Viviane Sassens' work is physical, architectural, personal, graphic and sculptural all within one series of images. Although taken away from her fashion work, these photographs in Africa echo her commercial output. Taken from the books, Pikin Slee, Flamboya and Parasomma, the photographs make me want to explore the fall of shadows and compose graphic photographs myself. The light in Africa is very different to a winter in Pegwell Bay, so the desired outcome may not be possible due to the difference in contrast.
The images makes us feel close to the work, the detailed crops looking abstracting a leaf as a backdrop for the arrangements of shadows is something I feel can enhance the project I am making. It requires a different type of seeing, the leaf is a photograph and not part of a bigger picture. The textures become important, the lines of the leaf are details and therefore we see the leaf in a new and interesting way. 'Compose the shapes not the pictures, they are layers through a scene.'
In her books Sassen mixed black and white with color successfully. A disregard for the necessity to stay in series makes her more liberal with image selection choice, composition, framing and editing.
The work at times reminds me of the documentation of land art and sculptures, Sassen is seeing these things and telling us to look at them, she is noticing the art in everyday Africa and documenting it.
She also uses interesting and different page formats, layouts and sequencing in her books, in Parasomnia she has overlapping image from bleed to bleed which is a dynamic way of creating a flow through the work as well making the book feel a physical object. And again in Flamboya the layout has half, third pages which reveal the bleed of the picture or at times again hold a new image completly. These techniques continue a sense of physicality which is portrayed in the images as well.
When Chris McCandless journeyed into the far reaches of Alaska, he was going Into the Wild. But if Chris had been French, would there have been any place for him to go?
French photographer Emmanuelle Blanc was intrigued by the same question: does France have any wild left? Yes, the country has "nature" and "landscapes" and "parks"—but what about true wilderness? Unspoiled, untouched earth, spared of human traces.
To answer her question, she journeyed to some of France's most extreme cartographic points, the Northern French Alps, to find the country's highest mountains, craggiest peaks, sheerest drops. When she got there, not only was she putting her own human tracks where she hoped to find none but she became confronted with another basic question, "how to define this word, 'landscape?'"
By first studying Renaissance paintings, when landscapes were popularized in Western art, and then moving onto Romanticism, she began to formulate a contemporary photographic response. Blanc's photos, then, try to re-conjure the feelings of the wild, the Romantic notions of human beings pitted against the elements, the ideas of natural wonder and the Sublime, even in today's diminished world.
To be clear, you will find some sign of human activity in many (all?) of Blanc's photos. The ubiquity of man's traces are simply too prevalent. But while there may be less and less true wilderness out there every day, Blanc's dramatic compositions show us that if we're willing to go just a little farther in our explorations, the human element begins to pale, and we find ourselves face to face with parts of nature that retain the power to challenge and amaze.
Other work in the exhibition featured:
In my hometown, where the city meets the forest, people leave civilization behind and go to the wild for an almost primitive ritual of water gathering.
The wellheads at the edge of the city offer the community an opportunity to relive the sacred gesture of returning to the source: water. Each source has its messengers, its supporters, people who rave about the liquid's special qualities (sometimes proven in laboratory tests). The water, carried home in large plastic containers, offer those who live in apartment buildings a means of natural purification.
Thus, the water gains particular meaning, going above and beyond a simple material existence. The water comes from the mountains and lies in wait, always available to those who seek it out.
For those people who go get water regularly, the ritual has lost all mystery and magic. But for the unfamiliar eye, it is a strange sight indeed. For the locals, the water devotees are simply part of the scenery; for me, they were something special.
An interview with Lucian Bran by Filip Stanczyk
Lucian Bran was one of the honored photographers in the ShowOFF category for newcomers at this year’s edition of Kraków Photomonth Festival. Bran's series, "Back to Wellhead" has all the makings of classical documentary: his photos are aestheticized but show no sign of exaggeration and they investigate a humanist subject with sensitivity and respect.
Yet there was something about the photos that continued to intrigue, beyond the surface. Over the summer, we witnessed the global rampage of ice water pouring out of buckets. There is something basic and elemental about water. And in the end, that's what "Back to Wellhead" is: a meditation on water; its meaning and place in our lives.
Filip Stanczyk: How did it all start?
Lucian Bran: It was a January morning and I went out to take some photos for an existing project, but I saw some people in the forest and I got curious about what was happening there. These were my first "Wellhead" photos. After the first shots, the two people I had found told me about two more fountains in the other part of the valley and so I went there.
So then you asked them what they were doing?
I didn’t ask them but I figured it out as I began to take more photographs. Besides the obvious purpose of getting water, I believe it’s also a way of socializing. They go to the fountains in the summertime and while they're there they have a beer and chat.
I think it also gives the people an excuse to connect with nature. Brasov was very industrialized town during the Communist times but it became so quickly. Most of the inhabitants were brought from villages. When they arrived in Brasov, they came with all of their belongings. Many of these former villagers had trouble adjusting to city life. One way they hung on to their traditions was by by continuing to collect water from natural fountains. Thus, I think the water-gathering phenomenon is in their roots.
Could it also be some kind of spiritual activity?
You could certainly assign a kind of spirituality to it, given the fact that water and springs have such strong semiotic interpretations. But to my eye, it's more of a ritualistic habit, something that became part of these people's daily schedule. A bit like going shopping.
The subjects in your photos are often looking at you. Did they think you were an intruder? How did they feel about you entering their space?
It was easy with kids because they didn’t respond, but it’s a bit tricky with elderly women. One of them wasn’t sure about me and after I took the photo I went to get water and I told her that I was doing a project.
