I have been looking at Japanese Surimono, literally ‘printed objects’ (Surimono from Osaka and Edo 2008). They are woodblock prints that combine text and images. “The term surimono came to mean prints commissioned by groups for writing kyouka, comic poems, or haiku, 17 syllable poems, as well as prints privately commissioned for New Years greetings” They were often created by poetry societies who commissioned an artist to produce an image to accompany the text. The poems were usually kyoka, poems in a line form of 7, 5, 7, 5, 7 syllables or haiku with lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables (Surimono 2001).
I have since been working on ways of producing my own combination of image and poem, not copying the Japanese form, but influenced by it. I recognised that while I have spent many years studying photography, I had spent no time at all studying poetry. To make the best possible combination of image and poem it would be necessary to have both of high quality. Not having the necessary skills and experience to write suitable poems I looked for someone who might be interested in a joint working project. A friend is a poetry tutor so I approached her to see if she knew of anyone who might be interested in this work. She recommended Anne who is a plant scientist as well as a published poet who was keen to work with me.
We had an initial discussion of what the project was about and how we could work together. We decided that I would send images to her and she would write a poem inspired by the photo. I would then combine the two. This is different from the original Japanese form where the image was inspired by the poem, but we were not looking to replicate Surimono, simply be inspired by it.
For each work I supply Anne with the image and my observations on it, what it says to me and why I chose it, she then writes the poem to accompany it.
Our first joint work is this dahlia, I wrote
Flowers have often been used in Vanitas paintings as a symbol of the transience of life, “Typical motifs are … a flower losing its petals” (Chilvers 2009:646). Flowers “especially with drops of dew, are symbols of short-livedness and hence of decay” (Hall 2008:301).
As such, the image can be seen as a metaphor for the plant life cycle and the threats to its future.
I find the asymmetric nature of this image appealing and, while the flower is about to lose all its petals, the exposed yellow centre attracts the eye and is symbolic of the cyclic nature in that seeds will form to propagate the plant.
Chilvers, I. (2009) The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (4th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (2nd edition). Boulder CO: Westview.
I think that the final image works well, I really like the way that Anne has picked up on the origins of the plant in Central America, with the hints of the theft of a precious thing from indigenous peoples, as well as her references to my particular image of the flower.
In feedback on Assignment 2 my tutor requested that I “Develop a series of carefully considered images that moves your idea forward”. My most complete set of images is the ‘grave flowers’ series, I submitted a first version for Assignment 2 but have added to them since.
Using the “very basic editing” (Colberg 2017:82) I reduced the number to 24 photos as the first stage of editing removing duplicates and images where the quality was not high enough..
“Using actual, physical prints is supremely important during the process of editing” (Colberg 2017:113).
So I laid them all out to consider those to include an in what order. This allows you to see how each image relates to those on either side of it.
As suggested by Colberg I tried to look at them dispassionately, not using what I knew about each photo but to let each image stand in its own right. I reduced the total number to 10 and moved the sequence around to try to tell a story with the photographs.
These photographs of flowers left in a cemetery strike the viewer in two different ways, those where natural flowers have wilted or withered (quite common during the Coronavirus lockdown) – and those where artificial flowers had been left. The artificial flowers were very bright, sometimes garish, often in contrast to the faded headstones.
It is interesting to analyse these images in iconographical terms. “Iconography became the name in art history for one of the discipline’s central, and defining, activities: identifying the formal and symbolic elements in visual representation and then elaborating upon their wider social and cultural importance” (Harris 2006:148). The methodology was first proposed by Erwin Panofsky in the 1950s where “The subject matter or meaning was … to be established by referring to the understandings of the symbols and signs in a painting that its contemporary audiences would have had” (Rose 2016:198). Panofsky constructed a frame which consisted of three separate levels of visual interpretation (ibid):
Primary natural pre-iconographic
Secondary conventional iconographic
Intrinsic symbolic iconological
In terms of analysing an image Cbrich (2015) describes them as:
Primary a factual description of the image
Secondary analysis of the meanings of the signs or symbols within the image
Intrinsic how the signs or symbols relate to the period in which the image was made
At this level the photographs are of graves within a cemetery with the text on the headstones and there are flowers, some dying, some artificial, by the grave. Some of the graves have other ornamentation such as toys, lanterns, small figurines.
