Saturday, October 31, 2009

Past and Present

Since the last post I’ve had another opportunity to combine the present with the past through the Beaford Arts ‘Old Archive’. I was recently involved as an artist in a Beaford Arts residential for ‘gifted and talented’ year 9 pupils. It was hoped I could lead a ‘drawing with light’ exercise in the dark evening as the residential was loosely based on the ‘big draw’ national incentive to get people drawing. Rather than simply reiterating the previous residential I chose to also include the combining of the past with the present.

A mysterious Old Archive image of Greenwarren House (which now houses Beaford Arts) was found. Mysterious because there is no information attached to it except the description: “Old view of Greenwarren House with different window heads and stucco and 2 horses and riders.” There is no date or reference to the riders, horses or dog in the picture. Technically I should have composed the photograph before dark to have obtained the same angle-of-view and comparable lens length. However the only real discrepancy is to the left of the house where the old stable block isn’t lined up but the advantage of this mismatch is that you see a photo-collage made on a previous residential pasted on a door.

The children, after making some long exposure night photos themselves, made light patterns with a number of coloured torches, drawing or painting with light in the darkness. Afterwards they had the opportunity of learning how to combine the old and new images in PhotoShop.

My final image is a combination of 2 ‘drawing with light’ exposures of 1 minute each plus the original ‘Victorian’ photograph. I’ve tried to photograph the present both actually, the house as it is in October 2009 with reference to art being made in the photo-collage seen on the door and metaphysically; children learning through art seen by the light traces and sometimes ghostly images as they move through time. I’ve also made reference to the past through the old windows and doors seen through the bleached out windows of the present and the trace image of the old building’s chimneys, flowerpots, garden sculptures and the 2 riders on horses and dog.

'Old Archive, Contemporary Responce' continues at Boston Tea Party in Exeter from 3rd of November follow this link for more information.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Working from the Beaford Old Archive

Recently I was asked to choose an image, any image, from the Beaford Old Archive and respond to it in a creative way. I had to limit my time to 3 hours, although this time restraint was creatively interpreted. If you want to see this image framed and hung on a wall, you'll find it alongside other artists interpretations of Beaford Old Archive images, at the Boston Tea Party Cafe in Barnstaple, North Devon, during October and then it travels down to a cafe of the same name in Exeter.

Old Archive image chosen: ‘On the beach, Appledore c1890’ (ref. b08514)
Contemporary response titled: ‘Still on the beach, Appledore 2009’
I’m drawn to pictures like this, they fascinate and excite me. They talk of a recent past, where our North Devon ports were full of sailing ships, importing tobacco and exporting products like our sgraffito slip-ware pottery to the Americas and all over the world. It’s surprising how few images there are showing scenes like this until they are compared to the modern day vernacular equivalent, the lorry park. I often catch myself imagining our rivers full of moored tall ships like ghosts of the past making a trace on our 21st century world. Walking on the quays in Bideford and Appledore I can feel the past, just like one can sense the layers of history in an old house.

This image from c1890 was most likely exposed onto a glass plate negative and printed onto light sensitive, fibre-based, silver-salt rich, photographic paper. It epitomises the worst attributes of the old silver based technology. Dust and hairs have left their white marks as they’ve stubbornly clung onto the negative at the printing stage; fingerprints have been left on the surface from the photographer who uses his hands to move the print from developer to fix but doesn’t clean and dry them properly; stains miraculously appear through uneven agitation, irregular fixing or uneven washing; more stains and marks are left from over 100 years of being passed from family member, to friend, to nostalgic collector. The photograph, like the image it holds, is a testament to the passing of time.

This image of Appledore’s shoreline is a fading reminder of it’s past. By this date our ports were little used, the railway had taken over transportation of goods although it hadn’t reached this village yet. Appledore here is a scant reminder of North Devon’s heyday in the Elizabethan era when ships sailed from here taking the 1st colonists to America and 5 ships under the leadership of Sir Richard Grenville left here to fight against the Spanish Armada.

We can learn a lot from old pictures, we can learn more from trying to re-photograph them. To place my camera where the original camera had be mounted I would need to dig up some of the car park today. The quay at Appledore has been raised and widened, quite considerably, although the part of the waterfront seen in this picture is relatively the same. New houses have been added and some of the original outhouses demolished.

The tide and position of the sun have proved to be my most difficult obstacles. From observing the shadow I estimated that the original picture was made mid-afternoon, and from observing where the tide was and it’s direction (or direction the boats are pointing) I estimated a couple of hours after high tide. To get the tide and sun like this I needed to make my new pictures around a neap tide, which I’d get every 2 weeks. Then, of course, I needed sunshine; something we never get on demand in North Devon. And finally 3 free hours, the allotted time for this commission, when all of the above were in place, to make my images and construct them together in PhotoShop.

I hope with this new digital image something of the view back, through the layers of time, can be seen.