Category Archives: Techniques

Imagery & Infinite Regression, or Almost Cameraless Photography

About this time last year, I was experimenting with origami pinhole cameras, with both photographic paper and black card (with film). What interested me, was how a simple manipulation of the medium allowed it to become a complete means of image-making.

Further experiments involving zone plates and camera-less photography, as well as a meandering train-of-thought, lead me to ponder the possibility of a photographic image that was capable of reproducing itself, ad infinitum. The notion posited a kind of photographic quine that is at once original, reproduction, and apparatus.

Deeper contemplation lead me to the realisation that if an image of a zone plate of “normal” perspective could be made at 1:1 scale, using identical zone-plate optics, then the image could be used to reproduce produce itself. (It wouldn’t practically matter if the image produced was positive or negative, as the zone plate could still work optically.) In the real world, of course, the number of “generations” would be limited by creeping image degradation, leading to “sterile” images that could no longer “reproduce”, but the conceptual basis of the process is certainly intriguing enough.

Further experiment pending.

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Filed under Alternative processes, Experimentation, Optics, Projects, Techniques

Reliable, Total and Economical Coating and Sensitisation of Wet Collodion Glass Plates

Variously described as “historical”, “ethereal”, “otherworldly”, “alchemical”, the particular aesthetic of the wet plate continues to find use by contemporary photographers such as Sally Mann and Ben Cauchi.

The method of coating an even film of collodion on glass plates is quite an acquired skill, and by all accounts an art-form in itself: far from an exact science. Due to the necessity of keeping the plate wet to maintain sensitivity, the process was never industrialised, and each photographer produced and processed his own plates. Recently I have been meditating on the possibility of a more efficient, reliable, reproducible method of coating, sensitizing, and processing wet plates, requiring no particular skill and minimal wastage.

The method I eventually hit upon is derived from, of all things, the electronics industry. (consequently, I doubt that I would be able to patent, or otherwise claim the process) Mass-produced integrated circuits are manufactured upon silicon wafers, using a photography-related processes, called photolithography (which actually more closely resembles etching). This process necessitates the even and repeatable coating of the wafers with a photo-resist. The industrial method for accomplishing this is one called spin-coating, where the circular wafer is held level, and rotated (about the vertical axis) at a constant speed, while the liquefied emulsion is applied at the centre. So long as the rotation speed and the viscosity of the emulsion are controlled, the results are reliably consistent. The exact thickness of the emulsion is controllable, and a precise amount of emulsion maybe used.

It should be obvious how this spin-coating method might be applied to the coating, sensitisation, and processing of wet plates, to increase precision, reliability and efficiency. The apparatus need not be particularly sophisticated: reliable, repeatable results could be obtained with the re-purposed turntable, and a burette or pipettes.

But pause a moment, and consider: The traditional (hand-coated) wet-plate process itself has a particularly physical and performative quality, which lends the images an imperfect “contingency”(as Benjamin might say), and a hand-crafted kind of cachet. This leads me to wonder – having devised a method that removes much of the chance and skill from the wet-plate process – if it’s utilisation might destroy the very qualities of the process that make it interesting and desirable. Would a cleaner, more consistent, more efficient method render results that are too, in a word, industrial?

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Filed under Alternative processes, Black & White, Chemistry, Emulsions, Techniques

Technique: Projection Photography

I will be the first to admit that, as anything other than a genre and body of photographic practice, and perhaps as a particularly mobile and public art-form, the world of fashion is a dark continent to me. It is then, perhaps, simple naïveté that leads me to the broad and less-than-complementary opinion that fashion is a shallow art, and that the industry that shares its name concerns itself with the skin of an image, stuffed with an awful lot of hype.

This – and the prospect of shooting fashion images as part of a project on “lifestyle” – lead me to meditate the possibility of utilising a projector to cast that “skin of an image”, and to convincingly conjure the illusion of clothing, onto some suitable mannequin or model. I concluded that it ought to be plausible both as a photographic technique and as a reflexive critique on fashion and fashion photography. Now quite excited at the prospect of playing with a novel technique, I fired up Firefox, and set about researching projection as a studio light source.

Projector lighting setup, white background

Lighting setup with projector and illuminated, white background.

Fashion got there first. In fact, the technique I had independently “discovered” can be traced back to John French‘s fashion work with projected patterns – in the early 1960s. More recently, Eva Mueller and Sølve Sundsbø, among others, have made use of digital display projectors to produce a variety of effects. In 1995, Droga5 pushed the technique, using a battery of upto ten projectors as part of a campaign promoting “light injected” Puma L.I.F.T footwear.

And I thought I was so very clever and original.

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Filed under Experimentation, Techniques