Why lumen?

Harena Now, my MA project, has evolved into being created with a non-fixed lumen process and digital manipulation.

I have opted to show five pieces at my first show on June 22. I also wanted the images created to be as large as my budget would allow. On this occasion that is A1 on the paper I have chosen, Hahnemuhle Photorag.

Harena Now has emerged from experimentation with cyanotype, chemigrams and fixed lumen prints. But by trying to reduce the photographic process impact I have when making work, my technique is stripped back to the bare minimum.

Some might argue that there is little skill therefore in my chosen process; I layout the black and white paper, I chose where to place it under or on the sand, I let the UV rays work their magic and then I simply scan and manipulate the image with minimal photographic software input until I achieve the desired result.

Many critics have argued that photography itself is a simple process; a mere click of a button and everything is done for you.

But I am not concerned with challenge to how I create my work. What is important to me is how the work is seen and responded to. The whole process of paring back the amount of chemical/digital input in the works creation provides room for further discourse around how the choices we make can have a ripple effect on others, be it people, place, environment, flora and/or flora etc..

By using this simplified technique and freeing myself from the darkroom, I have given myself possibilities of creating work almost on the go. With my unexposed paper carried in a small blackout bag, I can visit any sand strewn area and make my work, bringing it home for digital deviation.

I have begun to consider how many other artists work in a similar way with lumen.

In doing so I came across the work of Rachelle Bussieres. She has used the lumen process for her 2017 Light Works series (Fig. 1).

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 15.12.31
Fig. 1: Rachelle Bussieres, 2017. Moon Raker
Lumen print on gelatin silver paper, unique

Commenting on this series via the online platform for contemporary art, Ryall, Bussieres states:

“Approaching the darkroom as a sculptor – cutting, layering and manipulating photographic materials – I create architectural forms that are rooted to site-specific locations by recording the light of those locations. I have a developed a sky palette by using the lumen print process through layers of natural and artificial light, of those specific locations, to create hues and gradations of colors as photograms on gelatin silver paper. Each piece is about the variations of the elements in a specific space and time. While the simple forms embody a spatial geography, they are also a manifestation of a utopian architecture, in which light is the only material used to compose these constructions. Through this, forms, movements, chemistry are revealed through it. 

The vision of the future is held in the materialization of the spectrum that surrounds us every day, and in our desire to encompass it – or surpass it.”

Describing herself as a “sculptor” in reference to how she works in the darkroom to make these lumen prints seems rather apt. In Bussieres work you can see she is moulding the light to form the desired shape.

My style is more fluid. I want to guide the outcome but allow the sand and surroundings to imprint themselves with the help of natural light.

Another artist who has worked with lumen printing is Melanie King. Her practice predominantly responds to the connection between humans and the astronomical. She too has been influenced by August Strindberg (see my earlier post – https://josiepurcellphotographyma.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/the-strindberg-test-ish/) and created what she refers to as her Tribute to Strindberg by spraying unexposed photo paper with developer and fixer in the dark before she exposed elements of the paper to light.

Fig. 2: Melanie King, 2016. Tribute to Strindberg.

Both these artists seem to have a desire to be hands on, to create a response from the light and dark. I seem to have made the outside my darkroom, apart from the help of a black out bag or box to carry the exposed paper, I personally do not need to be confined to room with the red light. Although I love being in a darkroom, there is something quite liberating in being able to still use photographic paper to create artwork without having to confine myself to the inside.

This is probably one of the drivers behind my current decision to work with this technique; being outside and in a ‘lightroom’ lifts my spirits, it makes me feel creative and able to breath. There are no lurking chemicals, no fiddly lenses or focussing, no dimness or darkness.

Considering that I do love a traditional darkroom, this is quite a new experience for me. It is most definitely intertwined in my desire to use less potentially toxic chemicals, both for my personal health and to reduce what is potentially washed down the drain. I appreciate that with good health and safety routines, good ventilation and using safety equipment such as gloves and goggles, the darkroom is not a bad place. But for my current practice, where I am trying to consider how our choices impact not just on our lives but the world around us, it seems the technique I am now using for Harena Now allows for a less is more attitude.

Of course, that is allowing for the manufacturing of the out of date photo paper I put to use in my work.


Figure 1: BUSSIERES, Rachelle. 2017. Moonraker from the Light Works series. Available at: http://www.rachellebussieres.com/light-works/1 [accessed June 16, 2018]

Figure 2: KING, Melanie. 2016. Tribute to Strindberg series. Available at: https://www.melaniek.co.uk/strindberg [accessed June 16, 2018]


BUSSIERES, Rachelle. rachellebussieres.com [online]. Available at http://www.rachellebussieres.com [accessed June 16, 2018]

KING, Melanie. 2016. ‘Tribute to Strindberg’. Available at: https://www.melaniek.co.uk/strindberg [accessed June 16, 2018]

PURCELL, Josie. 2018. ‘The Strindberg Test (ish)’. Available at: https://josiepurcellphotographyma.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/the-strindberg-test-ish/ [accessed June 16, 2018]

Ryall Contemporary Art. ryallcontemporary.com [online]. Available at: https://www.ryallcontemporary.com/artist-focus/2018/5/27/rachelle-bussires [accessed June 16, 2018]