Science and me

I am fascinated by science in all its forms. I love the sense of adventure and discovery it can conjure, the way it can provide factual evidence or bend to new ideas and details, and the way it is, in my opinion, what the word magic was really meant for.

I am not, however, a scientist. I’m a photographer. But it is science that is the essence of photography; it’s how light works, how it reacts to chemicals, how we see, what makes our brain work in a creative way. Even the more ‘shallow’ sectors of photography such as fashion and beauty need the science of photography to exist.

Photography is a wonderful means of combining both my artistic bent and curiosity for scientific endeavours.

Working with alternative process such as cyanotype and lumen printing, I am in part chemist and in part creative. A photographer working in a darkroom has to have a healthy respect for the solutions she may use in the course of her work.

But at the same time, I need to work freely. I cannot work in a rigid manner with each and every result known beforehand. The element of surprise and ‘happy accidents’ has always been a driver behind how I work.

And so has the environment. I want to work outside in my wonderful coastal surroundings. And when you are working within a natural environment, it seems even more important to be conscious of how you leave your mark.

That’s one of the reason why I have stripped back the lumen process to create my colourful sand images. To me, less is more. I am putting less potential photo chemical waste into our water systems and trying to do more for the natural world by minimising my own impact.

Some may challenge me and say that my work then has less technique, less skill; anyone could do it. And what is wrong with that? If my process of working means people can create intriguing images without having to use toxic chemicals then that’s surely a positive. But by wanting to use less chemicals you may be forgiven in thinking “but she says she loves science” and I do; without those that go on scientific experimental journeys and put forward facts and theories for how our world works, life would be so very different. But by not using chemicals or minimising them in my work, I’m not saying all chemistry is bad, I’m just saying I’m reducing the amount of the ones I feel may not be best for the environment.

And photography has been used by scientists since its beginning.

In the 2015 to 2016 exhibition Revelations, numerous images by the likes of William Henry Fox Talbot and Harold Edgerton were displayed. The images “shaped the history of photography and heavily influenced modern and contemporary art photographers” (Science and Media Museum).

This short video explains what the show was about.

In Ori Gerscht’s discussion (below) I am intrigued by his comments on how much we rely on technology and if what we see in his images are truly what has occurred in the 7.5 thousandth of a second the cameras are capturing the action in his series, Blow Up. He references the high speed photography of Muybridge and Edgerton as influences.

This is interesting to me as I have taken away much of the technology in one part of my process i.e. using expired pre-made black and white photo paper and exposing to UV outside at coastal locations and making exposures that sometimes last for hours. And yet I do bring technology back into the second part of the process where I scan the ‘fogged’ paper and use digital manipulation to create the final look of my images. Do we see more in images with longer exposures? Can we be sure what we see is what was there? Or, on my work, is it a culmination of the movement of the sun, the sea, the sand that makes an image that is not replication of what was there but a ghost of it?

All of the work displayed in Revelations shows something that the human eye can not see for itself.

Co-curator of the show Dr Ben Burbridge is shown in another trailer for the event (below) talking about some of the contemporary photographers who took part.

He specifically highlights how we are condition to see a photo and questions how we can perhaps consider photographs as a means to distort and contort what we see rather than simply be representations of what we see.

He points out how the names chosen for two series of work, Sarah Pickerings’ Celestial Objects and Joris Jansen’s Cosmos actually guide us to see the work in a certain way.

I’m fascinated by this as my work also takes on a sense of the universe, another world that’s not quite within reach. But the name of my series Harena Now, I believe, is unlikely to direct anyone to view the work in a particular way and therefore I am keen to keep asking viewers for their feedback, with particular reference to their initial response – what do they see?

And as Fox Talbot wrote in 1839 “It is a little bit of magic realised: of natural magic. You make the powers of nature work for you..” (1839; 74) it would seem that through my own work  I am making the magic of science and the natural world work for me.

References

FOX TALBOT, William Henry. 1839. ‘Photogenic Drawing’. Literary Gazette 1146 pp. 73-74. [online] Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8cQ6AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA74&lpg=PA74&dq=%E2%80%9CIt+is+a+little+bit+of+magic+realised:+of+natural+magic.+You+make+the+powers+of+nature+work+for+you,+and+no+wonder+that+your+work+is+well+and+quickly+done,%E2%80%9D&source=bl&ots=XNiKDvdPSd&sig=lk4jm5G4Ru9k0ff9feBDCnxLork&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI4I6Oj4jcAhXKDsAKHQNfCnoQ6AEILDAB#v=onepage&q=%E2%80%9CIt%20is%20a%20little%20bit%20of%20magic%20realised%3A%20of%20natural%20magic.%20You%20make%20the%20powers%20of%20nature%20work%20for%20you%2C%20and%20no%20wonder%20that%20your%20work%20is%20well%20and%20quickly%20done%2C%E2%80%9D&f=false
[accessed July 1, 2018].

SCIENCE and MEDIA MUSEUM. ‘Revelations: Experiments in Photography’. Available at: https://www.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/what-was-on/revelations-experiments-photography [accessed July 1, 2018].