Photography Arts | Field Notes |

November 13, 2019

Conceptual Art Practice | Materials | Gathering and Choosing Materials


My aim was to gather together a selection of materials to experiment with in the darkroom. A this stage of concept development I had identified that I wanted to see what could be done with translucent materials such as tracing paper or very thin paper. This is because I was interested in exploring representation of the nature of memory in my theme and I thought there might be possibilities to be found in using translucent papers.

I was also interested in colour, perhaps used sparingly. I sourced my materials with the basic idea of my theme of memory and how layering and fragmenting might be an analogy that I could intuitively build a materials collection from.

I thought Canford 300gsm was too smooth and the colour too strong to be useful

I chose white glitter paper, evocative of youth, dreams. And I wanted to see how it would change when printed.

Craft paper had an interesting colour and lined texture

Green acetate could be interesting for overlays (green to echo the green leaves in the background images).

Handmade South Indian recycled cotton rag was a mainstay choice

I collected some bronze mirror card


After experimenting and investigating the materials hands-on I reduced the choices to the following list for printing. I kept some unprinted, either to potentially use as translucent overlays or because on further investigation I ruled them out because of the unlikelihood of good emulsion adhesion.

  • Papyrus
  • Brown craft paper
  • Tracing paper (2 weights)
  • White glitter card
  • Gold card
  • Handmade South Indian recycled cotton rag 150gsm
  • Handmade South Indian recycled cotton rag—lightweight and translucent (2 weights)
  • Cotton duck x4 large pieces + smaller samples

Rationale for the collection

I wanted to avoid over-thinking each material choice or falling into the trap of reverse engineering reasons for using certain materials. Instead I tried to focus on the end goal—collage. I think of collage as process of luck, judgement, intuition and flow. I wanted my materials to work as a conduit for that. To facilitate the building of a total greater than the sum of its parts.

As such, my materials were intended to work as a mix. The mixed media would need to have properties that would combine when collaged in such a way as to make a connection with the large background images and I did contemplate that, but feeling the urge to go into a detailed rationalisation for each and every material choice, I decided instead to resist and keep the greater goal of the finished assembly in mind.

Given that the common elements of the background images and creative concept are easy to identify along lines of; outdoors, nature, autumn decay, faded memory, childhood, loss and rediscovery, I was able to collect materials that I felt spoke into those themes. I wasn't afraid to be playful with gold card and glitter paper, mirror card and acetate—although not all made it into the final collages.

I was also impressed with printing onto cotton duck and felt that this robust material would form a sturdy base for overlaying others. I wanted to bring some of the colour across from the backgrounds into the materials so I also collected coloured silk string (red, green, gold and tan) and dark brown raffia. In the final pieces I used these sparingly or not at all, but the gold card did find a place as did some of the brown craft and the white glitter paper.

I thought that using cotton rag would be a good way of introducing detail when needed. I wanted a mixed variance of materials to choose from in terms of colour and texture, but I also wanted variation in print quality and as long as I had some materials I could be confident would print well, I felt I could accommodate materials that might be very much less suited to printing with Silver Gelatin Emulsion. For example, tracing paper isn't absorbent enough to keep much of its print, but proved very useful. Also, the very lightweight recycled cotton rags I used partially disintegrated in the washes, but I was still able to use much of it in the collages.

By chance I obtained some papyrus and this turned out to be a wonderful material to print with. It has good adhesion to the emulsion but refuses to dry flat. The curled up pieces have an unmistakably organic, plantlike character to them that worked well in the mix. I enjoyed working with a small cast of materials and felt I was able give each centrepiece its own character. For instance I liked the gold in particular on one image with sun on the trees behind. And I liked the papyrus on the forested image. Building a whole based on the relationships between the materials as well as the individual properties of the materials is an idea I'd like to pursue further.

Next steps

Make a start at identifying the relationships in the materials as I print. Incorporate the layers of fragment size, shape, position and neighbours. Try to achieve a balance in the collages, even if discordant.

Download PDF
Download PDF