject.


For my subject I decided to photograph at Lacock Abbey, home of William Fox Talbot and immortalised in many of his early photographic attempts. I thought that the “home” (well, UK home) of photography sat well with the “Photography is simple” brief, and also worked with the limits of the Polaroid. That said, given that the images are going to be all about the manipulation, and largely about the “back” – is a subject actually needed, or even relevant? After all, there are images of nothing more than unexposed film that was passed through an airport security scanner a few times and then processed and printed as normal. In that case, does the original process count as the subject? Can you have a concept instead of a subject? Can the material of the photograph become more important the “subject”? I could work with a random set of polaroids, yet that would somehow feel as if I was missing the point of the brief. However, if I have a set of 10 images of Lacock Abbey but the image is subordinate to the processing, what’s the point? I keep thinking that somehow the choice of Lacock is apposite, but I can’t get my subconscious to tell me why and will probably have to rely once again on tutor feedback to tell me what the heck my own work is about.

First visit – colour film, 1 pack, 8 exposures. This was really a recce, to work out good places to shoot and to establish if I could take photographs inside the house (I can’t switch the flash off on my Polaroid, so would need sticky tape). I was reasonably happy with the images – they weren’t true colour images as the film was expired and many over-exposed slightly.

Next visit I took two packs of unexpired b&w film, and a sandwich toaster bag so that I had somewhere dark to put the developing prints. I exposed both sets, and was able to photograph “that window”. About 48 hours later I die-cut and embossed these images as well as various test polaroids.


It might be better to tamper with the images sooner than 48 hours.

The blue tone to the emulsion fades on exposure to light. Mitigations are to put the prints in a dark room after cutting, which keeps some of the tone, or to take digital photos straight away. I used my macro lens and I think this approach has a lot of promise.

So in my head I have the idea of a photobook, of hole punched polaroids so that both sides can be handled. I am thinking about including prints of digital photographs of detail of the back of each Polaroid, taken immediately after each polaroid was tampered so as to preserve the colour and fluidity of the emulsion. Another option could be to trim the diagital print to size and glue it either to the front or the back of the relevant polaroid.

Embossing –  I tried out a couple of new embossing folders. On the whole, irregular patterns and scenes worked better than regular patterns, with a couple of exceptions. There’s also the possibility of embossing only part of a print – perhaps the handling border, or a diagonal section. Remember to use the thinner shim, position the print the correct way up in the folder, and put the print through border end first so the emulsion is squeezed out and over the print. After embossing, traces of emulsion are left on the folder and I put paper in the folder and embossed that, thus getting a trace of the polaroid on an unrelated piece of paper. This has potential, I think.

Die-cutting – the more involved shapes give better squidge. The simpler shapes have more scope for manipulating the image, but require either fixing with tape or thread, or mounting in such a way as to lose the tactility. Embossing does a better job of spreading the emulsion.

Impossible Project book – unbelievable number of ideas.


Let’s return to those original questions, in an attempt to lose the feelings of going round in circles.

Format of deliverable? I think this will be a “book”, plus one, maybe two, works in acrylic mounts (book ends?). I saw the Sophie Calle exhibition “My All” at The Photographers’ Gallery this weekend, and was taken by the way that 54 postcards were simply hole punched in one corner and held on a metal ring. This presentation took the minimum amount of real estate away from the image and allowed for easy “turning” of the pages. I love the acrylic blocks, but I don’t really want to submit 10 of them and whilst they allow for the display of loose, cut elements and give an easy way to view the work from both sides (and even look through the work), they don’t allow the tactile feel of the Polaroid to be experienced, and that is part of the whole transaction of Polaroid, being handed it, holding it, viewing it, handing it back. I need to consider whether I will punch the hole as part of the manipulation, thus incurring a new set of change associated with the punching process, or whether I will wait for the images to fully dry and just get a clean hole with no emulsion bleed.



Sophie Calle “My All”, Postcards on a metal ring, The Photographers’ Gallery

I did consider making an accordion spine and adding the Polaroids to that, but that would lose a portion down the side of each print, and would somehow render them less mobile, more fixed. My tutor suggested that I look at the MMU Special Collection of books online and I am in the process of doing this.


Size? Polaroid. The Instaxes have some advantages in terms of colour and sharpness but they don’t have the same scope for manipulation. Polaroid is an instantly recognisable format and has much scope for manipulation. I am now planning on including some digital prints in the book, physically cropped to the same size as the Polaroids and included within the sequence. I think I will also include some separator sheets, ideally made of a fibrous and translucent paper, as this will prevent any of the prints from sticking to each other.

