Fowlers Gap: Cyanotypes

I have been an avid enthusiast of cyanotypes (photographs made using potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate) after seeing a series of pennants made from botanical elements from and at Eden Gardens during a visit to their sculpture award called Eden Unearthed.

Figure 1 – Danielle Minett, Blue Prints detail view, c2018, cyanotype on fabric. Photographed by Matti.

This led to a frustrating investigation that only left me wanting more. When I encountered cyanotypes during Photography 1, I was disappointed that I couldn’t make them on campus.

I did find a lot of references to botanist Anna Atkins, whose reference book British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843-1853) was seminal in presenting cyanotypes to the general public. While searching for Atkins, I came across a very good book in the university library: Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph by Geoffrey Batchen. It goes into great detail on the art of the cameraless photograph (Batchen 2016).

It turns out that the university’s restrictions only apply to the teaching of cyanotype processes so I bought a kit, did some experimenting at home, produced a hundred or so cards, and sorted the best ones into a grid which I then turned it in for an assignment.

Figure 2 – Matti, untitled cyanotype grid, 2019, cyanotypes on watercolour postcards mounted on cartridge paper, each 14.6 x 10.3 cm, approximately 120 x 151 cm mounted

Before travelling to Flowers Gap, I knew I was going to make my first non-ephemeral Silueto from a single, large cyanotype. Little did I know that my experimental preparation method would result in ghostly streaks that interfere with the strategically places eucalyptus leaves which were supposed to form a clean Matti-sized silhouette. Once again, however, failure leads to an interesting result.

Figure 3 – Matti, Silueto 261, 2021, cyanotype on canvas, approximately 200 x 120 cm

Then I began repeating the process from 2019, collecting interesting things and exposing them on the cards.

Figure 4 – Matti, untitled cyanotype, 2021, cyanotype on watercolour postcard, 14.6 x 10.3 cm

Figure 5 – Matti, digital photographic documentation

I had 131 processed cards ready to go – including some reprocessed failures from the earlier project – and I dove into the process. Although this and others were interesting, I found myself resisting the process.

Figure 6 – Matti, untitled cyanotypes, 2021, cyanotype on watercolour postcard, each 14.6 x 10.3 cm

I even tried doing something I knew would fail, exposing a thick heart-shaped stone. The shadow cast by the stone prevents UV light from activating the chemicals so the cyanotype just looks like a blob.

Figure 7 – Matti, untitled cyanotype, 2021, cyanotype on watercolour postcard, 14.6 x 10.3 cm

This resistance in general and deliberate failure in specific are a sign from my intuition that something is wrong. The only way to resolve the issue was to put the cards away and give myself permission to do nothing. This freed my subconscious to explore the options and eventually tell me what to do.

When I woke the next morning, I realised that I had been trying to record my aesthetic sense rather than explore my relationship to the land and several disparate threads had been woven into a single, unified work.

Figure 8 – Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, 1967, gelatin silver print on paper and graphite on board, 37.5 × 32.4 cm. Source: tate.org.uk

Figure 9 – Matti, digital documentation photograph, 2021
Figure 10 – Matti, digital documentation photograph, 2021

Richard Long’s famous line matched with the much drier lines I was experiencing and creating at Fowlers Gap. There were also elements from earlier drawings of trees, photographs of stones, and the ephemeral sound of performance walks through the landscape. I realised that I didn’t have to make cyanotypes of recognisable objects; I could make abstract blobs and they would still be representational of the landscape (Sturm 2019).

I gathered exactly 100 cards in a light-proof bag, went out to the tree I had seen in my dream state, and walked, putting a stone on a card at every step to mark my passage through the landscape. When I turned around, I saw the path; one which I knew would fade as I collected the cyanotypes for processing. I enjoyed the trace of the line that disappeared back into the landscape.

Figure 11 – Matti, digital documentation photograph, 2021
Figure 12 – Matti, digital documentation photograph, 2021

When I processed the cards, I found that they had all turned out: every cyanotype was deep and rich with colour, every stone had left an abstract blob, every shadow displayed a smooth gradation. I was very happy to have documented my conceptual-land-performance piece in a way that also pleased my aesthetic sensibility without any intervention on my part.

Figure 10 – Matti, untitled cyanotype, 2021, cyanotype on watercolour postcard, 14.6 x 10.3 cm

So what does this mean for Assessment 2?

While presenting these cyanotypes would be very interesting, I want something more integrated with the rest of the work. I did small-scale tests using dye and want to include a line of a hundred blue blobs to represent the documentation of the performance.

Bibliography

Batchen, Geoffrey. 2016. Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph. Edited by Geoffrey Batchen.Art of the cameraless photograph. Munich, London, New York: Munich, London, New York: DelMonico Books.

Sturm, Cassandra Ellen. 2019. “Negotiating a Personal Vocabulary of Abstraction: Representing an Artist’s sense of Place.” Doctorate, School of Design and Art, Curtin University. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/224958053.pdf.

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