There are a number of symbols within the images. Flowers, particularly when drooping or losing petals, are a typical motif of the transience of life, frequently used in Vanitas still life paintings, particularly in Dutch and Spanish art of the 17th century (Chilvers 2009). Flowers are a symbol of the transience of life when they bloom and die back “Doomed to die almost as soon as they bloom, they wither sadly on the stem in rank disorder, eventually falling to the ground from which they came” (Taussig 2003:118).
There are religious symbols within images GF005 and GF006. The cherubs represent angels that “surrounded God in perpetual adoration” (Hall 2008:17) and perhaps also refer to the age of the deceased. The candles are symbolic of the light of faith and are “an attribute of faith personified” (Hall 2008:59).The lanterns in the two images are symbols of Christ the Redeemer most notably displayed in William Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World“.
The leaving of toys at the graves of children, seen in images GF001, GF002 and GF005, perhaps dates back to Victorian times, in the late 19th century “it was customary for the family of a deceased child to leave a doll at the gravesite” (Cherrell 2019). While the leaving of doll likenesses of a child no longer occurs, leaving toys is still a regular occurrence and are symbolic of the young age at which the deceased passed away.
The question arises as to the symbolism of artificial flowers, which don’t wither on the stem. Their colours may fade over time, but only after a considerable period. Artificial flowers are not a new phenomenon, “Immortelles were mass-produced fake flowers used in the Victorian and Edwardian period for placing on graves in lieu of real flowers” (Marriott 2018).
But can today’s mass-produced, brightly coloured, artificial flowers have the same symbolic meaning as natural flowers? Some religious leaders have enforced rules against fake, Barkham (2011) quotes the The Rev Geoff Stickland “The metaphor of flowers is the beauty that weathers and decays. That is why we always put real flowers in the churchyard where they are associated with funerals. Plastic ones don’t decay, so the metaphor gets lost,”
However this is just one church leader and not all would agree with his approach, and many cemeteries outside church settings do not have similar rules. Artificial flowers have been left for the same purpose as naatural flowers, but do they contain the same symbolic meaning. Have artificial flowers lost the symbolic nature of transience (as seen in images GF003 and GF004 the bright colours of the artificial flowers are in marked contrast to the faded headstones) or does our present day culture accept that the representation of a flower (in plastic) still carries the connotation of the transience of life. Is the artificial flower a symbol for a real flower which is symbolic of transience or does it mean that in our present culture the act of leaving a symbol is as important as the symbol itself.
Barkham, P. (2011) ‘Should fake flowers be banned from cemeteries?’ In: The Guardian 12/01/2011 At: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/12/cemetery-ban-for-fake-flowers (Accessed 24/07/2020).
Cherrell, K. (2019) The World of Victorian Grave Dolls. At: https://burialsandbeyond.com/2019/01/20/the-world-of-victorian-grave-dolls/ (Accessed 24/07/2020).
Chilvers, I. (2009) The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (4th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Colberg, J. (2017) Understanding Photobooks: The Form and Content of the Photographic Book. Abingdon: Routledge.
Gbrich, C. (2015) Iconology and Iconography: Describing, Classifying and Interpreting Religious and Artistic Objects. Directed by Gbrich, C. (s.l.). At: http://methods.sagepub.com/base/download/DatasetStudentGuide/art-iconology
Harris, J. (2006) Art History: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge.
Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. Boulder: Westview Press.
Marriott, J. (2018) Immortelles and inspirations: a logo for Life, Death (and the Rest). At: https://arnosvale.org.uk/life-death-and-the-rest-logo/ (Accessed 24/07/2020).
