5.1.1 Cam Edgelands

This assignment asks me to revisit and redo an earlier project that I would like to extend in some way – because it no longer reflects my personal voice and/or technical skills.

This project uses images of the A14 Road Bridge across the River Cam where I walk every day to revisit a natural landscape lithograph print produced for Printmaking 2 Natural Landscapes . I produce a series of five A3 photo-screen prints that represent the feel of this mix of natural and urban landscape. In the process I developing a much bigger series of black and white documentary photographs in Lightroom and SilverFX, before selecting and processing the five prints in Photoshop for the printing plates.

The project extends this earlier work across a number of dimensions:

  • thematically/Voice placing landscape printmaking in the context of the literature on psycho-geography and Edgelands drawing on socio-political landscape photography work (using different images) looking at identities and change on the River Cam: Grassy Corner and Bench on my Landscape Photography blog.
  • technically through significantly developing my software skills in digital monochrome photography (Lightroom, SilverFX and Photoshop) and photo-based printmaking (specifically photoscreen).
  • creatively through looking at the different visual messages conveyed for the same image in different media, and how exploration of a range of media can inspire new approaches and styles in other media.

I draw inspiration particularly from the high contrast black and white photography of Brassai and Japanese black and white traditions of Zen ink painting and work of photographers like Daido Moriyama and Hiroshi Sugimoto and abstract prints of Koichi Yamamoto.

Although many of the colour photos of the Bridge are effective in their own way, I think that black and white is most striking. I also think that Photo-screen adds a further dimension of grunge and texture impact beyond the effect of photography as a documentary image. But the technique is quite delicate – both in the level of tonal contrast and detail required in the duo-tone transparency, then the accuracy of the exposure and finally the mixing of the ink and printing itself on different papers.

Original Stone Lithograph

For this first assignment I wanted a project that would be an ongoing body of work that I could continue to work on through the course and would represent my personal voice – combining a socio-political perspective with a subject that I enjoy aesthetically and has personal meanings and memories – and would also stretch me technically and strengthen new skills.

After much consideration, I decided that extending my body of work on the River Cam – a place where I walk every day would be a good place to start this module. This area is one of my favourite places for drawing and painting from life. The river has been an inspiration for Printmaking projects – early monoprints and also Part 1 of Printmaking 2. I had also taken a more documentary approach in a Photobook called ‘Bench’ for an OCA Landscape Photography course taken in parallel to my Visual Communications work. For more detailed discussion with examples and links for my earlier work on the River Cam see: River Reflections: paintings, prints and Photobook

Assignment 2.1 ‘Bridge’ revisits a stone lithography print ‘A Landscape Waiting’ from Printmaking 2 Project 1.1 ‘Natural Landscapes’ that asked me to explore the contrasting forms and shapes of natural as compared to human/urban landscape.

Although tutors considered the original lithograph print technically good, the image is too ‘picturesque’. I wanted to revisit and extend this project through combining and contrast natural and human landscape elements in the context of discussions around psycho-geography and ‘Edgelands’. In the process I also wanted to see how my Creative Design toolkit from Project 1.3 might apply within the technical constraints of photography. I particularly wanted to start to think more deeply about approaches to narrative – addressing one of the serious gaps in my previous projects.

River Cam Lithograph.
2017. Stone lithograph print on catridge paper showing border. This is ‘A Landscape Waiting’ in a number of ways. My original intention, through expressive marks together with the light in the sky and on the fields, was to give a restrained energy of a winter landscape waiting for Spring. But its very emptiness of people is another type of waiting – a snatched ephemeral moment of peace before the deluge of rowers and cyclists in whose interests the whole landscape is managed would come and destroy the tranquillity an hour later.

Black and White Photography

For this new body of work I wanted to focus on images of A14 Road Bridge – an eerie atmospheric place with graffiti, abandoned bikes and dramatic lighting and reflections, inspired by literature on Psycho-geography and Edgelands.

As this project was intended mainly as a revisiting of my earlier printmaking, I wanted to take selected images from that and also other photo series on the Cam to Photoscreen – a printmaking medium I had only begun to touch on in earlier modules and which seemed from some initial experiments to be very well-suited to this more documentary subject matter and capable of producing images that are more haunting and poignant than straight photographic prints. My main focus was the selection and production of five A3 Photoscreen prints that I thought would represent my artistic vision.

Following my skills assessment and suggestions from my tutor I wanted to start with photography skills, specifically in black and white and develop an effective software workflow between Adobe Lightroom, Nik SilverFX and (for the final duotone conversion) Adobe Photoshop. I started by ordering my hundreds of images of the Bridge in Lightroom by month. Partly just as a way of sorting things in the catalogue, as the images were from different years 2011- 2019. This enabled me to see more clearly some of the changes over time, whether different activities were specific to certain months or how activities like fishing might differ through the year. I selected what I assessed to be the most interesting in terms of diverse subject matter and batch converted them in Lightroom to High Contrast Black and White, ordered by month and separated where necessary into different weather conditions.

From the resulting 170 images I narrowed the selection down to 10 images that were most interesting in terms of different lighting, composition, tone and texture and I thought would translate well into Photoscreen. I then experimented with different versions different Silver FX and Lightroom Black and White presets, different crops tonal and textural contrasts. ‘Punch’ lightened the whites and gave a sunnier look, in some images like those of mist a softer, flatter preset worked best.

Printing Process

I converted what I thought would make the most successful images into greyscale duotone images in Photoshop. I was careful to retain as much tonal range and detail as I could, but printing a bit blacker than normal because subtle greys are less likely to fully expose on the plate.

I printed these onto transparencies and exposed the 120 mesh screens at a workshop at Curwen Print Studios near Cambridge. The exposure gave a lot of detail, except for the print of the runner that needed to be a bit lighter. For some reason the images got reversed in this printing – I need to check the printer settings or maybe it is a bug as it has not happened before. This only really mattered for the Power Queen image because of the graffiti text.

My first print run used black ink experimented with printing in black ink on different types of paper: Newsprint, Challenger (white) and Somerset smooth (cream). I liked the new paper documentary effect on the newsprint for all the images – a sort of cheap throw away image that reflects the way some people might respond to the place itself. But the other two ‘quality’ papers highlighted the beauty. The creamy Somerset paper gave a feeling of sunlight and brightness. The white Challenger paper gave a much colder, grimmer feel.

This made the images interestingly dark. And I like the slightly mottled effect of these duo-tone versions of the photographs. It would be worth experimenting with these on different papers as photographs in their own right. Also using different types of duo-tone marking – here I used round dots, but lines, ovals and diamonds are also possible with a range of density and angle settings.

Experiments 1: Power Queen

The image I find most iconic from the Bridge series is ‘Power Queen’ with its grungy graffiti, wire and litter that is transformed into something quite magical by lighting under the bridge. This image required least experimentation.

Experiments Photoscreen 2 Light Reflected

The second image that focuses on the magical light I experimented with a lot more as part of my learning process for Lightroom and Silver FX.

Experiments Photoscreen 3: Winter Landscape

For the third image I selected for its combination of light and shapes my experiments were more subtle, looking at the relationships of contrast and definition between the different elements of light and landscape.

Photoscreen 4: Runner

In this fourth image the issue is obviously the light on the runner and the degree to which this is accentuated or distracted by amounts of detail in the lighting on the bridge. I wanted the light on the bridge to be like a flame that echoed the light around the runner.

Photoscreen 5: Pylon

In the fifth image I experimented with different crops. I was also interested in the amount of detail in the splash of light and the tone/contrast of the ripple in the water.