The past few months have been photographically eventful at the BSR, and while we have yet to set up a bona fide dark room, we appropriated the lavatories by the lecture theatre for an afternoon of impromptu printing.
On a sunny Saturday in March, Anna Brass (Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture), David Whiting, a darkroom-based photographer and member of The Gate Darkroom in London, and Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries), organised a pinhole camera workshop: we hung black-out material over the bathroom door, set up the safe lamp and laid out three trays for the chemicals. To dry the prints, we made do with string and clothes pegs in the neighbouring cloak room. In spite of these rudimentary arrangements, some excellent results were achieved.
The fourteen participants included scholars, artists and staff from the BSR and beyond: Mercedes Jaén joined from the Spanish Academy with professional British photographer Richard Davies. Jaén’s skilful experimentations picked up on unusual aspects of the Lutyens façade.
BSR façade by Mercedes Jaén
Richard also achieved interesting results using his digital camera as a pinhole by removing the technical apparatus and turning it into a camera obscura, directly exposing the digital screen.
David Whiting’s pinhole camera was passed around as one of the most reliable for actually taking a photograph. Others transformed shoeboxes, tea boxes, and Anna Brass made her own nine-hole camera which doubled up as a miniature house.
In May, BSR archivist Alessandra Giovenco invited Tony Richards, a professional wet collodion plate photographer from The John Rylands Library (The University of Manchester), to give us a demonstration of this Victorian technique. Tony talked BSR scholars, artists, staff and patrons through his methods as well as how to avoid explosions and intoxications from the chemicals. Artist Kirtika Kain (National Art School, Sydney, Resident) became Tony’s assistant for the day observing that the workshop opened ‘a world of early photography so new to us: the chemistry, physicality and magic of each element. As an Australian-Indian artist, I couldn’t help but reflect on early colonial and ethnographic photography as I stood before the lens.’
David Whiting also found the workshop to be a ‘fantastic opportunity to discover one of the earliest photographic techniques for creating extremely high-quality images’ saying ‘I now feel confident about using the techniques in my own darkroom-based practice and exploring collodion’s rich artistic potential.’ Kirtika, David and Alessandra were able to create glass and metal-based prints of their own after learning about the theory.
Having to sit still for five to ten seconds means that the sitter’s stare acquires a holographic, slightly haunted quality which transpires in Victorian photographs, somehow bridging a gap with the past and helping us feel connected to some of the early practitioners and their subjects.
Martina Caruso (Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries)