Whilst talking to my sister about what family photos might be available as references, I realise that we have completely different memories of aspects of our childhood. This is inevitable since different people, events and places have a different impact depending on your age at the time, your emotions and experiences.
This thought came at the time when I have been playing around with photographic images, both personal and appropriated. I have been experimenting with methods of transferring images for inclusion in works on paper. Ideally, I want to go beyond collage and actually integrate the image with the surface, avoiding difficult edges, changes in texture and thickness etc.
One method uses acrylic medium, painted over a printed image. The medium is applied in several layers, allowed to fully dry and then the paper is soaked and rubbed off the back, leaving ink embedded in an acrylic ‘skin’. This is very effective at transferring a detailed image but the surface is, inevitably, plastic and shiny, even using matt medium. The skin can be cut or, better, torn and adhered to the support with pva or more medium.
I was excited to find an intriguing alternative during the study visit to the Rauschenberg exhibition recently. For his series illustrating Dante’s Inferno, he used an offset method, soaking an image in solvent and drawing over the back with an empty ballpoint to transfer the image. This transfers the ink directly to the support and allows it to be completely integrated with other drawing techniques. With some experimentation, I found the process worked well with newspaper or magazine illustrations. The result looks as though it has been drawn, as indeed, in a way, it has.
I had been thinking about the fractured memories and how to represent this using photographs. In my sketchbook, I have played with a large scale inkjet photograph of my father’s eyes, transferred to a skin and torn into pieces.
I wanted to put together these ideas using an appropriated family photograph and solvent offset. I was lucky enough to find a large period black and white photo of a family group in a newspaper article which seemed perfect for the subject. The girl in the middle is several years older than the babies and will have entirely different memories of this occasion and of her parents at that period of their lives.
The offset gives a slightly ghostly image, as not all of the ink is transferred. I used this to my advantage by transferring the older child’s face twice in order to add to the sense of dislocation. The marks made by the pen give the effect of drawing but also of personal interpretation. The marks going in different directions also indicate a lack of one absolute truth.
This method of transfer allows me to intervene in the result in addition to getting rid of the issues of edges or surface changes. It isn’t just a photograph, it is a specific interpretation of the image. It has dream-like quality perfectly suited to exploring the subject of memory.
I hope to make a series of works around this theme and plan further experiments using family images if I can find a way of replicating them, scaling etc which will transfer. I suspect this means using a commercial laser copier or printer. Experiments using images from a home laser printer were not successful.