Thursday, October 18, 2012

1st Pieces for "Beyond the Screen"

    I did it!  I got the wonderful Jace Kerby to model for me, and composed my first human shadow captures in my darkroom.  The piece on the left is titled "Is Someone There?" and the piece on the right is "I See You,"  and I feel as if the pieces compliment each other.  The original images are the ones with the white silhouettes, of course, since I haven't mastered the process of turning the negatives into positives in the processing, so I'm going to get the digitally inverted images printed at the same size as the original.  I know, the aesthetic will not be the same, but it's fascinating when looked at in terms of the simulacra and appropriation.  Each step in the process delivers an alternate perspective and challenges the verisimilitude of the images which preceded it, and in this light I am left wondering which presentation is authentic in its representation.  The dialogue between my thoughts and the image intensifies the intent of the subject, the emotive response, and the awareness of voyeurism.
    What strikes me about these two together is the position in which the viewer is placed in the narrative.  In Is Someone There? I feel as if I'm am the voyeur, intruding into the privacy of another who is yet unaware of my presence.  There is an apprehension that I will be caught, yet the desire to remove the screen and observe the mysteries beyond entices me.  The brush strokes and imperfections reinforce the illusion of a veil between me and the subject which becomes ethereal beneath the weight of my gaze.
    In I See You, this position is reversed:  now I feel as if I am the victim of the intrusion, threatened by the gaze of an unknown other beyond the veil.  I am struck by a desire to rip down the screen so that this unknown may be recognized and I may objectify the foe, therefore reclaiming the gaze that has been forced back upon me.  I find myself recoiling, almost ashamed, as if this perpetrator has caught me in some unseemly deed when I believed no one was looking, and I am reminded of the gaze of the Other and the need to hide myself behind the mask of a projected identity.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Finally Time for Some Art!

    This weekend was full of trial and error and retrial and more error, set on repeat.  There were lots of bugs to iron out with the darkroom, including but not limited to: faulty emulsion adhesion to the canvas, inconsistent fogging of the images, weird brown aberrations that appeared a few hours after fixing the emulsion, and the emulsion softening and becoming gel-like during the washing phase.  Here are a few images related to the errors:

    The image on the left shows the first tests I did on a few different materials.  The one in the middle is the artist's canvas I bought from Hobby Lobby, and the times of exposure on this strip was 3 seconds, 1.5 seconds, and 0 seconds..  One side is primed with some kind of gesso, probably acrylic.  A major issue we had was that the strips curled tightly upon developing and fixing.  I'm guessing this has to do with the developer affecting the acrylic primer, softening it and causing the fabric to distort.  The portion in the center that turned a weird black/brown color was where the emulsion was applied too thickly, and I believe the fixer was not able to penetrate into this area, causing a slow reaction hours after I brought it out of the darkroom.  One of the first errors I noticed was that the unexposed portion greyed significantly, which meant I had a fogging issue with one of the safelights in the darkroom.  To test this I got normal photo paper, turned off the Patterson Safelight on the desk, and exposed with the same time.  This is the test on the left.  With the Patterson Safelight off, I got no fogging. 
   Thinking the problem was solved, I stretched some rough white fabric that I purchased from Walmart (for a fraction of the price of the canvas from Hobby Lobby!) over a frame and coated it with the emulsion, and then I did two more strip testsjust to be safe.  The length of expousre was 1 second per region, up to 15 seconds.  The long strip on the left had 1 coat of emulsion, and the strip on the right had 2, just to throw in another variable.  The result had both unexpected and expected results:  Neither strip curled during processing, which was great news.  The strip with 2 coats and a deeper contrast range, which is definitely good to know, however added layer of emulsion softens immensely while washing the fixer off in water, and actually came off while I was patting it dry with a paper towel, which you can see in the middle.  One thing I was frustrated to see, is that the unexposed portion STILL managed to get severely fogged.  So I decided to do another test:  First, I put a paper towel over the opening of the overhead safelight to dilute the light even further.  Then, I coated the same Walmart fabric with 1 coat of the emulsion and developed it without exposing.  The result is the right piece of fabric in the leftmost image.  As you can see, there was a strange inconsistency in the tone of the image.  What I realized, is that before I stopped using the Patterson safelight, I had been coating strips on the desk near the light and, thinking myself frugal, was pouring the excess emulsion back into the bottle, and thereby unknowingly contaminated the whole bottle with exposed emulsion :(  However, now that I solved this, I could FINALLY move on with creating some art!

    The first images I decided to do were basically tests of different materials: glass and organic plant matter.  The glass I printed on watercolor paper and the grass I printed onto the Walmart fabric.  I had painted the emulsion of the fabric on a piece of cardboard, which gave me the happy surprise of seeing the corrugated pattern appear in the image.  Painting the emulsion with a brush also gave a nice brush texture to the image, which is cool.  The images on the right were the positive prints produced by the emulsion, and the images on the left are the digitally inverted versions of those.  I have two plans as to how to achieve this, which I will test soon.  One is a contact print, which is where I would lay the positive print over an unexposed piece of fabric and expose that directly to the light, theoretically getting a negative print of the positive image.  The other is using a small print of the positive image that is inserted into a small projector that I bought at Michaels which will project a large image of whatever is placed beneath it onto the wall.  Doing this would also, theoretically, give me the result of an inverted image. 