Rose, G. (2016) Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials (4th Edition). London: Sage.
Taussig, M. (2003) ‘The Language of Flowers’ In: Critical Inquiry 30 (1) pp.98–131.
During a Level 3 Creative Arts Hangout I said that my theme for Level 3 was flowers and the threats they face. The excessive and indiscriminate use of pesticides has been recognised as a severe threat to plants and flowers due to the effect on insect pollinators. As part of the group discussion around this the idea came out to print a photograph of a flower and then spray it with pesticide. I tried this on a couple of occasions with different inkjet papers but it seemed to have little effect.
I left the idea for a while but when using Hahnemuhle Rice Paper for a different print it seemed that the much thinner paper might be affected in a different way. It tried it out and it worked giving an interesting effect. I think the fact that the ‘damage’ to the floral image has been caused by a pesticide give an added layer of meaning.
I tried first of all with the scans that I had made for my first attempt at Surimono, such as the snowdrop above and the Rose and Narcissus below.
The more I tried the more I realised that I could control the direction that the inks would take when they started to run. This could be regulated by controlling the amount of Pesticide sprayed on and also changing the orientation of the paper as the ink started to run. This meant that the final image was not produced entirely by chance but allowed some element of control over the final appearance of the image. Examplesof this are shown in the Fritillary and crocus below.
The effect worked well when the flowers were printed on a white background with plenty of space around them. A different effect was achieved when the flower took up most of the canvas as shown with the Aster and Lily below.
I then experimented with using a paintbrush to ‘paint’ the image with pesticide. This too gave a very different effect, more obviously manipulated with the evident brush strokes, which perhaps emphasises the human control over pesticide use.
I will continue to experiment with different ways of applying the pesticide (brush, sponge, spray) as I think that there is the potential here for a substantial series.
What I am not sure about is if the pesticide will affect the longevity of the ink, or indeed the safety aspect of handling pesticide sprayed prints (e.g. at assessment). I have, therefore, scanned in all the prints I have made so that they can be printed in the normal fashion.
Born in Chicago, Betty Hahn completed both her BA and MFA at Indiana University (Betty Hahn – Google Arts & Culture s.d.). She taught at Rochester Institute of Technology and from 1975 – 77 was professor of photography at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (Museum of Contemporary Photography s.d.)
Betty Hahn’s work “centers on photography while challenging conventional ideas of the medium and incorporating a range of artistic techniques” (Museum of Contemporary Photography s.d.). These techniques include “appropriation and serial imagery and mediums such as lithography, painting, and embroidery.” (Joseph Bellows Gallery s.d.). This suggests why the retrospective of her work is titled Betty Hahn: Photography or maybe not (Yates 1995).
I thought of her work when reading Part 3 of the course handbook which suggests students “Take time to experiment with different approaches and methods”. Additionally, as part of feedback from my last assignment my tutor recommended looking at ‘elements of chance’ and possibly “combining selections of image using more accidental methods”.
Hahn’s work uses many sources “both inside and outside photography, to discover qualities and relationships determined by something other than the unique characteristics of a single medium, genre, category, or style” (Yates 1995:5).
Floral images are an area of her work. Her series Cut Flowers were produced from 1978-87 and are “Cyanotypes, Van Dykes, monotypes, lithographs, photo silkscreens, and colour photographs of syprints, lithographs, and colour photographs of still life flower arrangements made from 4×5 negatives with applied pastels, acrylic paints, watercolors, felt tip markers, craypas, and metallic watercolors” (Yates 1995:185)
Both of these works demonstrate the her technical and creative virtuosity. In Blue Chrysanthemum a cyanotype of a single Chrysanthemum stem has been transformed by the addition of pastel and pencil marks. They give a vibrancy and sense of movement that would have been missing from the original cyanotype. The viewer is left to question the meaning of the added marks, to me it gives a sense of the flower being affected, buffeted by its environment.
