Photographs Without (my usual) Cameras

mickyates Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Photography, SSWeek4, Sunprint, SurfacesStrategies, Traces Leave a Comment

This week’s task is to consider how to create images without using our usual ‘apparatus’, whilst still being related to our project.

I considered using Google Earth, and also capturing Traffic camera images from Phnom Penh.

Interesting, and fun to watch the traffic ‘near misses’.  But not really a novel way of creating relevant, project-focused images.

So, I also bought a (remarkably cheap) pack of sun sensitive paper, Sunprint, from Amazon.

Having never tried this before, my first action was to follow the instructions. For those that know me, unusual.

First, place an object on the paper, then hold it in place with a small, transparent acrylic plate, and pop it into the sunshine until the paper is almost white. Then, quickly rinse the paper under cold water. I decided to emulate ‘barbed wire’, in tune with my Tuol Sleng work.

I found this aesthetically pleasing, and quite evocative, as I was attempting to conjure up ‘Traces‘. I could see how this might be useable as a technique ‘on the ground’ in Cambodia. But is it too childish?

How about trying to capture imagery from either slides or photographic negatives?

I tried placing a strip of negatives on the paper, and also raising it from the surface to try to get more sunlight – but the result was washed out.

The negative material was just too opaque for the light sensitive paper. I managed to get some imagery, but hardly a triumph.

Now what?

Considering the history of photography for inspiration, I recalled paper negatives. This could be more promising.

First, I had to create a very high contrast, black and white negative in Photoshop, from one of my colour digital images.

Then, lay that over the Sunprint paper, anchored with the acrylic plate. With a long exposure, the light will penetrate the (thin) white computer printing paper. It will not work with photo printing paper.

I tried a few different negative prints, and it was clear that pushing the contrast was very important to get more clarity in the end result.


This was starting to look good, so it was time to experiment further with this process.

I tried three different exposures – 5 minutes, 10 minutes and 20 minutes. The result is in the header above, scanned without processing. Honestly, there was not a huge amount of difference, although perhaps an edge for detail at 10 minutes.

I created some new paper negatives, pushing contrast and clarity in Lightroom..

Here are my ‘Pictures of the Day’.

Tuol Sleng Prison Cell

The Graffiti Room at Tuol Sleng

So, what has this taught me?

First, I enjoyed the process. It made me think about the imagery I was trying to create, how best to achieve it, and how to make it relevant to my project.

Second, I loved playing with the papers. The physicality was enjoyable and the tactile connection with the imagery immediate. It is many moons since I have used a darkroom, although that is where I first started to really learn photography. Maybe I should revisit?

Third, the process was a surprisingly controllable one, yet the end results are still unpredictable.

I am going to see if I can get larger sheets of light sensitive paper. I’ll also experiment with tracing paper negatives, rather than plain white paper, to control the imagery better via shorter exposures.

Fourth, this as a possible way to demonstrate traces, perhaps a bit in the Wolfgang Tillmans style, and it might allow me to avoid falling into ‘Dark Tourist’ Cliché. It’s worth persevering with, although on a much larger scale.

Here’s the link I found on using paper negatives:

Turn Digital Photos into Artistic Sunprints

SHARPLEY, Richard and STONE, Philip R. (Eds.). 2009. The Darker Side of Travel. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

TILLMANS, Wolfgang. 2017. Wolfgang Tillmans 2017. London: Tate Enterprises.