The title of this project was taken from one of the first major photography exhibitions at the Tate Modern. I bought the exhibition book to research and get inspiration for my subject. The cover image is Boy in a Red Cardigan by William Eggleston.
The curators used the works of August Sandler and Walker Evans as the chief axes for the show, as it was felt these practitioners exerted a powerful influence upon modern practice. From there, the curators constructed a pattern of association which extended up to the present day.
Exhibition book / images
I visited the Eggleston exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery last Autumn. As someone who was just getting to know his work, I wasn’t blown away by the exhibition. Perhaps it was the space used within the gallery, or the arrangement of images on display, but for some reason I felt unfulfilled when I left the gallery.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing all of the work that was on display. I like his documentary style and asymmetrical compositions. I particularly liked the larger prints, the size alone is impressive for a photograph. As with paintings of these scales, you can really immerse yourself into the image. One of my favourites was of a lady called Devoe Money, sitting on her rusty sun lounger; it’s Eggleston’s use of colour, pattern and texture which makes this image.
It is social commentary, which I now realise I am drawn to. Eggleston’s work is of what he sees in the world, his personal perspective, particularly drawn to colours. His jaunty compositions are purposeful but create the feel of a snapshot. The images are composed to include other elements in the background.
Eggleston images – trolley, freezer
William Eggleston has been criticized for choosing the complicated and expensive dye-transfer technique for prints of such banal everyday objects. Eggleston uses this process for making prints from his transparencies and color photographs, as it permits him to control the colors individually, and also to exaggerate them according to his intended color emphasis. Originally developed for the production of opaque copy in advertising and magazine printing, this process utilizes water-soluble dyes which, compared with other color printing processes, are extremely durable–an extra bonus for collectors.
The level of richness in colour and hues are only achieved though the dye transfer printing process. Eggleston is famed for having used this technique, which is not commonly used these days as Kodak ceased the production of all dye transfer film and materials in the mid-nineties.
To better understand how this technique works, I came across a photographer simply named, Ctien, who mortgaged himself “to the hilt” and spent it on remaining stockpiles of Pan Matrix film (stored in a large chest freezer), chemicals, dye and paper to allow himself to continue printing this way!
The dyes used in this process are very durable, as they have a good light stability and dark-life expectancy. The text below is taken from his website, he explains how he make dye transfer prints:
Dye transfer printing resembles the mechanical printing process that magazines use to make color pictures. A color printing press uses four separate printing plates, one each for the three primaries (magenta, yellow, cyan) and one for black. Each plate is engraved with a halftone image for one of the colors, which is coated with a thin layer of oil-based ink. The four plates then transfer their ink to the surface of a sheet of blank white paper to make the color pictures. The final picture is not ‘created’ chemically in the paper; it is assembled on its surface from four separate screened color images.
Dye transfer uses three continuous-tone sheet film plates called matrices. The matrices are soaked in water-based cyan, magenta and yellow dyes. The matrices are rinsed clean of excess dye and squeegeed against a sheet of gelatin-coated paper, much like regular photographic paper but without the silver compounds. The gelatin absorbs the dye from the matrix. The result is a continuous-tone dye image on paper.
The details are a bit more involved…
First, I need to separate out each of the individual color images that comprise a color negative. I use red, green and blue filters to enlarge the individual color negative images onto three sheets of Pan Matrix Film.
Pan Matrix Film is a special film that I can process to produce a “relief image”: after I develop and wash the film, the thickness of gelatin left on the film base is proportional to the amount of light that hit the film.
From here on, I can work by ordinary room light. I soak the matrices in “acid-fixing” dyes. A given thickness of matrix gelatin emulsion will absorb just so much acid-fixing dye out of the dye bath. That’s what makes dye transfer possible. The thickness of the matrix relief image is proportional to the original exposure, so the amount of dye carried by the matrix is also proportional. More light means more gelatin, which means more dye in the print.