Branch of 3 Iris is a much calmer image. Again it is a cyanotype with water colour and pastel shading. This is a completely different image to a straight colour photograph of an Iris. The use of cyanotype and hand colouring takes away the representational nature of a photograph and endows the image with a less naturalistic but, to me, more spiritual feel.
Hahn has also produced a collection of 20×24 polaroid photographs, a series within which are Botanical Studies. These were produced 1978-80 & 1988. They are “color (Polacolor II) photographs of still-life flower arrangements in editions of 3 to editions of 40” (Yates 1995:186)
In this series Hahn produces images that hark back to earlier botanical textbooks. She has placed specimens of plants, usually against a neutral background, and has added diagrams or text reminiscent of textbooks. Unlike such books though, the lighting is casting shadows on either side of the subject giving a more 3 dimensional feel to the image and adding a patterning to the background (in textbooks the images are usually shown shadowless to concentrate on the botanical features of the plant).
In African Daisy the figures on the background, the drawn frame and the wording Pl79 top right all lead the viewer to assume the work is a botanical science study, but then the flowers break out of the drawn frame – something that would not normally occur in a scientific publication. The drawings are labelled a,b,c and d, again giving the impression of scientific relevance – but nowhere is there any key as to the meanings attributed to each drawing. As with Blue Chrysanthemum the viewer is left to draw their own conclusion as to their significance.
Calceolaria also has annotated drawings and the number 173 bottom centre – again giving the suggestion of scientific study – this is enhanced by the dissected nature of the plant with larger and smaller parts of the leaves and flowers on display. Once again though there is no key to explain the numbered drawings. Indeed here it is not just the drawings that are numbered, some (but not all) of the plant specimens also have numbers.
The overall impression left is one of ambiguity, these seeming scientific photographs turn out not to be so – the drawings in Calceolaria don’t seem to relate to the plant – leaving the viewer to try to decipher the meanings.
I tried to produce my own images in the style of Botanical Specimens, not having the drawing skills of Betty Hahn I wasn’t able to add the diagrams.
This was an interesting experiment to try out, but it was unsuccessful – the images just look like cut-up flowers without the layers of ambiguity that Hahn introduces. Even with better drawing skills I would probably only have produced imitations (and poor ones compared to the original) of Hahn’s work.
I was more successful with an experiment using pastels and watercolours on prints of my cyanotypes, influenced by Hahn’s work . I will continue these experiments in Part 4 of the course.
Poppy - cyanotype and pastel
The next experiment involved using pesticides on prints of floral images. This was something that came up during a discussion at one of the Creative Arts Hangout groups. I had tried several times to print photos and then spray them with pesticide intending to illustrate the dangers of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. This was ultimately much more successful and I have written in more detail on another blog posting. (Coe 2020).
Betty Hahn – Google Arts & Culture (s.d.) At: https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/betty-hahn/g11dxl9g30p?hl=en (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Joseph Bellows Gallery (s.d.) At: https://www.josephbellows.com/artists/betty-hahn/biography (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Museum of Contemporary Photography (s.d.) At: https://www.mocp.org/detail.php?type=related&kv=7206&t=people (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Yates, S. (ed.) (1995) Betty Hahn: Photography Or Maybe Not. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
I am starting to feel that I am making progress now, not necessarily with the images but with the ideas that I want to pursue to make the images for Body of Work.
I learned from studying the Cyanotypes and comparing these with Japanese Aizuri prints. I looked at the general composition of the Japanese prints and compared these to the Cyanotypes. Although Anna Atkins work has been acclaimed aesthetically, it was produced for a scientific, botanic purpose. I do not think that she would have considered a framing that excluded some of the subject matter, as is the case with some of the Japanese floral images, as shown in the Chrysanthemum below.