Colour, black & white, or a mixture? I’m still not sure on this one. I suppose partly because each Polaroid is a bit of an enigma here. Black and white Polaroids bleed an emulsion that is blue, but turns white as it dries in the light. Colour Polaroids bleed a slightly pink toned emulsion that dries white. So pretty much all Polaroids so far are black and white on the back, which renders the colouring of the actual exposure rather less relevant. Colour Polaroids tend to be “faded” compared to modern film and jpgs, and black and white Polaroids fade to sepia rather fast. Then you get to consider the frame of the Polaroid – I have a mix of white, black, and coloured. This has more impact on the front of the work than the back, it appears as a very narrow border around the back. Just to add a further layer of complication, my next pack of film is black/pink two-tone in a black frame as TPG had sold out of black & white. I’m pretty sure it will still bleed white however. I think the over arching question is How much does consistency matter here? It’s not a comparative set, more an exploration of a format, a variation on a theme…

Subject. I think I’m settled that the Polaroids will be of Lacock Abbey, purely because I think the set has to be “of” something, and this fulfils both the “photography” and “simple” elements of the brief. I think this subject is purely something to get started with though, like the head of a 12 bar blues before you take the changes and make it your own.

What to do next? I need another pack of b&w film, possibly two. I need an empty dry day when I can:

  1. Photograph at Lacock in the morning
  2. Keep some photos back for trying out transparencies/emulsion lift.
  3. Manipulate the photos the same afternoon. Include punching holes if decided.
  4. Make a test piece with the hole punched as part of the manipulation
  5. Photograph the backs of the images immediately after – will need to set up tripod etc for this. I think photographs showing the bleed around the punched hole could work well too.
  6. Do the emulsion lift/transparency.
  7. Wait for everything to dry, get prints of digital images
  8. Selection of Polaroids, selection of prints
  9. Assemble
  10. Write blog post.

In slower time:

  1. Do a test run on emulsion lifts/transparencies (I picked up instructions in TPG). Can I use older images for this? – update, emulsion lift works fine, follow mods in notebook.
  2. Make a test piece with the hole punched as part of the manipulation
  3. Test run for setting up the camera to photograph the backs. Tripod, backing paper, macro lens.
  4. Look at Stan Dickinsen’s book video again.

Later that day…

I used a 3 week old image to attempt an image transfer using the instructions on the postcard. It was very straightforward. I was a bit rushed as I should have been making dinner, so on the next one I’ll spend more time brushing off all the chemicals to get a more translucent result. Getting it lined up on the watercolour paper was fiddly too, but entirely possible to improve. I could do emulsion lifts onto this, then cut them to size, mount on either paper or a digital print and include as a page in the final book. My partner tells me that mounting them on acrylic will be easier as I can add enough water onto the block to allow me to move the image without the risk of it floating away. This is something that he learned as a child when adding transfers to model aeroplanes.

I am also keen to try the transparency approach, when the image stays on the transparent plastic layer to give an illuminated result. I need an image that’s no older than a day to do this.

Update – see notebook for details on process.

11/5 update

Film still not here. Thinking about making the images actually *of* Lacock in the made of sense as well as depicting.

  • emulsion lift onto photogram paper/paper, leave in sun?
  • die-cut polaroid placed on photogram paper/fabric to acquire silhouette? would work as book page after the polaroid itself
  • photogram of die-cutting plate onto fabric. This one at home? Use to wrap acrylic frame
  • emulsion lift onto paper from book from Lacock 2nd hand photography bookshop

Influences – rhubarb drawing on OCA forum, Susan Derges (via Robert Enoch)

13/5 dreadful week in which most of my brain was a spin cycle of polaroids. A climbing session with friends cleared my head somewhat. The film arrived today. I’ve made a dummy set of cards and I have an idea of the progression between each print. I’ve reread the Polaroid book. I’ve looked at the MMU Special Collections page, which was interesting. I’ve also looked at the OCA Pinterest page on artists’ books which was very helpful in collecting my thoughts.

I am thinking about cutting a Polaroid film box to make a slip case, and submitting the work in that possibly ring bound on one corner to maintain both the order and the tactile nature. Some images will be mounted on watercolour paper, partly because FT came to photography via painting. Digital prints will be cut to the size of the polaroid image square, and mounted on paper the size of the whole polaroid.

15/5 – I made some test cyanotypes in the back garden. This one is on cloth, inspired by Fox Talbot’s Lace. My plan is to make one on card with a transparency from a Polaroid.

lace after Fox Talbot


Update 27/05. Just over a week ago my film arrived and I went to Lacock and shot 16 exposures. About 12 of these were usable, the others were of too soft a contrast. I didn’t end up with a clear sunny day afterwards so did the manipulation some days later, having heated the prints with a hairdryer first to soften the chemicals. I now have a set of prints ready to be bound into an Impossible Project film box. I think I will make an accordion spine with some test images first.

