Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Photography: techniques we love, part I

It's getting to that time of year when the end of our Summer holidays are fast approaching and the new term will be upon us once again. Over the past few weeks I have been investigating the possibilities of photography and trying to think of new, exciting techniques that I could bring to my department (and students!) In this 2 part post I am going to share with you a few simple methods that are perfect for either introductory activities or more advanced lessons in the darkroom. So, to start with lets explore cameraless photography and extend those photogram lessons. Let us know if you use any of the methods in your lessons. We'd love to hear from you!
Ever wondered what to do with all that out of date photographic paper that you can't just throw away? Well now you've got an excuse to use it! Drawing with light is such a simple process and it allows students to have complete creative control over their choice of content, form and composition. I love this technique because subject matter can be non-objective, fantasy, abstract, realistic, scenic, still life, pattern, story telling - it is almost limitless in its possibilities and can be used for nearly all art and design subjects. Student's will love how fun it is and it will make a great part of your photogram lesson!

What do I need? a darkroom, photographic paper, torch or flash lamp, black paper/card & tape, a desire to create, patience and many trial and errors.

Instructions: Any lamp or torch can be used in this fun technique - just make sure you cover the end of it with a black mask, leaving only a pin hole in the centre for a narrow pencil of light to emerge. You can use black paper/card or even opaque adhesive tape for your mask... it's entirely up to you! The light can be used just like a pencil, and provided it is held close to the paper a fairly well-defined line is produced. You will need to get your students to do a  few trial and error tests to work out what speed they need to draw at to obtain a good image. But, once accomplished get them to draw on paper to their heart's content! The only downside to this method is that you cannot see the lines drawn until the print is developed. Admittedly, some artistic skill in drawing is an advantage at this stage but even if some students are not confident in drawing I find it really helps them trust their judgements and improve their overall drawing technique. Finally, once the drawing is complete... develop the print as normal and there it is! A wonderful charcoal like drawing.

TIP: To create darker tones draw lines close together as in a real pencil drawing or to create individual spots as in the image above (on the right hand side!) just flash your light where you want the spots.
These abstract prints may look complicated but in fact they are a lot easier to create than the drawing with light prints above! They do not require the use of any 'solid' objects or materials at all. The patterns achieved may not even resemble anything - or they may. But this is not the point, it's all about getting your students to realise that an abstract pattern can be a perfectly acceptable outcome for a project if they can explain the meaning of it. 

1) What do I need? darkroom, photographic paper, cellophane, water, vaseline and your hands!

Instructions: Cut a piece of cellophane so that it fits your enlarger carrier and apply vaseline and water to it. The cellophane is acting as a negative and your students will get messy as they smudge the vaseline and water around. Once satisfied with the print, put the cellophane into the negative carrier and expose as normal and develop. The next big step is to reverse the print. If you don't know how to reverse a print follow this simple tutorial here. Although this method is simpler than the standard photogram, the results are far less easy to predict, and offer virtually no scope for alteration of the print. Sadly, if the print doesn't work you just have to start again. I particularly like this method as it really teaches students to select part of a composition that works well rather than just selectively enlarging something. 

Finally, the last part of this post! How to create a negative made by force (see image 2).

2) What do I need? darkroom, photographic paper, acetate, black poster paint, paintbrush and a drying cabinet.

Instructions: Take a sheet of clear acetate and apply black poster paint all over the acetate and hang to dry in a drying cabinet. At this point make sure the temperature is set to the highest in order to quickly force dry the negative. The accelerated drying process will cause the emulsion to crack and peel away from the acetates surface. Once dry - select the most interesting part of the acetate and cut down to use as a negative for enlargement and develop as usual. As an extension you could get your students to create one print with the negative the correct way round, e.g. paint side downwards, and one with the negative turned upside down, e.g. paint side upwards. Consequently, the second print will create a mirror image of the first and your students can merge and mount the two prints together!

TIP: This method works best on a high contrast grade of paper.

As always I hope you have enjoyed reading about these 3 exciting techniques and that they have given you some ideas to go explore for the new term. Watch out for part II next week where I'll be showing you some more complex methods to really enhance your student's compositions and presentation skills in the darkroom. 
- Kirsty 

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