I intend to experiment with some more Cyanotypes but with a Japanese style composition to try to reflect the Aizuri-e. I give an example of this below where I show a Cyanotype of an Iris produced by Anna Atkins, my own Cyanotype taken in response to the Atkins’ version, followed by my own Aizuri style Cyanotype of the Iris.
I have also learned about Surimono which I had not come across until I started my research work. Image and text is nothing new in photography, in the section on Surimono I refer to the work of Karen Knorr and Sunil Gupta. I also know of the book Positives (Gunn1966) which is a collection of poetry written by Thom Gunn. On the page facing each poem is a photograph taken by his brother Ander Gunn, the photograph being an interpretation of the poem.
I feel that the Surimono format gives the opportunity to combine text and image to tackle my theme of flowers and the dangers they face. I now need to experiment more on how this will look, with the text and image combined or with the text separate from the image.
Reading Paul Davis’ work on typologies gave me the idea of presenting the ‘Grave Flowers’ series. Something else I need to do more work on.
Davis, P. (2017) Can the photographic typology be defined? At: https://medium.com/@pdtv/can-the-photographic-typology-be-defined-bfa38d5699f3 (Accessed 12/03/2020).
Gunn, T. (1966) Positives: Verses by Thom Gunn; Photographs by Ander Gunn. London: Faber & Faber.
I had the idea of photographing the flowers left in a cemetery and while looking for possible subjects I was struck by two things – those where the flowers had been left to wilt and wither – and those where artificial flowers had been left. When the artificial flowers were new the colours were quite garish, but those that had been there some time the colours had faded.
I deliberately cropped the images very tightly to concentrate attention on the flowers, but the text on the headstones provides context. Flowers, particularly when drooping or losing petals, are a typical motif of the transience of life, frequently used in Vanitas still life paintings, particularly in Dutch and Spanish art of the 17th century (Chilvers 2009). I think that the images present a form of vanitas, portraying the transient nature of things. The bright artificial flowers placed on a grave possibly signify a temporary defiance of mortality, but even these fade away over time.
Seen together they form a typology of images. Davis (2017) outlines four factors; subject, environment, process, and presentation/direction, that are used to rate consistency within the typologyand that “a high level of consistency within a number of these factors is required in order for a body of work to be classified as a typology” (ibid). I think that there is the possibility of continuing this series to produce many more of the images to meet these four factors.
I thought that these images could be an extension of my ‘A Little Less than Perfect’ series and that they serve as a motif for the evanescent nature of life both plant and animal.
The images are just ones taken on my phone on a dog walk as an idea, a concept for something that I might explore further when I could spend more time on looking for and photographing suitable images (without also having to keep hold of the dog!)
Surimono are a type of Japanese woodblock prints that combine a printed image with poetry. They were generally privately commissioned and “became very popular in the Edo period (1615-1868), specifically during the later eighteenth century and into the first three to four decades of the nineteenth” (Siffert 1996).
The poems were mainly in the Kyoka style with a line sequence of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, occasionally Haiku with a sequence 5-7-5 syllables. “Poets often commissioned an artist, usually one of the Ukiyo-e school, to create illustrations with scenes or motifs that somehow resonated with the poems” (Kazuhiro 2005:181) . The uses of Surimono were quite diverse but would often be used for New Year Greetings (Hanaoka & Pollard 2018).
Black Crow for New Year, Totoya Hokkei, Woodblock print (surimono), 1825, 20.3x18.7cm, Brooklyn Museum
I thought that I could possibly use the Surimono format of text and image to pursue my ‘topic of significant importance’ which is flowers and the threats that they face.
During my research into the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins in Barnes (2018), I came across the work of Barbara and Zafer Baran. This gave me an idea for the format of the image to use on the Surimono, They use digital scanning techniques and “place the specimens directly onto the scanner. Light passes through the transparent leaves and petals of the plants to reveal a luminous inner structure” (Baran 2020). In 2004 their work featured on a series of postage stamps to celebrate the bicentenary of the Royal Horticultural Society (Baran, B. and Baran, Z. s.d.).
