Next step: cyanotype portraiture

Next step: cyanotype portraiture

Over my past couple of blog posts I have been telling you about my cyanotype journey during lockdown. After experimenting with photographs of storms, wild seas and dramatic landscapes, I wanted to see how this technique would work for portraiture.

I began hunting through the largest collection of portraits in my archive – my Lewes Bonfire photos. I was interested to see what this process could add to the atmosphere of the photos. Again, it took a lot of trial and error. In order for the technique to work, I discovered the photos needed certain qualities. If the light falling on a face was too flat, the photo would not translate well into cyanotype. The same was the case if there was not enough detail – or there was too much, or if the photo was not sharp enough, or if it was too dark. But for the successful ones, the process added a drama and a mystery that would not have been possible by digital means alone.

I have been so excited by the results of my bonfire cyanotypes that I am self-publishing a book of them. It will be available for sale during my Artwave exhibit and also by mail order. More information is available here.

A large selection of this new work will be shown as part of the Lewes District Artwave Festival in a joint exhibit with artist Kelly Hall. You can find us at 111 High St, Lewes, BN7 1XY, opposite Shelley’s Hotel. We will be open the first three weekends in September, 11am-5pm. Please do come by and say hello!

You can find a selection of my cyanotypes here and learn how I create them here.

Please get in touch if you have a workplace, an event, a celebration, a portrait or a building project you would like to have photographed.

A little lightness and joy

A little lightness and joy

When it feels like the weather can’t get any worse and fields and roads are flooding, I thought we all needed some joy and hope to lift our spirits. I am therefore giving you a photograph of a baby-naming ceremony I photographed in the warmth of a September afternoon – because what could be more joyful and hopeful than that.

Family and close friends gathered around this little baby girl and her parents and welcomed them into their hearts with rituals, songs and laughter. You can see more photographs of this wonderful ceremony here, as well as many other celebrations of all sorts.

Please get in touch if you have a workplace, an event, a celebration, a portrait or a building project you would like to have photographed.

Summer Fête in Somerset, 1991

Summer Fête in Somerset, 1991

My Christmas present to myself was a negative scanner that enables me to edit on my computer hundreds of negatives from the past 25-30 years that I never had a chance to print in a darkroom. The scanning is a time-consuming process but hugely exciting – and of course not nearly as laborious as darkroom work.

So far I have found 30-odd new photos of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and photographs of a summer fête in Somerset in 1991, taken within my first six months of living in the UK.

Looking at these photographs of a rural village celebration in the West Country made me remember how new and uncertain it all felt at the time, life in my adopted country, and how I was seeing (and photographing) it through a foreigner’s eyes. Nearly 30 years on, these types of scenes are now wonderfully familiar to me and I view them with huge affection. It would be interesting to head back to Exmoor to photograph the event again and see what has changed, both over the time period and my perception of it. I’ll keep you posted on that. You can find more photos of the village fête here.

28-year-old photos come into their own

28-year-old photos come into their own

Photographs that I took almost 30 years ago of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry have been published recently in several articles about the proposed future of this historic site.

A battle has been raging about planning permission for the building that housed this famous foundry from 1738 until 2017. This is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, around since the 1570s, and has cast some of the most famous bells in the world, including the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and London’s Big Ben. A planning application was approved last month to turn the building into a bell-themed boutique hotel, despite a strong campaign against it.

Yesterday an unexpected temporary intervention came through from the Secretary of State, so there is a chance the building will be saved.

The foundry was an incredible place to photograph. I remember wandering wherever I liked and photographing whatever I liked. No one seemed to mind, or even pay me much attention. The place felt full of history – even the casting methods were ancient and included sand, dung, hair and bone. You can find more of the photos here.

Please get in touch if you have a workplace, an event, a celebration, a portrait or a building project you would like to have photographed.

The littlest bonfire boy

The littlest bonfire boy

Every year I head out to photograph the Lewes Bonfire celebrations, trying to capture a sense of the joy and anarchy of the night. It is one of the most challenging subjects to capture, but also one of the most fun for me.

Because there is no time to practice how I will deal with the extremes of the situation (pitch black to flares of light in split seconds), all I can do is hit the ground running, tweaking my technique as I go along.

This year new equipment made a huge difference to how I approached the evening. A newly acquired very fast lens meant that I could photograph the event without needing a flash. So much of the drama of the evening is the light cast by all those flaming torches, so being able to catch this without the glare of a flash was a game changer.

Now to this little chap. There is something about this photo that I find mesmerising – the flaming torch looking more like a giant matchstick almost too heavy to hold, that little round face in the wooly hat, the fact that he is so much smaller than the circle of people around him but a mini version of them… As I was saying in my blog two weeks ago, Lewes Bonfire night is very much about families celebrating and marching together. You can find many more of my Bonfire photos here.

On a completely different note, I had the good fortune to be mentioned in two blog posts in one day! The first was on the Brighton Dome website about my project documenting the refurbishment of the Corn Exchange. The second was in the newsletter of Simon Scott Landscaping, an excellent local landscaping firm, about a series of portraits I took over the summer, including a photo of one of their partners.

It’s that bonfire time of year again

It’s that bonfire time of year again

It’s that time of year when the streets of Lewes are wild with flaming torches, exploding fireworks and costumed people marching through town.

This year, I wanted to show you another side to the event that many spectators don’t see, because the 5th of November is as much about family and intergenerational communities as it is about the rowdy spectacle.

I particularly like this shot. It was taken at the end of the evening, the flames of the bonfire lighting this pair of father and daughter smugglers. The striped jumpers, bandanas and blackened faces are a throwback to the days when Bonfire Boys and Girls disguised themselves as smugglers to avoid being recognised. Nowadays it is a sign of belonging, because each bonfire society uses a different colour combination for the stripes of their jumpers. You can find more of my photos of celebrations here, and lots of Lewes Bonfire ones here.

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