The red-, green- and blue-exposed matrices go into cyan, magenta and yellow dye baths, respectively. I can adjust the contrast of each dye image by changing the acidity of that dye bath. I have sets of different contrast dyes, much as black-and-white printers have different grades of paper. Sometimes, I even use different contrasts for the different matrices to correct for some unusual color balance problem, like aerial photographs that are too blue in the shadows.
The matrices absorb all the dye they can after soaking for 5 to 10 minutes. I rinse each matrix in 1% acetic acid to remove the excess dye from the surface; because the dyes are fixed (held in place) by acid, they don’t wash out. Incidentally, the large amounts of dilute acetic acid used in the process leave the prints smelling faintly of vinegar for months-to-years after printing. Don’t worry; it’s normal.
Now the matrix is ready for printing. I take the first dyed matrix and squeegee it emulsion-down onto a sheet of the dye transfer receiving paper. The dye molecules migrate from the matrix to the paper. After five minutes, I peel off the matrix; I now have a primary color dye image on the receiving paper and there will be almost no dye left in the matrix. I wash the matrix in hot water, after which I can either hang it up to dry or redye it for another print. I repeat the transfer process for each of the three matrices. When I am all done I have a full color dye transfer print.
But it probably won’t be right. That first print will be too light or dark, too contrasty or flat, and/or off-color. The shadows may not have the right amount of detail, or the highlights may need a little more sparkle. Or etc., etc.
Dye transfer printing provides me with a daunting number of ways to control the appearance of the print. I can use masks when making the matrices to adjust the color balance, color rendition and tone scale of the print. I can control the density and contrast of each matrix individually during exposure and processing. I can adjust the acidity of the dye baths to change the image contrast and density (which looks different from changing the matrix contrast).
I can lighten or darken an image by changing the composition of the acid rinse baths, and I can add dye selectively to shadows or remove it from only the highlights. I can make additional transfers from each matrix to fine-tune the image. I can adjust each primary color image completely independently of the others, and I can use any combination of these effects. Learning how to judge what corrections will take me from a first print to that perfect final one is what being a master printer is all about.
Finally, I must do all of this with meticulous technique:
- If I don’t process the matrices with perfect uniformity and consistency, I will get unwanted (and possibly uncontrollable) color shifts or blotches in my prints. Freshly processed matrices are fragile beyond belief; I must work very carefully if I want useable matrices.I must carefully register the three color images. Before squeegeeing down a matrix, I press punched holes in the film over pins set in one end of the transfer easel and then roll the matrix onto the paper starting at the pinned end.I use a roller to press the dye-laden matrix into close contact with the paper. If I roll too lightly, I’ll get dye bleeding into the liquid trapped between the film and the paper giving me blotchy, unsharp prints. If I roll the matrix down too hard, I’ll warp it slightly and get color fringes in the print. Any air bubbles or dust between the matrix and paper prevent the dye from transferring at those spots, making for much retouching and spotting later. I must do everything right while handling large sheets of wet, floppy film and paper.
I am Daniel Blake
This is a film directed by Ken Loache, about a man struggling to get back on his feet following a heart attack. He lost his job and the DWP had him running around in circles. He ends up at the food bank where he meets other individuals who are struggling to survive day-to-day. It is a sad and thought provoking film.
The number of food banks has risen due to the increase in poverty and the “just about managing”. I visited the food bank in Brentford and took some initial external images with my DSLR.
original external images………….
I chose to use a film camera for this project, not only to better understand how they operate but also hoping to create a vintage feel for my images. The film used was a cheap AGFAphoto ISO 200 from Poundland!
I included images of the external surroundings because a) they helped to tell the story as the food bank is located in the middle of a social housing area, and b) the architecture was fitting for the use of film as it helped to retain the vintage feel.
However, I have since questioned whether I would have been better off displaying the 5 images as shown below. The focus is the rise of demand for Food Banks across the country, the location of the building could be deemed irrelevant? But most importantly, I think they flow better as a set of images with the use of colour and lines.