Following this I experimented with using a scanner to get a floral image. With the flower laid directly on the scanner and the lid closed, the flower is slightly compressed. The resulting image has a distinct lack of perspective and, depending on the flower, can be brightly coloured – very much in the style of Japanese prints. On screen the prints can look quite stark so I experimented with printing them on different photo papers. I found that the best results came from using bamboo paper where the colours remain vibrant and the overall effect is one of a painted or printed surface.
There is a danger when combining poems with floral images that the end product looks like something straight from Clinton’s Cards. I tried to overcome this with my choice of topic for the poem. The poems on the image are in the Kyoka style and are ‘found poems’ i.e the text is taken from elsewhere and follow my ‘theme of significant importance’. So, the poem with the Iris consists of the names of banned pesticides, the Rose has the names of plant diseases, the Snowdrop was taken from a gardening text about Mildew, the Narcissus is reporting on climate change and the text next to the Tulip is the chemical symbols of banned pesticides. I have experimented with different types of text for the poem in the five images. I think that the ‘Mildew’ poem works best along with the environmental effects on the Narcissus, the pesticides and chemical names are interesting, but the chemical symbols less so. For future efforts I will look for more of the gardening or environmental texts.
In thinking about Surimono I began to consider when text was used in photography. On a recent visit to the ‘Masculinities’ exhibition at the Barbican I came across a couple of examples of this.
The first was by Sunil Gupta
The next was by Karen Knorr
I also know of recent work by the poet George Szirtes and his wife Clarissa Upchurch. They have produced a series of Clarissa’s etchings of clouds with a poetic response to the image by George.
I found it interesting that in each case the text seems separated from the image as opposed to the Surimono style where the text and image are more integrated. The challenge for me, I think, is to look at ways that images and text can be integrated into one overall work.
Baran, B. and Baran, Z. (s.d.) RHS stamps. At: http://www.zb-baran.co.uk/archive/rhs.html (Accessed 09/03/2020).
Barnes, M. et al. (2018) Cameraless photography. London: Thames & Hudson (V&A photography library)
Hanaoka, K. and Pollard, C. (2018) Plum Blossom and Green Willow: Japanese surimono poetry prints from the Ashmolean Museum. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.
Kazuhiro, K. (2005) ‘The ‘Surimono Artist’ Hokusai in the Society of Edo Kyoka Poets’ In: Carpenter, J. (ed.) Hokusai and His Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing. pp.180–215.
Siffert, B. (1996) ‘Surimono in the Clarence Buckingham Japanese Print Collection: An Introduction’ In: Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 22 (1) pp.55–95.
Atkins was recognised as “the first woman photographer” Johnson (2004:26), publishing the first photographically illustrated book in 1843 ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” (Schaaf 2018). The cyanotype process was invented by Sir John Herschel from whom Atkins learned the process on visits to his household (Ware 2018).
“Atkins’s achievements, like those of many Victorian women, were largely forgotten after death in 1871 and remained unknown for years” (Liberty 2018). Her work has been classified by some as photographic prints not as photography (Warner 2018). This perhaps refers to definitions of photography that “essentialize reproducibility and repetition” Hornby (2006:88).
It is only relatively recently that Atkins has been recognised for her achievements with the first museum exhibition of her work being held in 1988 (Schaaf 2018).
Much of the more recent recognition of Atkins’ work comes not from the scientific achievements but from acknowledgement of the aesthetic quality of her work. Friedewald (2018) notes that as well as her interest in botany she was also a talented artist. Batchen (2016) and Rosenblum (1994) comment on the placement or composition of her images while Naef (2004) discusses the combination of natural designs and strong colour in her work. These elements seem to transcend the scientific nature of Atkins’ original intent, her images have “an elegance of placement and form that belies the supposed cool objectivity of their presentation” Sandback (1997:28).
