Friday, May 25, 2012


Greetings me Dearios - the weekend is here and the sun is splitting the sky, so why are you indoors reading this when you could be out there doing something useful with your time? 
I don't know and I don't want to know. 
You can keep it to yourself.
But if you are still indoors, and you promise to keep quiet about it, your Cap'n will take you on a trip back in time.
Sailin' the Seas of Yore with a benevolent wind at your back.


It is hard to imagine the difficulties faced by early photographers, and by early I don't mean the likes of me who gets up at ungodly hours most days . . . no . . . I mean back in time. Early 20th Century in particular. Users of glass plates and makers of Platinotype and Cyanotype and Kallitype prints and all these incredible words that today are by-words to the ever present and soulless inkjet print
If you only make inkjets for whatever reason, and have never handled a wet print or worked in a real darkroom even for a brief period of time, then you have never experienced magic.
But darkroom work is tough.You approach the start of a session with passion and enthusiasm and you can often leave, for want of a better Scots expression, feeling like shite.
Productivity and fun in the darkroom are solely the result of sheer hard work; blood, sweat, tears and fixer-fingers. 
But you know, to quote Rik Emmet: "nothing is easy, nothing good comes free" and whilst it is hard to produce a print that makes you want to hang it on your wall, believe me, it is really worth the effort.
I can understand what you might be thinking though, namely how can something supposed to be so artistic and creative be so difficult? 
Well for a start, photographic printing is a skilled and highly concentrated activity. Hours whizz by in a flash and you find yourself out of time before you know what you have done (if anything!).
I have lost whole days, working from the morning and still not been ready to sit down for my tea . . . yes folks, it can be that bad.
Even masters, like a favourite of mine Mr. Eugene Smith, felt that darkroom work was the hardest and least enjoyable aspect of his work, and yet, you only have to look at one of his Pittsburgh pictures to know that his struggle under safelights was helping him produce profoundly beautiful works of art.

(W.Eugene Smith - Dance Of The Flaming Coke)

On the surface you might think it is easy to produce a print from a negative, and it is.
You can make a print in a snap. You can make a ton if you like, but whether those prints satisfy is another matter altogether, and it can become a problem that can lead to all sorts of self-doubt.
The older I become, the less satisfied I get with my printing, and the strange thing is, I know that I can print very well. To get to something that is enriching and visually stimulating is hard, damn hard, and I am not going to wax too long about it at the moment because it distracts from the purpose of this FB.
The point I am trying to make is how was it possible for someone (working back at a time in the early 20th Century, when the reliability of silver gelatine photographic paper [which we take for granted] was but a dream) to produce a work of such profound beauty that I seriously doubt any of the renowned photographic artistes these days could hold a candle too it.
The photograph I am alluding too was by one Mr.Frederick Holland Day and it was made in 1907. It is called 'The Vision'.
He was one of those early workers. A collection of dreamers and visionaries, impassioned artists, but above all else photographers and craft workers. Names like Clarence White, Frederick Evans, Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Alvin Langdon Coburn, George Seeley, Robert Demachy and many others.
Names not often heard these days but giants of photographic imagery.
Although primarily associated with Pictorialism (basically and to reduce a thesis down to a few words: trying to make a photograph [a product of science] look rather like a painting [a timeless, organic human endevour]).
I feel that their output is still relevant today - indeed the influence has crept back in, as large numbers of television programmes you see these days use narrow depth of field. Camera magazines are packed with photographs taken with lens apertures wide open for that soft focus effect..
But this is moving aside from Mr. Holland Day.
He was by all accounts a remarkable and private man who has been judged mostly solely on his imagery.
He was fond of making images with nude male youths, and you can just tell when you mention that, that people will go 'Nudge nudge, know what you mean squire'.
But I'll be contentious here - I don't think he was motivated by sexuality.
He was an educator, a publisher, widely travelled and moving in influential circles.
A man who was moved by poetry and romanticism and a yearning for earlier, simpler times. I believe that just maybe the use of the male nude was a harkening back to that imagined Golden Age.
And how can I say this?
How can I claim to know what motivated another artist?
Well I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating:

It is hard to believe that an image created over 100 years ago can still affect one so deeply.
It certainly does affect me. It is profound and beautiful and has seeped its way deep into my psyche over a number of years. There is something archetypal about it, evoking a dawning age; an idealised romanticism from the deep deep past of mankind.
The photograph is one of a series based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, the poet and musician, made by Day from 1907 to 1908 and shows a close up of Orpheus' head over his stretching figure. Apparently this is a visual metaphor, referring to  Orpheus' murder by the Maenads who tore him to pieces and beheaded him. His head was said to have floated down the river, still singing.
It is a platinum print held at the National Media Museum here in the UK and was donated by the Royal Photographic Society, and appears to be a contact printed from two plates. The actual image size [71/2 x 91/2 inches] doesn't appear to conform to plate sizes, however one could assume there was some cropping of the print involved before it was mounted. 
Timelessness is the marque of great art, and I believe Frederick (hope he doesn't mind me being too familiar) has achieved it in spades. The image is perfect - I don't think there are many images you could apply that term to.
Frederick gave up photography altogether when the Russian Revolution halted supplies of Platinum and I think that says as much about the artist in him as you could write in ten thousand words.
Whilst reading up more about him I came upon some facts of note. One of Mr. Day's other asides was that he tried to educate young immigrants in the slums of Boston.
One of these was a Lebanese youth by the name of Kahlil Gibran.
That is a name that sort of stops one in one's tracks. Indeed in tootling around I found a photograph of him made by Frederick circa 1898 when Gibran would have been around the age of 15.

(Kahlil Gibran by Frederick Holland Day c.1898)

The dreaded Wikipedia states: "Gibran started school on September 30, 1895. School officials placed him in a special class for immigrants to learn English. Gibran also enrolled in an art school at a nearby settlement house. Through his teachers there, he was introduced to the avant-garde Boston artist, photographer, and publisher Fred Holland Day, who encouraged and supported Gibran in his creative endeavors. A publisher used some of Gibran's drawings for book covers in 1898."
It is all too easy to put two and two together and think that the 'publisher' was none other than Copeland & Day - Frederick's own publishing company, which was active from 1893 to 1899.
Anyway, you'll know the name of Gibran as the author of 'The Prophet' (published in 1923), and I think I shall leave it to him to round off today's FB.
Now you should really go outside and get the wind at your back and the sun on your face.
Take care.

Excerpt from The Prophet:

This would I have you remember in remembering me:

That which seems most feeble and bewildered in you is the strongest and most determined.

It is not your breath that has erected and hardened the structure of your bones?

And is it not a dream which none of you remember having dreamt, that builded your city and fashioned all there is in it?

Could you but see the tides of that breath you would cease to see all else, 

And if you could hear the whispering of the dream you would hear no other sound.

But you do not see, nor do you hear, and it is well.

The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hands that wove it,

And the clay that fills your ears shall be pierced by those fingers that kneaded it.

And you shall see.

And you shall hear.

Yet you shall not deplore having known blindness, nor regret having been deaf.

For in that day you shall know the hidden purposes in all things.

And you shall bless darkness as you would bless light.

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