Cyanotypes 2010-2011

A number of my interests coalesce in these works: photograms, arcane processes, seen and unseen forces, alphabets, games, and ideas about blindness and sight. The cyanotype images began with Poles Apart, a work in four pieces that was obliquely influenced by the seminal work of 19th century botanist and photographer Anna Atkins. Whilst Atkins famously documented seaweeds and algaes using a cyanotype/ photogram process, the images in Poles Apart are of magnetic fields. The magnetic fields made visible in the iron filings have loose botanical and biological references.

The nineteenth century was a profoundly active time in scientific development, and a period of fascinating co-existence of new scientific knowledge with older, less scientific knowledge and belief systems. The experiments of James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s showed light to be an electro-magnetic wave, and thus linked light, electricity and magnetism*. During the second half of the 19th century, the quest to represent the invisible took forms as disparate as the development of x-rays and photo-micrography through to the  ‘spirit photography’ pioneered by William H. Mumler, which purported to capture images of ghosts and the deceased, including famously, the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. The images of magnetic fields I have made allow for multiple aspects of the quest to make the invisible visible: the human, the subjective, the scientific, the observable the ephemeral and the flawed.

In the series Blind Faith, Braille lettering is used as a motif around which the magnetic forces reveal themselves. Each individual image spells a letter in Braille, but the paper surface is flat, and sealed within a frame. The images are grouped on the wall, possibly spelling out a sentence, and a Braille alphabet is exhibited with the work, to allow the interested viewer to attempt a translation. A range of configurations are possible.

This work was first exhibited in 2011 in Aura: the Haunted Image, at Level 17 Artspace, Victoria University.

*Incidentally, Maxwell also produced the world’s first stable colour photograph.