Cyanotypes & The Graves of Poets

Standing in the cold lifeless air of Westminster Abbey, surrounded by marble morbidity, the good and great and privileged interred at every turn, monarchs at the head of the table and poets consigned to a dim corner, and there, amid the flag stones of the nave lie the mortal remains of Charles Darwin, a three lined epitaph for the founder of the theory of modern evolution, we need little explanation of who he is or what he contributed, your attention soon wanders, you glance at the neighbouring grave, so close they could be related, the Latin inscription reveals little and you could be forgiven for wandering off in search of  dead poets and princesses.

The obscure tomb suspiciously close to that of Darwin’s is that of Sir John Herschel, astronomer, biologist, chemist, and mathematician. He was a mentor and source of inspiration for Darwin. Herschel came from good stock, his father discovered Uranus, and the family’s contribution to astronomy is immeasurable. Sir John married his cousin and had twelve children, he was a Polymath.

Portrait of Sir John Herschel by Julia Margaret Cameron April 1867. Whatever advances digital photography has afforded us I still aspire to produce images of this calibre

When we consider the origins and invention of photography it’s usually Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre that spring to mind but John Frederick William Herschel is as, if not more important. Herschel gave us the term photography and gave us the photographic meaning of negative and positive and his discovery of using sodium thiosulphate as a solvent for silver halides, producing what we know as fixer or hypo which allowed Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre to make permanent the images they were creating in those heady days of the mid-nineteenth century.

My early experiments in Lumen printing using antique Bulgarian photographic paper.

Importantly Herschel invented the Cyanotype the process that gave us blueprints used primarily for technical drawing. A simple process of using a combination of iron compound coated paper being exposed to UV light then washed. Sir John introduced family friend and fellow botanist Anna Atkins to the process who created a series of the most beautiful images of algae and other plants, she is regarded as the first female photographer and produced the first-ever book of photographs.

During the first Covid confinement I decided it was time to experiment with Cyanotypes as part of my slow photography movement, probably not the same buzz in the Home Counties as that of the antics of Hershel and Atkins but never the less.

Work in Progress-multi-tasking clearly a bonus

There really is no explanation for the creative process, I can only say that from time to time I find myself crawling around graveyards, is it the arrogance of being alive amongst the dead or a sense of my own mortality, I don’t know. I decided to collect the fallen leaves from the graves I found interesting and have them squirreled away.

 The Leaves of Poets had been a title jangling around my head for a while and with the pandemic pending I had to use what was easily at hand, so this first attempt has been made with leaves found on the grave of JRR Tolkein, and I do think one image in particular has an air of Middle Earth about it.

Leaves that have so many symbolic meanings are great subjects but not the easiest when working with Cyanotype or Lumen printing, the translucence of petals does work better, so you sit there in the mud contemplating the shapes of shedded shade. It’s all part of the mindful approach to slow photography.

Fallen leaves rescued from the grave of JRR Tolkein

Creating Cyanotypes is a simple process, you can buy raw chemicals but with the growing popularity of camerless photography, kits are easily available online. You don’t need a darkroom or much in the way of photographic experience. I will prepare a PDF of full instructions of Cyanotype and Lumen printing and include a resource of further reading, leave a message in the comments section below or mail me.

These kits look pretty good-Click the image for details

Watch The Simple Cyanotype Mixtape via the link below

https://youtu.be/GXQXo35nBr4

Anna Atkins is a truly remarkable woman; her groundbreaking photography was more than just an exercise in the ascetic, it was a combination of her botanical scientific study, technical ability, and determination, but it is her love of the subject that make her simple blue and white images as beautiful today as they were a century and a half ago.

There does not seem to be many books available on Herschel or Atkins but this illustrated biography of Atkins looks pretty-click the image for details;

This is the only comprehensive biography on the fascinating genius of Sir John Herschel I could find-Click the image for details;

As I went in search of the unsung heroes of the origins of photography, a rabbit hole of revelation if ever there was one, I discovered the Herschel family home is in the same village as my late grandparents lived; Hawkhurst in Kent, just behind the Eight Bells pub where one night in my early twenties I got incredibly drunk with my Grandfather, the pub dates back to 1847 so there is every chance Sir John popped in for a cheeky pint, our paths missing by about a hundred and fifty years. And while we are on the people I have not met in pubs topic; both JRR Tolkein and I were regulars in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, although sadly, not at the same time.  

Mindfulness, slow photography, and adventures with analog are all therapeutic experiments I will be pursuing more often and will be happy to help anyone else attempting similar projects and let me know if you are interested in a cheat sheet on getting started with Cyanotypes.