Once I explained, she was glad. Romanian people have a phobia of cameras, because of some celebrity scandals, but as long as you're friendly and open, they are quite accommodating in the end.
One day, you started getting water yourself. How did it feel to take part in this ritual?
When I went to collect water, I went with a friend. It turns out my friend regularly gathered water at the fountain—something which I had never known about him!
The feeling of arriving home with fresh water is great. For the whole rest of the day it feels particularly cold and fresh. You can definitely taste that you're drinking especially good water. It's not that the water has any important or extraordinary chemical qualities—it's simply very clean. It turns out that tap water needs quite a bit of chlorine and other things to be safe to drink.
Your photos seemed completely different from the other ones in the ShowOFF category at Krakow. Do you consider yourself an engaged photographer, someone who tries to look around and tell something important about his environment?
I can say that I really believe in what I do and I put all my personality in my projects. When I start working on something, I think a lot about the subject before I begin taking photos. There is a level of engagement in all of my work, but there are different degrees depending on the subject. You can "engage" but just for fun, which is not a very strong feeling. Or you can engage with a very serious purpose in mind. I lean towards the latter. I’m very committed to what I do.
How important are aesthetics in these pictures? For example, I see a difference between these images. The first one seems more like a snapshot—it isn’t perfectly composed. In the one below, we find a very soft light and a tree crossing the image diagonally which keeps your eye interested. Why the difference?
The first one was made at the beginning of this project. I had to find a good spot to make a photo but I wasn’t really familiar with the terrain and there was a lot of agitation. I was surrounded by big plants and I wasn’t on the top of the hill. In short, I didn’t have time to compose it very well. But it’s OK: some of the photos in the series have something of a "decisive moment" feel, rather than a perfectly composed one. In general, aesthetics are very important to my work, a fact which I think is generally pretty clear.
Do you think that these photos, although depicting an old-fashioned ritual, offer us something about our current times?
Recently, there have been many debates worldwide about the right to water. The Nestlé company questioned the idea of water being a public good—a statement which echoed loudly. As time goes on, water will become more and more important. Already we are beginning to see how having free access is a privilege which is denied in many areas around the world.
In general, those of us who do have easy access to water don’t appreciate it very much. We take it for granted. I hope my photos cause people to think a little bit more about where their water comes from. An unthinking relationship to our resources is a hallmark of contemporary society. Hopefully we can all begin to change that.
—Lucian Bran, as told to Filip Stanczyk
A photographer who employed the Calotype process whilst others were following the revolution in photography and moving towards Wet plate collodion. John Dillwyn Llewleyn married into Fox Talbots family and therefore had an invested interest. He later became a pioneer in early photograph alongside Fox Talbot.
Here he can be seen with a portable darkroom and large box camera.
Calotype portraits from 1835&1855 by Hill and Adamson.
Iodise the Paper
1. Find a suitable paper.
Many of today's papers contain hypo or other chemicals that make them unsuitable for the calotype process. A white paper, with a good wet strength, not made from wood pulp, and free from watermarks is required. [Talbot favoured a rag/gelatin paper from Whatman]
2. Brush onto the paper an 8% solution of silver nitrate in distilled water. Allow the paper to become matt dry.
3. Immerse the paper in a solution of potassium iodide 2 to 3 minutes. [Should this be done under a red light?]
Take care to avoid bubbles. Then wash the paper for several hours under running water.
4. Dry the paper, then hang it for up to two hours in sunlight. This will help the paper to produce a more contrasty image.
At this stage, the paper has a coating of silver iodide, which is insoluble and insensitive to light. This paper should be stored in an acid-free box until ready to use in the camera.
Sensitise the Paper
When ready to take the photo, the paper needs to be sensitised as follows, under a red light, using a Buckle Brush (named after Samuel Buckle) or cotton wool held in a glass tube, in order to get a good even coating on the paper.
5. Under a red light, coat the iodised paper with an silver nitrate in distilled water. Other chemicals are also required at this stage. I believe that these include glacial acetic acid and gallic acid
Blot the paper to remove excess liquid, then cut to size for the camera.
Expose the Paper
6. While the sensitised paper is still wet, expose it in the camera. A two minute exposure at f8 may be required on a sunny day.
7. Brush a solution of silver nitrate (similar to the sensitising solution but stronger) over the paper, followed by gallic acid. [Possibly also use acetic acid.]
The image should appear, perhaps in half an hour, or 3 to 4 hours on a cold day.
The image is ready when it shows a good contrast, viewed in red light.
8. Wash the paper, then fix in potassium bromide or hypo to create the calotype negative.
Initially, iodides were used for fixing. Talbot initially fixed his image using a solution of potassium bromide.
Herschell recommended the use of hypo (sodium hyposulphite - now known as sodium thiosulphate) as a fixing agent but Talbot was not keen to use this because it tended to bleach his negatives.
[Hypo, is still used today for fixing.]
The action of hypo was known before the calotype process was discovered. But hypo was expensive and difficult to use successfully, so it was not universally used in the 1840s. In fact, in the early days, it may have destroyed more photos than it helped.
Wash the paper, then dry.
The Calotype Paper Negative
9. The result of the process above is a negative image. This is the calotype.
For Talbot, the negative image was an end in itself.
He never retouched his negatives, and it was only with encouragement from others that he went on to make prints from them
For Hill & Adamson and others, it was the final print that was important. They frequently touched up their negatives by hand, strengthening lines and adding sky detail.
Several of the early photographers had no difficulty in making the calotype negative, but had trouble converting it into a good salt print.
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