This week I had the type of day that I dreamed about last winter when I was planning my residency at Fruitlands Museum. It would be a day of sunshine, beautiful scenery and engaging work on something fun — and that's exactly how it happened this past Wednesday.
I've always wanted to experiment with cyanotypes and anthotypes and decided to take advantage of the perfect weather conditions we were finally experiencing.
Anthotype is a very delicate photographic process that uses the photosensitive material of plants found in the garden to create a photographic image. All you need to add is water, sunshine and a lot of patience and time.
The plants are crushed and mixed with alcohol or water to make a light sensitive emulsion. Watercolor paper is coated with the emulsion and image can be created by exposing the paper under the sun for a few days or weeks. The plant juice undergoes chemical or physical changes when it is exposed to light, changing its color. Some fade and some darken.
I worked with marigold petals from my garden (above), blueberries and goldenrod from the meadows at Fruitlands. With my mortar and pestle I ground up the petals adding only drops of denatured alcohol to create a paste. Then I strained with cheesecloth to remove the solids and brushed the remaining liquid dye onto watercolor paper. After the paper dried, I placed a sage leaf from the Shaker Garden to create a photogram, assembled the contact frame and set in the sun to expose. I had enough to create a second photogram from an artifact that I found entrance of the longhouse - some fur from the hide of an animal. According to one of the interpreters it could be skunk or could be deer. I'm expecting to have something to show after a couple of weeks of exposure to strong sun.
My darkroom was the Longhouse at the museum:
The Native American longhouse used to teach children and familes about the way Natives lived in harmony with nature and the changing seasons. For thousands of years, Native people in this area would have lived in houses made with tree bark, saplings and other plants. We made this longhouse using traditional tools to gather locally available building materials.
I set up a laboratory outside on the grass and the inside provided the perfect shelter when I needed to be away from the strong sun. In the photo above you can see my impromptu darkroom... two opaque black plastic contractor bags from Home Depot... just the right thing to block light and allow the dyes to dry before assembling the contact frames and exposing to the sun.
Also experimented with cyanotypes in an attempt to capture some shadows from HIVE. These were not quite as successful but I gleaned some information to bring the idea forward. It might be best to try this in a controlled in-studio setting using UV lights instead. There were too many variables in conditions between exposures to create anything worth saving. But it was fascinating to watch the development of image happen right before your eyes. Want to continue this for sure.
I plan to keep working with anthotype and hope to create images of and with objects at Fruitlands. I'm attracted to the slowness of it - the long exposures, the ritual of mashing, the methodology to the process, the simplicity of the ingredients.
This residency is a gift. I am affected by the culture and heritage here with only a few short months left to take it all in....