Successes – embossing the prints, emulsion lifts onto acrylic, photographing the backs of the Polaroids with my dslr.

Less successful – die-cutting the prints (they won’t cut right the way through), making a sunprint from an emulsion lift (just didn’t work at all), getting a usable negative (the chemicals won’t come off the b&w film so I will use a neg from a colour shot instead)

It has been interesting to see how differently the b&w polaroid handles compared to the colour. The images are far better. Emulsion lifts are much harder though, the negative can’t be easily cleaned and the photos seem much tougher.

The acrylic mounting went very well. I just worked the emulsion onto one side of the frame with water and a paint brush, left it to dry, and then polished off the water marks and attached the other half of the frame. The high contrast emulsion worked very well, the low contrast one less so and I ended up soaking/scrubbing that one off and watching fascinated as slivers of image washed away down the sink. Eerily similar to watching the image wash off my sunprint card under the tap the day before, in fact.

Looking at them now, I wonder if I was a little hasty in ditching that first one. It might have been interesting to leave it in its partially destroyed state and frame at that point. Still, the silver lining is that the window isn’t going anywhere and I can buy more film. It’s probably a learning point too that I probably shouldn’t make snap decisions when I have about 10 free minutes before loading the car to go away for half-term.

It was interesting to take macro photographs of the Polaroid backs immediately after manipulation. The chemicals that emerge are blue at first, drying white after about 20 minutes. Using macro produced almost abstract landscapes with the chemicals flowing around the embossed surface of each print.

A5 Assembly

I started out planning to make a concertina fold book, with the Polaroids for pages, and the Polaroid film box trimmed to provide front, spine and back in a single piece. I looked at a couple of You-tube tutorials, made a trial and then did the maths and made a full-size one with reject prints. There were some problems however which resulted in my trying another approach.

The Polaroids are not glue-friendly, which is because they are pretty much all plastic (apart from the white insert at the bottom) and therefore non-absorbent. I tried a glue roller, a hot-glue gun and craft PVA glue, and none of them where much good. Superglue probably would work. That brings me onto the second issue which was that securing the Polaroids in this way somehow detracted from their Polaroidness, you could only turn them, you couldn’t hold them, and I found this more irritating than I had imagined. The plastic was too hefty to stitch, especially with folds of paper front and back.

I returned to an earlier idea which was presenting the Polaroids in a stack, hole-punched in an upper corner and held with a metal ring that can be removed to allow the images to be held individually. I could still use the box to provide a front and back. I can also use the backs of the Polaroids as the fronts. I used reject prints to find the best way to hole-punch the images. Again, due to their plasticity, Polaroids are too hefty a job for hole punchers which are designed for paper (I broke our home punch testing this). I bought eyelet pliers from the ironmongers and discovered that Polaroids are not quite hefty enough for these, so ended up using the pliers and a hammer (to get enough force). This worked, albeit with a sacrificed knitting needle to poke the holes through.

I wanted to have eight images/objects in the book and two images within acrylic blocks. The brief calls for a clear sequence. I’ve taken a slightly looser interpretation of this requirement. The book has emulsion lifts within the front and back overs for images 1 and 8, and then 2 through 7 start as an unaltered Polaroid then gradually show increasing amounts of manipulation. 9 and 10 are detached from paper completely and offer the chance to look through the windows and down the cloisters of Lacock Abbey, one exploring a framed construction mounted under the clear Mylar, and one wide open and unframed.

I was keen to explore everything that the Polaroid experience has to offer. I used the box. I used the whole frame, and I took images apart to make use of negatives, emulsions, mylar (the transparent front), the strip with branding, serial number, and the hidden number on an inside layer. Embossing and die-cutting added more possibilities to these components.

A4 Tutor feedback

I had a Skype call yesterday and written notes arrived today. Feedback is attached Kate_Aston_513940_Assignment_4_Feedback

I need to say first that the system of Skype call + written notes works very well for me. It is good to have the chance to ask questions or request clarification face to face.

I am thrilled with this feedback. I did take some risks on this work, from researching after starting shooting rather than before, to working with a subject that I couldn’t move, rearrange or change in any way and taking a completely different approach whilst still hoping to render the work recognisable and to stimulate memories and discussion. It started out as an exercise that gained critique feedback from the cautiously positive to the downright interesting. Thanks to further helpful feedback it evolved into work of which I am genuinely proud, even though sometimes I still can’t believe that I made it.