‘Photographs of British Algae’ contained over 400 individual cyanotype prints and over 13 copies of the book (each page of which will have been individually prepared), although some of the copies have fewer pages (Isenogle 2019). Atkins produced further collections ‘Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns’ in 1853 and ‘Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns’ in 1854. Combining the various collections shows that Atkins produced thousands of cyanotypes over her life.
Studying the work of Anna Atkins and her eventual recognition for the aesthetic qualities of her images, I am struck by the parallels with Karl Blossfeldt and ‘Art Forms in Nature’ which I studied in Part 1 of this course. In both cases work produced for educational or scientific purposes has, later, been acclaimed for its aesthetic appeal. As with Blossfeldt, Atkins’ work has been applauded for its form and composition.
Having studied Atkins’ work, I made my own cyanotypes trying, through selection and composition, to consider the aesthetic appeal of the final image.
In early attempts I tried using quite thick specimens without compressing them, the end result was that the shadows also had an effect on the final image, making these pansies unrecognisable and the snowdrops very fuzzy
I then used glass plates to keep the specimens in place and generally chose much thinner specimens, keeping closer to the style of Anna Atkins
After this I tried some thicker specimens, again covered with glass to stop them moving in the wind and to minimise shadows.
In the Research Module I am studying alongside this Body of Work, I have been researching Japanese art, particularly woodblock prints. One style of print is known as Aizuri-e, literally meaning ‘blue print’’ it was a form of Japanese woodblock print that came into widespread use in the mid-19th century (Blaine s.d.). It developed from the wider availability of “Prussian Blue” (or German Blue) ink in Japan at that time. This was a much richer, more intense blue than had been available up to that time. Artists took advantage of the intensity of colour to produce monochrome woodblock prints:
"Peonies", Kesai Eisen, 1830s, 22.9x36.8cm, woodblock print, RISD Museum
"Black" bamboo, Utagawa Kunisato, 1858, 24.1x17cm, woodblock print, RISD Museum
I was taken by the affinities between Aizuri-e prints and the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins and others that I had been studying. The common factor being the use of Prussian Blue although the method of production between Japanese Aizuri-e and Western Cyanotypes are very different. The affinities are particularly true in the work of people like Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow was an influential art teacher in the US, he studied Japanese art and “is known for pioneering theories of art and art education that he attributed to Japanese elements and principles of art and design” (Williams 2013:104).
Dow considered that the Eastern aesthetic could be divided into three elements “line, which includes spacing, rhythm and proportion; color or the quality of light; and notan, a Japanese word describing the quantity of light, tonal differences, and the values and gradations that create harmony” (Green 1991:10). He took up photography at the beginning of his career and, as with many others at the time, used the Cyanotype process “Many photographers relegated this blueprint process to trial or proof prints, but Dow had the imagination to feature it” (Michaels 1999:85)
Dow produced a book on composition (Dow 1914) which included a chapter on flowers. He considered that it
“is essential that the space should be cut by the main lines (Subordination). A small spray in the middle of a big oblong, or disconnected groups of flowers, cannot be called compositions all the lines and areas must be related one to another by connections and placings, so as to form a beautiful whole. Not a picture of a flower is sought,—that can be left to the botanist—but rather an irregular pattern of lines and spaces, something far beyond the mere drawing of of a flower from nature, and laying an oblong over it, or vice versa. ” (Dow 1914:63)
His cyanotype of a Lotus bud illustrates his style.
“Lotus, One of Our Flowers”, Arthur Wesley Dow, c1900, Photograph, cyanotype, 20.3x12.7 cm
I tried a few cyanotypes with a more Japanese Aizuri-e style. Simply placing the flower on to the treated Cyanotype paper would not give the level of detail that is available in the Aizuir-e. I photographed the flowers and printed them, as a negative, on to an acetate sheet and placed this over the treated cyanotype paper before exposing the sheet. The image of the Iris has been framed in the Tanzaku style, a narrow vertical format which often has printed verse or space to write a poem. All of the other images have been framed to Oban format, the most common print size at 10″ x 15″ or 25 x 38 cm.