    Now came the question of what to do with the canvas I had inadvertently painted with fogged emulsion.  Since I knew I wasn't going to get the nice bright whites of a pure silhouette, I decided to experiment with some chemogramming, which is mixing the different processing chemicals to achieve specific effects.  I grabbed a plastic bag and some more grass and a miniature of a sculpture from a previous project and laid them onto the canvas, and then loaded a paintbrush with the fixative and splattered it onto the canvas.  After waiting a few minutes, I exposed the emulsion and developed, and just as I had hoped, the fixative had prevented to fogged emulsion from developing, and I was able to maintain some pure whites in the image.

     This is the inverted image of a print I produced last week, which I feel is more effective.  Hopefully, using either contact printing or the projector I will be able to achieve this.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Darkroom is Complete!

Here it is!  This finished darkroom.  The final touches were stapling the internet cable along the bottom of the wall and filling in the light leak from the hole it came through and a few smaller light leaks that remained around the windows.  I discovered when light directly hit the side of the house the foam board actually became semi-translucent when your eyes adjusted to the dark, so we ended up having to put some of the ram board we bought for the floor over the foam board, and then just for good measure put some foil tape around the perimeter just to make sure absolutely no light would creep in.  I mixed the developer and fixer in two tupperware like pitchers with airtight seals, which I believe should be safe enough for the chemicals.  The one Patterson safelight that I bought isn't quite strong enough to give me enough light to work in, so I'm going to hit up a photo supply store out in Houston for a bulb that I can put into a standard lamp, which should give me the illumination I need.

 We ended up having to reverse the swing of the door into the room because it was too difficult to come in and out without disturbing the curtains, which was a light leak threat.  This way you are able to open the door, step into the light lock, close the door behind you, and then go through the curtains.
And here is my first attempt at photogramming!  For whatever reason, either proximity to the light or the intensity of the bulb, the paper seems to be ultra sensitive.  My first attempts at doing exposure strip tests at 1 second intervals produced completely black strips.  This image was created literally turning the lamp on and off almost instantaneously.  I think tomorrow I'm going to go back to Home Depot and get a much smaller bulb at the lowest wattage I can find and test that out to see if I can get a little more flexibility with the timing.  I created the image using my hand and shreds of a plastic Walmart bag, and painting the developer onto standard photo paper.  Because the paper has such a high gloss, the developer tended to pool in little puddles, which is where the white holes in the image come from.  Also, a bit of a happy accident, the words printed on the bag just happened to appear directly parallel to my arm.  There is something very appealing about that in combination with the form of a hand grasping through the silhouettes of the plastic bags...I think I'll explore some of that later.

Building the Darkroom

This week I gathered materials to convert the spare bedroom in the house to a darkroom.  The biggest challenge for this project was going to be sealing off all the windows to prevent light leakage and constructing some sort of entry/exit mechanism to lightproof the area around the door.

So first we cleared most of the furniture and clutter our of the room and off the walls, leaving the desk so I would have somewhere to put the trays of chemicals I will need to use for the photograms.

Sealing the windows was actually fairly easy.  All we needed to do was buy some insulated weatherproof board, cut it slightly bigger than the height and width of the window, screw it into the drywall, and caulk around the edges.  That created a good enough seal to keep out the light.  For this window in particular, we will later be installing a standard bathroom vent type device to ensure good ventilation.  For that, we would need to keep the window slightly cracked at all times (which is why we got the weatherproof board, and cut a small hole in the bottom of the foam board so that the vent can suck air through the space in between the board and the window.  Since the mechanism for the vent will be outside and going over the window, we should be able to seal the edges in a similar way to prevent light leaks.

For the door, we bought some PVC pipe and blackout curtain material that we made two makeshift quarter-circle drapes out of.  To mark where the drapes were going to go, we held a Sharpie against the door and let it mark the ceiling as we opened and closed it to see the area the door would need to travel.  We ended up having to break the pvc pipe in a few places to get the curve we wanted, so to hold the pieces together we threaded some rope through the pipe and then rolled the curtain over to lock it in place.  We then screwed the pipe into the ceiling with drywall lock screws and attachments and attached the sides of the curtains to the drywall by screwing them into some spare pieces of board we had laying around.  Against the bottom of the door we attached a weatherproofing strip so that no light could leak in through the bottom of the door, where a large hole had been chewed by a mouse at some point or another.

This is the desk that we left in the room to use as a worktable.  The three plastic bins near the wall are what I will be using to store the chemicals and paintbrushes while I'm working.  To the left of the table you can see a large roll of thick brown cardboard.  I'm going to use this to protect the floor by laying out overlapping strips along the ground and stabilizing it by taping it down with blue painter's tape.  The cardboard was relatively cheap so it will be fairly inexpensive to replace and easy to keep clean.

There are a few remaining things to be done, such as the red lighting arrangement and storage for the chemicals, but those will have to wait until my shipments of these materials arrives next week.  Once the floor and vent are installed and all my materials arrive I'll be ready to start making some art!