Some of you may be wondering what I have been up to lately, besides cooking and (occasionally) posting about it here. Well, in part – this! Bryan has a solo show on at the Flagstaff Photography Center for the next month, and for part of it he had this
crazy brilliant idea to make a huge public participation project. On silk, panels 12′ by 6′. Which would hang on curved wooden supports (making that part was his responsibility). The idea is that you walk through it, not just look at it, and the fabric touches you and moves with the wind, thus making a different, more interactive experience of what a photograph can be.
The first part for me was making the silk panels. Suffice it to say I have never been this nervous about sewing a rectangle. Ever. I attached a measuring tape to my work table so that I would tear all the pieces exactly the same length, and got out my walking foot so as not to distort the long seams.
In the process, I kind of fell in love with this huge expanse of crepe de chine. Having never sewn anything nearly this big out of silk before (a ballgown is the only thing I could think of that would compare) I had never studied how it falls like liquid, but somehow also holds a body, almost a stiffness in certain circumstances. Amazing. I’m not-so-secretly hoping that the leftover fabric ends up in my stash.
But back to the photo project – the next step was to soak the silk panels in the chemistry for cyanotype – like those blue prints you may have made in the sun with leaves and flowers, and hang them up to dry. This we did at night, inside the garage. It took longer to dry than Bryan expected, so we ended up setting the alarm for 4 am to take them down. They got rolled up and the rolls went into a long skinny bag of blackout fabric (also made by me, and luckily went together easily like the plan in my head). By now you are starting to see how this project had a certain secret-agent-mission appeal. At one point I had a grocery list which included 8 gallons of distilled water, blackout fabric, muslin, carpet rolls/large dowels, thread, and shellac.
On the morning of the exposure, we set up (mostly) clean trash cans to hold water for rinsing, a hose, the muslin sheet so everyone could practice where to put their hands and bodies, and a hugely tall clothesline to hold the finished pieces while they dried. Thankfully, a bunch of our friends and members of the photo community showed up and agreed to lie still in the sun for 15 minutes while they and the silk sheets took in enough light to make a photo. And thankfully the monsoon clouds held off just long enough to get it done (it rained later)! Bryan repositioned people partway through to get a lighter blue in some places.
Meanwhile I ran around taking snapshots, and then with the help of a few volunteers, dunked the first panel in successive changes of water to rinse out the unexposed chemistry, while Bryan and the rest of the volunteers exposed the second one.
Even though I was very involved with this project, I didn’t anticipate quite how much I would like the finished result. I think Bryan did a great job bringing his vision for it into reality. And, after obsessively checking my math at the beginning, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief as the panels slid onto the wood and I could see that everything came out the right size! It’s hard to see just how cool it is here, but imagine walking through it. I am impressed with the little details that come through, aspects of people’s hair and clothing that make it more personal.
If you are passing though Flagstaff, you can check it out yourself at the Photo Center (right on Heritage Square) through the end of August!
I love how you documented the process – it is so flippin’ cool! I wish I could go through it!
Come on over, we’d love to host you! 🙂
Love this!! It’s like a primordial dream…
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This is an awesome project-I would love to do something similar at the summer camp that I work at. Was the equipment, particularly the cyanotype solution expensive due to the size of the fabric?
Hi Craig! Bryan made enough chemistry for about 5 gallons of solution, which he estimated cost about $100 (from Bostick and Sullivan). That turned out to be much more than we needed, mainly because the silk was so gauzy and didn’t need very much to soak in. I think it would depend a lot on what fabric you used, as well as how big it was. He recommended you check out The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James for cyanotype recipes. Good luck!
This is amazing. Thank you for your art.