As it is now time for a G&T on a very sunny Friday afternoon I shall wrap this here and return to it over the weekend to add in details. I will then revisit it over time with updates. I feel the need to mention that no re-work is needed on this one, although there is a pathway for me to explore should I wish to do so. Many thanks to everyone who was a part of this work – from suggesting boxes, offering encouragement, offering critique and sending me mobile images of boxes that they saw.

A few days on…

I remain thrilled about this feedback, not just because it’s reassuring and complimentary but also because of the doors that it opens to other avenues of exploration and the opportunities that it gives me, through rework of other assignments, to close the loops between starting the course and finishing the course.

Genuinely thrilled with comments such as “strong and cohesive series of images” and “the edit is held together through its tonality and inside-out exploration”. It is great to realise that the ambitions I had for this work translated into reality via all those dark wet evenings photographing phone boxes.

Thinking about rework, Action I am going to get all the images printed and decide at that point which, if any, need to edited or reshot. Moira made some interesting suggestions about ways I could develop the work further. These are around returning the prints to their source to see how they are changed by their environment. This idea reminded me of Stephen Gill’s work Hackney Marshes, and Moira told me about Catherine Yass, who returned her work to the canal and let the water alter it. I had wondered about making prints or postcards of the work and leaving them in the phone boxes. I know this would be interesting but I had two main reservations. The first was whether I would be taking a work that is fine in its current form and turning it to something more creative but less accomplished and the second the rather more prosaic fact that I would be moving away from the darkness and into daylight, and hence away from the brief. There are also practical concerns, ranging from would the photos simply disappear to the probably more likely scenario that they would just sit in the box untouched. I do wonder though, about printing them as postcards, adding a PO box and stamp, and leaving them in the boxes… Action: learn more about Catherine Yass’ work and write a blog post. Action: look into PO Box set up and costs.

It was interesting to read Moira’s notes “Barthes notion of the Punctum is relevant here, and Proust’s Involuntary Memory.” I had been reading about Punctum in a thread on the OCA discussion board about whether a photographer could wilfully manipulate a viewer into seeing a particular punctum. One point made was that you can’t do this, since by definition the punctum is specific to each viewer and their reading of the image. I have done some quick research around Proust’s Involuntary Memory, which I hadn’t encountered before. It seems to be about how a memory can arise unbidden, often triggered by a taste, a smell, a word, for example. I liked this because I think that phone boxes are part of memory for so many of us, even if we don’t consciously realise it. Action: read and blog about Proust’s Involuntary Memory.

Research: action Set up a trip to London to see Wolfgagng Tillman and Deutsche Borse.

Learning log. I was very happy that my two decisions to work slightly differently both paid off. I felt slightly exposed with both choices – firstly because I had far less research upfront before starting and secondly because I opened the work to peer review right from the start. I will follow these approaches. I think that less research upfront meant more creative license for me.

Suggested reading/viewing – Catherine Yass (see above) and action watch Peter Greenaway’s Dear Phone. I haven’t found it yet but hope it will be on Amazon as a rental.

Pointers for next assignment – this was so exciting! I had two ideas for A5 and my tutor has been positive about them both. I’ve decided to work with altered instant prints. Action – write blog post on my choices. I was very inspired by Moira’s ide of using the physical prints themselves as pages in a photo book action read up on the Manchester Metropolitan University special collections. Action – revisit Walter Benjamin’s idea of the Aura, first encountered in my A3 tutor feedback. Action – learn about the Mobius strip, including Elizabeth Grosz Volatile Bodies . Moira mentioned this in relation to my Polaroid plans, but as soon as she said it I thought of A2 heads and my feminist reading of pressure on children to smile in photos. I don’t know if the concept will port successfully from a feminist/sexuality reading to photobooth strips of children’s photos… but there’s a way to find out. It might work better with women rather than children, however the inside/outside nature of the Mobius strip fits perfectly with my work.

Reflection against assessment criteria

A4 self-review

Once again I feel as if it’s my technical skills holding me back.  Composition and focus are two I need to pay more mind too. I’m happy with how I realised the work, it did what I wanted and didn’t look like a generic set of phone boxes in villages. It felt like a set and I’m happy with that, the colours and the light were consistent.

I am happy with the way my creative skills are developing, I’m learning to explore ideas with test shoots and just to keep on exploring until I find an area that works for me.

For context I took a slightly different approach on research, based on the feeling that I already had enough, and the curiousity as to how my work would turn out when it was informed by curiousity rather than scrabbling down the back of the internet. In a way this feels slightly as if I didn’t do enough… but I don’t know… what else would I have added?