Monday, 10 October 2016

Simon Marsden exhibition in Chelsea (London)

If you are heading down the Kings Road between October 28th and November 4th, I recommend you drop in at number 259. That's the shop and gallery of Green and Stone and they are hosting an exhibition of Simon Marsden's infrared photographs.

Being a Kings Road gallery it's also an opportunity to buy a print from the ever diminishing stock of prints made by Sir Simon himself ... or books (some signed), the 2017 calendar, or cards. (I will admit, sadly, that my wallet tends more towards the latter.) I have to admit that besides the print of Moydrum Castle he kindly loaned to the RPS for inclusion in our Infrared 100 exhibition, I have not seen any of his prints 'in the flesh', and he always saw the printing as a key part of his work. Both composer and player, as Ansel Adams might have said.

Opening hours are 0900 to 1800 weekdays, 0930 to 1800 on Saturday and even 1200 to 1800 on the Sunday. There is also a late night opening on November 2nd until 1930 (maybe see you there?). The Green and Stone shop has been in Chelsea for almost 90 years and started life within the Chenil Gallery (apparently situated between Chelsea Town Hall and the Six Bells pub), whose directors were Augustus John and Bernard Shaw, before moving to the present site opposite Carlyle Square in 1934.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

World’s first near-infrared feature film

I've known for a while that the Red digital cinema camera could take great monochrome infrared moving images. For the past few years film makers Glen Ryan and James van der Moezel of silver dory productions in Australia have been working on a tour de force movie to exploit this, called BRINDABELLAS | edge of light .

It's probably best I let the film makers describe what they set out to achieve ...
BRINDABELLAS | edge of light is an immersive cinematic journey through the sky and landscapes of the Canberra region of Australia – in particular the Brindabella Ranges. The film focuses on the interplay of mountain light, air and water as these elements are transformed across the seasons – from clouds to mist, rain and snow – then frost and ice – and onto creeks and rivers. It explores both the wider montane vistas of the Brindabellas and the more intimate details of the natural flows that are created by these mountains and, in turn, shape the very landscapes they arise from.
The video, shot at 4K resolution, looks superb, exhibiting all the characteristics of near-infrared photography but with the added dimension of movement. The landscapes will look familiar to anyone used to taking such images, with clouds sailing majestically across ink-dark skies above Wood-effect forests, accompanied by minimalist music and effects. There used to be a common phrase in the early days of interactive video ... Every frame a Rembrandt ... and it really applies here.

But there are more than landscapes. The area's wildlife is included. Here's where something extraordinary appears, an unusual feature of an unusual movie. Insect chitin, the substance of which much of their bodies is made, has long been known to be transparent at near infrared wavelengths. You can see this demonstrated clearly, and in minute macroscopic detail, in parts of this movie. Not just chitin either, I wasn't aware that caterpillars might become transparent (or at least translucent).

The film is in 22 chapters, covering five seasons (two summers bookend the production) and you can watch it in up to 4K quality via the production website, YouTube or Vimeo. My 5K iMac can display the 4K movies, given a following broadband wind, and they look superb (although I haven't gone all the way through as yet). Another Koyaanisqatsi perhaps?

PS: Silver Dory have also produced a book/monograph of the project. Selling out fast, apparently.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Edward Thompson: The Unseen

This hardback book isn't your usual photographic monograph. For a start it's just over 260 pages long and then every image is taken using some of the last-remaining rolls of Kodak's colour infrared film. As the back-cover blurb says, this is the swan song of a particular kind of film, and of the particular kinds of images it was destined to take.

Ed Thompson is a documentary photographer, and for the past few years he has been exploring his photographic fascination with the different view of the world that this film provides. He has chosen some of the hundreds of potential applications to produce a series of smaller projects which, taken together, make up this book. Superficially, this may lead you into thinking that the book is disjointed, jumping between anatomical specimens, dystopian landscapes, portraits, an operating theatre, the sky at night and even images of paintings. Follow the interstitial text, however, and it will become clear.

The photographs look beneath the surface of the subjects, in some cases literally (that is, the medical poses and an Icelandic glacier). Infrared photography, both monochromatic and false-colour, has been used for remote sensing of plant health in agriculture, haze-penetration, imaging veins and other things just below the skin, and layers of artworks below their 'skin'. Whereas once infrared was thought of as a branch of astronomy - the 'new astronomy' as it was called - now it dominates the field. Ed's astronomical photographs are perhaps the weakest in the set but they deserve to be included ... and the Orion Nebula always amazes.

