Itchy and Scratchy?

This week I read a number of articles referring to a quote by Charlotte Cotton, a freelance curator with an impressive career that has included stints at the V&A and ICP.

The quotes is: “I think of it as the picture/s that you print up, just to a small working size, to get a look at.

“The ones that interest and trouble you because there is something that you don’t fully understand about them, as if you unconsciously did something.

“These pictures seem to signpost a new direction in a photographer’s practice, they are transitional pieces, and precursors to a new phase or project.

“I think all the best photographers have the guts to move beyond the pictures they already know they can make, and spend time with the itchy scratchy pictures to work out what comes next.”

I think I may be at my itchy scratchy stage right now. Having become quite comfortable within my use of the cyanotype process, I have in the past few weeks started to concentrate more on using my smartphone as a means of taking images to use within my ongoing project work. Most recently I began to photograph lichen with a macro lens and am hoping to have my microscope camera sorted soon to take it a step further.

It was the macro photos (below) of the lichen that are spurring on a new angle. I love the images but they do trouble me – I feel I need something more, something lurking around the corner.

I am newly fascinated by this organism, and even today discovered a new scientific theory on their makeup. But the purpose of my work is for me to visualise thoughts I have relating to human impact on the planet. A number of ideas in the past few months I have found have already been produced in some shape of form by other photographers and I have become concerned with finding my own voice. In discovering lichen, I have also discovered a scientist who in the 1860s a Swiss botanist named Simon Schwendener shared his view that they were composite organisms, made up of a relationship between fungi and microscopic algae, which were met with derision from the science community. And it is this that is scratching the itch. I hope to tie the work of Anna Atkins, one of my earliest inspirations, who was also a botanist and who used the cyanotype process to illustrate her study of British algae in one of the first photo books from the 1840s through the studies of Schwendener and the most recent findings of Toby Spribille.

But what you may ask does this have to do with human impact on the planet. Well, it is more to do with what lichen represents. A new word was created to describe their being, symbiosis. And it is this ability to work together combined with their ability to develop on bare rock following disasters and return from being sent into space unchanged that stands as a metaphor for how humans need to work together to divert environmental disasters of our making.

Time for more scratching of this particular itch to see if it will lead me somewhere new.


Interview with Charlotte Cotton, LensCulture: [accessed March 10, 2017].

Toby Spribille article: [accessed March 10, 2017].