Struck by Light: Experiments in the Wonder World of Photography
‘Light’s immateriality challenges its makers today, analogue versus digital, doubles our challenges. It is here, in the early stages of modern and contemporary art with its roots in photography, that our work has context.’
© Ellen Carey “Crush & Pull” 2021 Polaroid 20 X 24 Colour positive and negative print
In a new exhibition presented in conjunction with EXP-21 International Festival, Heroine Ellen Carey asks ‘What is a 21st Century photograph? – What does it look like?’. The project began with an open call on the Hundred Heroines site asking women photographers to respond to these questions. A digital exhibition was shown on the site in 2020. Having met under this open call, the photographers have now splintered off to create their own collective, Struck By Light.
Now a physical exhibition in Barcelona from 21st-31st July will bring together fifteen women artists working creatively with photography. Dubbed a “21st Century version of ‘the Linked Ring’*”, these women use processes which are rooted in the balancing act of photography’s dual roots in science and art.
© Megan Ringrose From LightPaperProcess series "Bending the Light" 2019
Many of the photographers are working with cameraless techniques that reach back to the dawn of the photographic process. Bringing these practices into the twenty-first century, they explore the basic elements of photography: “light, time, process & materiality” (Megan Ringrose).
Ellen’s new works with the iconic Polaroid 20×24 land camera extends her thirty-plus-year practice with the medium. In search of the light itself, she has deconstructed the Polaroid process in the darkroom.
Crush & Pull (2021) presents both the negative—which is normally discarded or unshown—and the positive. These elements have undergone a performative act with the force of the title verbs visible in the movement of the dye down the print. The resultant image is visceral, a cracked blue shape stretching across the paper: a mirror and its reflection.
© Nettie Edwards. Grave Goods, series from the Personal Possessions of Eileen Jones (nee Cooke) 1940 -2017, 2020 Sweet Pea Anthotype of nail file on shop till receipt
This sense of the photograph as a material object—rather than an image on a screen—is evident in the other artists exhibiting. Nettie Edwards (who won the open call) uses the long, slow anthotype process on paper artefacts left to her by an aunt.
The delicate imprints left by light sensitive dyes made from geranium, tulip and sweet pea ask us to ponder the things we choose to keep. Photography itself is one of these boxes of memories but Nettie’s anthotypes will slowly fade away:
“My work seeks to peel back the layers of this unhealthy relationship, presenting photography not as an act of preserving memories but a performative one of letting go.”
Anna Atkins. Dictyota dichotoma, on the young state and in fruit, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, 1853, Volume 1 (Part 1).Photo copyright Horniman Museum and Gardens.
Materiality comes to the fore once more in the work of Ky Lewis who lets natural interventions affect her pinhole cameras. We can see the traces of seedlings that grew inside the cameras during the long exposure. And in Emilie Poiret-Brown’s intriguing work, it is the photographer’s gestures that create abstract patterns across the surface of light-sensitive materials.
As well as cameraless, Polaroid, analogue and chemical processes, two photographers reference the cyanotype work of historical heroine Anna Atkins. Liz Harrington’s gently rolling blue and white ‘hills’ provide a balance to the deep reds of Megan Ringrose’s unique interpretation of this process.
Many of the women are asking what it takes for something to be a photograph. How far can the process be pushed, and the materials pared back, deconstructed before it ceases to capture the immateriality of light.
In a world where it is hard to imagine life without photography, these processes and questions seem to be a quest to find ‘photography’– this abstract thing that exists somewhere between the light and all the billions of photographs.
*The Linked Ring was a British photographic society created to propose and defend that photography was just as much an art as it was a science, motivated to propelling photography further into the fine art world. Wikipedia. 2021. Linked Ring. [Online]. [Accessed 5.6.21].