On a visit to London some years ago, I went to The Tate Gallery, now Tate Britain, with the school. Initially we were introduced to the Surrealism and Dada room on first entering the gallery; the students from the class were immediately drawn to the works by Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico. However, in an adjacent room through one of the doors, my attention was distracted by a vast painting entitled ‘Around the Blues’.
‘Around the Blues’ was painted by Sam Francis in 1957 and 1962. This painting is huge, measuring 275.5 x 487.5 cm, the enormity, scale and presence of the painting still resonates with me some 20 years later. Yet this wasn’t the first time I had seen the painting. My first engagement with the painting was in Phaidon’s Art Book, and I knew immediately that this was the same painting but, quite literally I recognised and felt the impact of the differences between a reproduction in a book and the real thing.
Visiting the gallery had a profound impact with myself; this wasn’t simply about viewing art that I was aware of from books etc. By chance I had taken a 35mm camera and 5 camera films with me, not being able to afford the postcards I asked if photographs could be taken of the art work which surprisingly was permitted. I returned home that day with 5 films of art works from the Gallery. What I was going to do with these I had no idea, however, the trip to London would subsequently lay the foundations of my practice and interest in appropriation art.
As these photographs were taken prior to the advancement of the digital camera, I had no idea exactly how the images would turn out. I attempted to limit the chance of error by waiting in front of art works so that I had no interruption from visitors within the photograph which wasn’t always succesful, this resulted in some of the photographs becoming blurred due to the quickness of the shot. In addition, there was the consideration when some photographs were taken when they weren’t permitted to be, the poor lighting in the galleries, the use of flash which was an ill-judged idea, poor
handling of the camera creating slanting and poor composition and even a finger caught within the lens. Due to the photographs being taken by 35mm there was no way in knowing how these images would come out.
The collection of photographs amassed to 900+, once the digital camera became more accurate with quality and speed I stopped taking these photographs yet developed the work by pairing these artists to photocopies from books, newspapers and magazines as my interest in appropriation increased.
My work incorporates socially engaged practice and community/informal learning, often encouraging people to try out creative techniques for themselves. When this is linked to digital strategies, it involves considerable pre-testing, to develop an advance understanding of what might go wrong (or at least not go to plan) in a non-studio working environment.
This “stress testing” process, while identifying more mundane modes of failure (such as hardware or software issues), can also result in unexpected visual outcomes that have on occasions developed into more strategic approaches. This has encouraged me to retain rather than delete what initially seems like an “error”. Returning to the images at a later date to consider if and how a process could be developed, sometimes results in overlapping cycles where new works emerge from the remains of older ones.
Sophie Cunningham Dawe
My best images are my better ‘accidents’ but sometimes, as in this one, something I couldn’t see that the camera could, is captured.
I shot this while walking through bluebell woods near Steventon, Hampshire, where Jane Austen would have walked in her younger years. Not until I uploaded the image did I notice an almost horizontal shaft of light, like a lintel, creating a kind of portal. This seemed particularly apt, an invitation, almost, while walking in Jane’s footsteps, to time travel.
There’s no in-camera movement however I preferred the compositional balance of tone when in negative form, done in post-production, and the ‘slowing down the seeing’ that this achieves. The image became part of an installation shown at Jane Austen’s House Museum in 2013 although the backstory, as here, remained untold. I hope to extend the series in bluebell season this year too.
I took this photograph somewhere in Venice, I was attracted by the fact that the term window dressing can almost be taken literally here. I often over expose my images, letting the light leave its own idiosyncratic marks; even though this is a deliberate act, I can never entirely control how it’s going to look; the chance element is both fun and important.
These images were taken whilst on holiday – due to the fact that I was moving whilst taking the photographs, they have come out extremely blurry and therefore are
classed as “mistakes”.
The error was an accident. I was visiting family at their beach house in Jacobsbaai in December, and as we gathered on the porch I tried to take a snapshot. As I positioned my phone, a moving magenta and dashed effect appeared in the lower part of the photo (perhaps the device was overheated).
I took the picture anyway, thinking that the glitch was probably screen-related only and the photo itself would come out normally. I was surprised to see the glitch included in the final photo. I did not want to delete it. It looks as if threads have been pulled in a weaving, dyed, and then reinserted out of line.
I carried out a project entitled ‘I thought it would last’ documenting what used to be a small market village near my hometown and how the village, Mitford, has lost its rural significance.
The photographs were shot on a Pentax ME Super and it was the first roll of film I had ever processed alone. It was very messy and I ended up with lots of fingerprints, scratches and chemical mishaps, initially I was disappointed but when it came to printing, I fell in love with the shots.
This photograph shows an apocalyptic looking sky which I absolutely love the effect created, where in reality it was a totally unintentionally chemical mishap during developing.
I had been photographing seascapes in the evening using relatively long exposures in order to capture movement in the sea. When removing the camera from the tripod, I accidentally triggered the shutter while a flock of birds were taking off from the rocks.
The slow shutter speed, combined with the movement of the birds and also the camera has created an ethereal image where the birds looks almost like angels or ghosts rising into the air.
This image, which is actually stapled to my studio wall, is of my partner in our old garden. It probably dates from around 2002/3. I had bought a Lubitel Universal twin lens medium format camera from a charity shop and was photographing everything, trying it out. This image looks to be at least a double exposure – possibly three, possibly more, with one slight movement on my part, and that of the subject.
Quite what caused the spiral markings, I don’t know. I developed and printed the film myself, and tend to use out of date paper (other people’s cast offs are a feature across my work) but this effect is on the negative, and no other image had this effect.