Assignment 2.1 Bridge Printscapes
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 developed 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.
Compared to the black and white photographs, Photo-screen adds a further dimension of ‘documentary grunge and texture’ impact beyond the effect of black and white photography. But the technique is quite sensitive – 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.
Processing the images in DxOFX can produce more successful documentary photographs – both black and white and ‘grunge colour’. I also found audience input from Cambridge Camera Club extremely useful for feedback on the images as documentary, also to get a better understanding of the types of images likely to be successful as exhibition images for a wider audience. And how far and in what ways I can include a distinctive ‘Zemni Voice’.
As part of Assignments 5.1 I develop some other images as solarplate. And for Assignment 2 I look at alternative narratives that I could construct around the Bridge using different images and/or processing styles. The body of work as a whole contributes to selection of images for my final portfolio ‘Lost Reflections 2: Bridge Edgelands, Cambridge.
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. I was also interested in capturing more of the darkness and emotion that had underpinned a series of watercolours of the river that I had painted as part of an earlier OCA painting course.
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.
Photoscreen 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.
For more about the Photoscreen process, see the post being prepared on my Printmaking blog for VCAP and SYP.
5.1 Bridge Urbex Grunge Creativity
I revisited my photographs of the Bridge as part of Assignment 5.1 Zemni Creativity, considering possibilities of different treatment and types of images for different purposes and audiences. Specifically, requirements for documentary photography as compared with professional photography for Camera Club exhibitions and for a more tourist ‘picturesque’ market. I revisited and re-edited the images in black and white and colour styles in the light of technical photography skills I have developed in the module and audience feedback from Cambridge Camera Club.
Bridge 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.
Audience feedback was positive in terms of a documentary image as part of a series. However members of Cambridge Camera Club felt that the middle was too empty for a successful exhibition image – bleak emptiness being largely the documentary point.
Bridge 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.
As a photograph I prefer the dark/cold contrast of the Pinhole Effect. Or the screenprint with its graininess. Both have an interesting documentary feel. Camera Club members liked the image, but felt that the sky was too flat for a successful exhibition image.
Bridge 3: Icicle 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.
These images are not so powerful as documentary, unless as part of a series. Too blotchy and ‘pretty’. I think the grain of the Photoscreen gives it more interest.
Bridge 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.
I prefer the second muted colour image. I find the pink skin colour against the dark green accentuates the vulnerability of the runner against the dark of the bridge with its hint of graffiti.
Bridge 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.
The black and white version works well as a documentary image. As an exhibition image Camera Club members suggested inverting it to make the reflections more intriguing – as the most suitable image of this series in Exhibition terms. The duotone version in particular retains the grunge feel, but would also make a good poster print.
5.1 Bridge Solar Plate
‘Lost Reflections’ Portfolio: further developments
My photographic work on the Bridge is revisited and further creatively developed with other image series images in ‘Lost Reflections’ Portfolio 1: ‘Bridge Edgelands, Cambridge’