The ice has now all but melted, perhaps the last we will see round here for this year. I have gathered up the remains of the frozen objects to use again next time we have a UK freeze. The poppy stems here came out of the garden twisted by the strangling of bindweed.
Here are the first initial scans from the paper negatives made at the week end.
Skeletal magnolia leaves frozen in ice.
Two mummified frogs.
Ash seed pods.
Egg shell and feather.
Yesterday 11.30pm: returned from a family day out under clear starry skies and the temperature plummeting to well below zero. It was cold enough to feel exceptional and definitely freezing to a level cold enough to embark on a project/experiment I have been planning for several months now. I part filled some developing trays with water and retired to the warmth of the house to drink tea and wait for the frost to skin the surface with ice. Next, in each tray I placed a selection of natural objects, skeletal magnolia leaves, ash tree seed pods, contorted poppy heads, two mummified frogs and left them overnight to become encased in ice.
Today 8.30am: I started work as soon as I woke, fearing rising temperatures and the destruction of my iced objects. I need not have worried as the temperature remained below zero all day despite the crystal clear skies and blazing sun.
I began by creating a makeshift still life table using a workmate and a white sheet. Having extracted the ice from the trays (one got broken) I made some test shots using a digital camera. The disappointing result showed the ice as a grey blur rather than the gorgeous bubble-flecked, translucent sheet which was visible when holding it up to the sky. How to get the sky behind the ice in a position suitable for it to be photographed? Eventually, I hit on the idea of using an angled mirror which served the double purpose of supporting the ice sheet and reflecting the sky as a backlight to show the textures which had been formed.
Once the illumination was fixed I then spent the rest of the day making paper negatives using two 5×4 pinhole cameras. The 45mm proved just too wide an angle as I was having to position it some 2-3 inches from the subject and the mirror was reflecting it too obviously. The 90mm though gave a perfect perspective with just a small degree of tilt to eliminate the reflection of itself. Exposure times on the pre-flashed paper ran at between 8½ and 10 minutes in the soft, open North light in the lee of the house.
5.00pm: In the fading light I made some final exposures using HP5+ on a Populist and now have more films to develop and some 18-20 paper negatives to scan. I have high hopes for the prints.
It is some time since I spent a whole day pinholing and I think the first time ever I have dedicated a continuous eight hours to making still lifes. The process was equally inspiring and exhausting. I will post some results in the next few days.
The press and tub is now complete, again following the plans from the Aldren Watson book. i used pine for the tub and some hardwood off-cuts from the local DIY shop for the press. I had some trouble finding the bolts, or rather finding bolts that were threaded full or nearly full length. In the end they came from a local timber merchant where I went to look for hardwoods and spotted them unexpectedly lying on the counter.
It was challenging for somebody of my fairly modest woodworking skills to get the tub exactly square. In fact it isn’t critically square but seems to work well enough. The hole for bolt to pass through in the jaws needs to be a lot larger than expected (my bolts are 10mm and the holes are 12mm/13mm in diameter) otherwise the bolt action is so stiff that the jaws cannot be moved. I was concerned that they would be wobbly but once in place with one side fixed to the tub the action is smooth and perfectly solid.
The jaws using 200mm bolts with the fixed jaw 50mm and the moving jaw 35mm thick give a maximum opening of 100mm which is larger enough for my purposes and should allow for a book of 50mm thickness with room for backing boards.
Tub and press with piercing board.
Tub and press side view.
Close up of threaded bolt. I cut a groove in the head of the coach bolt with an angle grinder to allow a screwdriver or coin to fully tighten the jaws.
Close up of threaded bolt from the back show the inlaid nut held in place with epoxy glue.
This clip, while nothing to do with photography or books, is to me the embodiment of everything I could strive or hope for in art of whatever form. It is the triumph of spirit and mind over matter, captured on video. For me it ranks amongst one of the most powerful – and beautiful, there can be no other word – expressions of dignity, humanity and love.
If ever you get creative block, just watch this. It surely puts all struggle and adversity into its true perspective.