Windows on the Hidden

mickyates Abstract, Aftermath, Art, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Photography, Project Development, Rephotography, SSWeek5, SurfacesStrategies, Traces Leave a Comment

I have found the last couple of weeks most enjoyable, exploring new kinds of imagery, both to learn new techniques and to consider ways of bringing alive the ‘traces’ idea. The past week’s exercise led me to explore cyanotypes, albeit at the most simple level, sunprint paper. The resulting, aesthetically pleasing images, and the positive reaction of others to the ghostly, questioning feeling of the work that resulted makes it worthy of pushing further.

How to visualise the left-behind traces of a historical event – from three perspectives: the protagonists, the victims, and the observers/tourists?

In a recent WhatsApp conversation with a fellow student, we were discussing repeat and rephotography. To me, ‘rephotography’ is going back to see the same place, just to see what’s happened. I am doing that in Cambodia.

‘Before and after’ is when you know something happened – a disaster or some major event, essentially aftermath photography – and you are seeking to highlight differences. Again, this is part of my shooting schedule for my next Cambodia trip.

‘Repeat’ is exactly that – a sequence, which is usually about setting up a process to track a future state, rather than looking back. Not currently on my plan.

There is an emerging thread in my Cambodia work, which is exploring the ‘hidden’. Whilst the genocide happened decades ago, it seems to me that there is little closure, either on a personal level or a societal one. Very few perpetrators were brought to justice, and the impact on families is still evident today. I just received Sarath’s first personal story, which was heartbreaking to read. More on that in due course.

In the recent webinar, Cemre challenged my somewhat artificial distinction between documentary and art.

Reflecting on all of this, I was looking through my art archives. In moving house, I have been able to create more of a purpose-built studio, and it has been fun to look through my old work. For years, I was fascinated by the idea of ‘windows’, looking through the image to see something new, both figuratively and literally.

Going back in time:

Clown, 1983, Acrylic on Canvas

And I finished a painting a couple of years ago which references the idea.

Bali, 2000, Acrylic on Canvas. Re-worked in Photoshop, 2016.

So I decided to see how I could apply some of this thinking (and my earlier work on Collages).

First, I created a cyanotyping process in Photoshop.

I know, I should use the real thing. I will, if this avenue proves fruitful. But, right now I wanted to cyanotype some of my recent digital work, to experiment with.

After a lot of trial and error, I created this:

Hardly perfect, but good enough to experiment with.

If anyone is interested, here’s the process that I found and eventually settled on:

Convert the image to monochrome using Image>Adjustments>Desaturate.
Add a new layer and fill with a solid blue (I used #394664) with Edit>Fill and choosing Color.
Change the blend mode of this new layer to Linear Dodge (Add). <
Lower the opacity of the layer to 40% to reduce the impact of the effect.
Then use Gaussian Blur and noise to taste …

Lots of playing around with layers, colour schemes etc.

And here is one result.

Overdone, quite possibly.

But I can see merit in the careful use of collage imagery in an installation, to bring people into the work, to explore and focus on detail.

I can also see using this approach with ‘rephotography’ images, with windows onto the past.

And, given that most of my documentary work is ‘immediate’ in its execution, the opportunity for ‘hypermediacy‘ seems open.

To quote Kaillieallieo

‘Immediacy refers to the idea that our culture wants to erase all hints of mediation by making the medium invisible, while hypermediacy refers to the exact opposite – wanting to infinitely multiply our media and heighten our awareness of them’.

After I posted this, Matthew Hayward, an artist friend of ours whose work includes monotype printing, noted that the negative space in the cyanotypes could be evocative of hidden, psychological questions. Food for thought.

Very much work in progress.


Bolter, Jay David & Grusin, Richard. 1998. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press.