I think the book is called an atlas because the twelve chapters document an exploration, although you will find no diagrams showing oceans and mountains. You may, however, find a dragon or two, in the shape of photographs from the dead zone surrounding the Chernobyl power station. For me, these are the most poignant images: using one form of radiation that we can't see to suggest the other, more dangerous, invisible radiation all around.

If I have a technical quibble, it's that building a book from images where the predominant tone is saturated red is a printer's nightmare. Print lives in the land of CMYK, not RGB. I started off thinking some of the images were a bit dull, but they actually need quite a lot of light to bring them to life. Persevere, and you will be rewarded.

I've collected quite a few books of infrared photography and The Unseen is part of a tiny group specialising in false-colour infrared. It definitely deserves its place in a photographic library and in the history of the medium: whatever your reason for liking infrared photography, there will be images here to amaze you.

The Unseen: Atlas of Infrared Plates by Edward Thompson
Published by Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam
266 pages
ISBN 9789053308639

Friday, 5 August 2016

Havelock Williams: infrared pioneer in New Zealand

The 1930s turned out to be something of a golden age for infrared photography, as photographers could now buy infrared plates 'off the shelf' rather than having to sensitise themselves. This would also have made exposure more predictable. For example, UK newspapers, notably the Times, published many such photographs between around 1932 and 1938.

The interest was almost exclusively around the haze penetrating properties, allowing for long-distance photography, especially from aircraft. For this reason infrared photographs showing the Everest range were some of the images taken on the 1933 Houston Everest Aerial Expedition.

Among the photographers availing themselves of the potential of infrared photography was New Zealand photographer Havelock Williams. At this time he was living and working in Timaru in South Island and his daughter, Diana Rhodes, tells me "Infra-red photography was in his output around 1934, on large format glass plates of the South Island Scenery". It is unclear what stock (or stocks) he used and even whether he sensitised the plates himself. Diana has a box labelled Ilford Hyper-Chomatic Films, where her father has written 'Infra Red Albury' (if I can decode correctly), but I don't even know whether this was a box for plates or for prints of some of his IR images.

Diana has sent me a few of Havelock Williams's infrared photos from the 1930s. They are as spectacular as you'd expect, with the combination of IR's characteristic tones and New Zealand's scenery. Here are two of them ...

From Caroline Bay

Lake Tekapo, Takapo House and Bridge

Diana collated and edited his work to produce a book, With my Camera for Company, if you'd like to explore his life and work further. The Amazon UK link isn't as helpful as it might be, but if you're in New Zealand (or don't mind air mail) then this link is better.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Simon Marsden tribute movie on the way

At first I didn't quite 'get' the aesthetic of the late Sir Simon Marsden's infrared photographs. Based on my own experience of using the legendary Kodak HIE infrared 35mm film, I found them rather gloomy. Eventually I clicked and began to appreciate the atmospheric effects he was achieving. His use of strong back-lighting, dramatic angles and his expert printing soon made me realise that he, and the grainy halation of HIE, were made for each other.

Ironically, as many of you know, that grainy halation was a result of the construction of the film rather than the infrared light itself. However, the film was constructed like that because of the infrared light: the lack of an anti-reflection coating and base fogging being because Kodak couldn't find a way to make them work across all the wavelengths to which the film was sensitive.

When I came to work on the Infrared 2010 celebrations, I was delighted with how helpful and communicative Simon was. This was true of almost all the photographers I approached but Simon was the only one who was actually specialising in infrared photography. His Moydrum Castle photo from 1978 became our poster image.

He died suddenly in 2012. He died on my birthday. I was 61, he was only 63. We had communicated, chatted even, using email. I had never spoken with him or met him. An opportunity missed.

The Irish film maker Jason Figgis has been planning a film about Simon for at least a year—entitled Simon Marsden: A Life in Pictures—with the enthusiastic support of Simon's widow Cassie. Jason's blog about the project had its first posts back last July and has been quiet so far this year but I know the project is now ramping up. It will explore not just Simon's work but also the technical background and inspirations behind it.

Stay tuned, as they say.