This is my favorite image from the first series, more pac-man than middle-earth but that is the curious thing about nature.

Should anyone be interested in purchasing the original artwork I may make them available via Ebay

Thank you for all for taking the time to read and do feel free to share on whatever platforms you are using.

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Black Sea

Black Sea

At that (Homeric) time, the sea was not navigable and was called Axenos (inhospitable) because of its wintery storms and the tribes that lived around it, and in particularly the Sythians in that they sacrificed strangers…

But later it was called Euxeinos (friendly to strangers) when the Ionians founded cities on the seaboard.

Strabo From his Geographica

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Copyright John Wreford 

One-off print sale

From my Black Sea series, a project in progress

Printed on 30×40 cm Hahnemühle Photo Rag fine art paper with a wonderfully soft feel, boasts a lightly defined felt structure, lending each artwork a three-dimensional appearance and impressive pictorial depth.

A lovely fine art print signed by the artist.

50 Euros Inc. postage Payment via Paypal wrefordimage@gmail.com

My website is being updated so do feel free to pop by and browse:

John Wreford Photographer

Mindfulness & The Art of Slow Photography

Mindfulness and the art of Slow Photography

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A Turkish friend had been going into lucid detail of the true meaning of mindfulness, a term of modern trend that can often be treated with flippant discard or so I thought.

One version of the meaning according to Psychology Today is; “Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosityopenness, and acceptance” There are many definitions of this meditative practice that has its roots in Buddhism but this description in particular appealed to me,  another is “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”

Now  regular followers of my blog may have already determined I am not really a spiritual man,  neither am I one for hanging labels on my beliefs or philosophy, I do poach a little from here and there and no doubt that a thread of anarchism runs through it all but in the end I see things in shades of monochromatic pragmatism. So, it does seem somewhat contradictory of me to delve into the world of Zen. But I am also a contradictory fellow.

As my friend was explaining the concept to me, I realized that this was something I already practice but I know it as the non-philosophical term; Photography. Personally speaking, photography and the concept of Mindfulness are intrinsically intertwined, to be at the very least a competent photographer you must follow the basic principles of Mindfulness.

I have unknowingly touched on this in previous posts and it’s something I now want to explore further; Finding Order In The Chaos

A recent case in point.

The day had not been going well, frustration and anger had been slowing morphing into depression, I had decided a walk would do me good, I shouldered my camera gear with only half an idea of shooting a near by lake at sunset, I am not a landscape photographer but I enjoy the process and of course the walk.

Along a potholed lane out of the village, past a couple of scruffy mutts bleating and into open fields, the sun was still high and the heat induced sweat dribbling wherever it could, past sullen sunflower plants with their heads bowed in despair, the landscape was not spectacular; provincial, pastural, pleasant, the lake was hardly a lake, more a big pond, I’m not sure how you define either. I hiked the ridge above the lake and surveyed the scene from every angle, a gypsy and his cart toddled past and some fishermen were packing their kit and getting ready to leave. Soon I stood alone apart from a hawk of some sort, wings wide above the fields.

I predicted the final movements of the sun, where the shadows would fall, the only problem was that from every angle an electricity pylon spoiled my potential photograph, it was the wrong sort of energy that was blighting my bliss. There would be no pretty picture postcard lake at sunset shot and It didn’t matter, this was not a commission, I had no brief to fulfil.

I scrambled down the bank to the waters edge and startled basking frogs back into the sanctuary of the water, plopping one after the other in perfect time to my footsteps, at the far side of the lake I set my bag down and made myself comfortable in the long grass.

Its here that things began to come into focus, my view was limited to what was in close proximity, the only sound was nature, in the stillness the frogs regained their confidence and reappeared in the algae coated water, a stork settled and turtle edged along his perch, I was completely focused on my surroundings, the pattern of plants and the insects that went about their business without interruption, as the lake fell into shadow I felt inclined to head back to home, I have no idea how long I sat there, in those moments my mind was free, not empty but not cluttered with concern or toxicity. I made a couple of images and strode home as dusk passed into night.Untitled-1

The images were unimportant snapshots consigned to my hard-drive until now, the clarity though was enough to make a difficult decision a simple one.

I think we need to talk about Slow Photography more often and its relationship with Mindfulness and its potential as Art Therapy.

As a full time professional photographer, it is often hard to justify the time and trouble and inevitable expense to engage in non-profitable work, that is, unless you redefine the term profitable.

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Thank you Marcus Marcus Peddle Photography & Poetry

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