While researching Atkins’ cyanotypes I came across a book on cameraless techniques (Barnes et al 2018) and read about the work of Barbara and Zafer Baran. I made my own images in this way and combined them with ‘found’ poetry in the style of the Japanese Surimono. – see my separate blog entry here.
I also came across the work of Betty Hahn, a photographer who has used Cyanotypes and Van Dyke prints in producing her series ‘Cut Flowers’ and flowers also feature in ‘20 x 24 polaroids‘ also . I intend to spend more time investigating her work and perhaps produce my own responses to it.
Barnes, M. et al. (2018) Cameraless Photography. London: Thames & Hudson (V&A photography library)
Batchen, G. (2016) Emanations: The art of the cameraless photograph. Munich: Prestel Verlag.
Blaine, I. S. (s.d.) The Blue Era. At: https://www.tmja.org.il/eng/Exhibitions/4024/The_Blue_Era (Accessed 03/03/2020).
Dow, A. W. (1914) Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. At: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/45410/45410-pdf.pdf
Friedewald, B. (2018) Women Photographers: From Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman. Munich:London: Prestel.
Green, N. E. (1991) Arthur Wesley Dow and his Influence. New York: Cornell University.
Hornby, L. E. J. (2006) ‘The Cameraless Optic: Anna Atkins and Virginia Woolf’ In: English language notes 44 (2) pp.87–100.
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My thinking on the topical theme is beginning to focus now following feedback from my two tutors. I need to be clearer on what I am trying to achieve. As suggested by my Research tutor all references will now be to ‘Flora’ and for my Body of Work I will look at this in the context of still life and vanitas images.
I now need to experiment with producing images and not try to overthink in advance. I will still study the work of other photographers and produce my own work in response to them as this helps me to think of new ways of approaching the subject. I found that the study of Karl Blossfeldt’s work helped me to think more about form and patterns.
I have also started to realise how work, intended for a different (possibly scientific) purpose can, later, be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities. I started to consider this in previous History of Art modules when studying appropriation of African, Asian and American works in museums and galleries. Now, through studying the life and works of Anna Atkins and Karl Blossfeldt I have seen how their scientific approach (for educational purposes) has, some time later, been accepted for its aesthetic qualities.
I feel that I have made a rather slow start to the Body of
Work module, this is probably because I have spent a lot of time on the
Research course. I thought that I needed to pin down the Research question as
much as I could before I took any photographs, otherwise I might have spent a
lot of time taken photos that were not relevant to the topic that I was
studying in the Research module.
As the research question started to become a little clearer,
comparing flowers in art between Japan and the West, I felt that I should start
to make some images. I thought it might be an idea to study the work of some
practitioners known for their photographs of flowers and then to produce some
images that were influenced by this study. I would be looking at most of these
photographers in the Research Study, but I felt it important to include some
more contemporary photographs (my Research study is only looking at the period
1830-1940) to see how they may have responded to art from the past and also to
broaden my own view of how to make images.
I have found there to be a lot of duplication in the
exercises between the two modules, I guess that this is designed to help people
establish connections between Body of Work and Research, but personally I found
it somewhat repetitive.
Overall though, I am pleased to at least have started to
take some photos and I very much enjoyed looking into the work of Karl
Blossfeldt and producing images that were influenced by what I had learned. I
also enjoyed taking a few photos in my ‘Little Less than Perfect’ series. This
was influenced by my background reading for the Research and Body of Work
modules. Right at the beginning of the course I had looked at the work of
Irving Penn whose flower images were shown on the cover of a number of episodes
of Vogue. I was interested in how he sometimes chose flowers that had just
passed their peak to give a more interesting image. I wanted to experiment with
this, even though his work came from outside the time period I was looking at
in my Research. As I say above, I think it is appropriate for me to continue to
do this, alongside my research studies