Arrangements in Black and Grey – an exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum

Is Black and White photography still relevant today?

Untitled, by Mark Voce, who prefers to work at night capturing empty city scenes.

Untitled, by Mark Voce, who prefers to work at night capturing empty city scenes.

The question is being posed by the National Trust in a new exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock which features six present day photographers who still use black and white.

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The Rebirth of Handmade Photographs

At a time when digital photography is king and analogue photography seems to have fallen into the dustbin of history, the Fox Talbot Museum is looking to the past to find the future of photographic art.

The latest museum exhibition, Handmade Pictures, is the work of Jesseca Ferguson who uses a pinhole camera and prints her images on paper made using a 100 year old technique.

From its earliest days, photography became an art by combining the aesthetic eye common to all artists in selecting the scene to shoot and a command of the technical skills necessary in creating the final print.

Tome-XXIV-Argyrotype Fox Talbot“As good as digital photography is, many photographic artists miss the hands-on feel of analogue photography” said Roger Watson, Curator of the Fox Talbot Museum. “The ease of making pictures using digital cameras and a computer printer goes against the grain of artists who are used to working with both their eyes and hands to create art.”

Jesseca is a Boston artist who chooses to continue working outside the technological mainstream. She uses basic pinhole cameras to create negatives and then prints them on fine artists paper using hand coated 19th century processes, in particular the cyanotype and salted paper prints.

Jesseca Ferguson said: “The poetic aspects of pinhole photography are what draw me to it.  Although the pinhole camera is ‘blind,’ because it has no viewfinder or lens, I find that it ‘sees’ in mysterious ways.  The pinhole camera’s ‘sight’ grants infinite depth of field to the object and images before it, thus allowing us to see the camera’s pinhole vision, which is characterized by the odd clarity of dreams or memory. Working without a viewfinder, I can’t know exactly what my pinhole camera will give me, thus my camera becomes my silent and enigmatic collaborator.

“Usually I work in my own studio, setting up arrangements of images and objects culled from my “museum of memory,” which is my personal collection of oddments, books, and artefacts.  Using only natural light, my exposures often take several hours.  I then contact print my images using 19th century techniques (or modern versions of antique processes) requiring ultra-violet light.  My work is slow, hand-built, and cumulative, rather like the layering of dust or memories over time. “

Roger Watson explained that, 100 years ago as photography became available to a much wider range of people thanks to hand-held cameras with film which could be easily processed, some photographers turned back to older techniques and processes in a bid to make photography an art form.

“We appear to be at another of these turning points where digital printmaking has become, on the one hand, so easy that anyone can make a basic image or on the other hand, so complex and expensive that it must be printed by an expert. In order to separate themselves from the crowds, some photographers have once again turned to the art of hand printmaking. For them, the final object must contain both the art and the craft of photography.”

More information on the exhibition is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock