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Initiate and Iterate

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

To settle into the RMIT studio after almost a year away from it because of the pandemic, my first project is to investigate an existing area of interest within my practice. I have selected a photo of me placing a stone at Cruz de Ferro, when I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain late 2019. It feels like a lifetime ago. I will create iterations of this image through different techniques that explores the analogue / digital threshold.

This digital photo is currently showing as part of a group exhibition, March into Art: Place from 6-25 April 2021.

ANVAM CEO Tanya Johnston has asked me to talk on how print and my photographs have overlapped. Both of these projects have come at the perfect time, for me. I have so much to consider about how digital and analogue art techniques reflect different aspects of my experience and journey.

Firstly I will explain a little about Cruz de Ferro. Cruz de Ferro is a milestone on the 780 km Camino which feels more important than it looks. Simply an iron cross atop weathered wooden pole, the tradition around this locality is the most interesting. At 1505 m above sea level, the ascent is the highest part of the Camino. Since the 11th century have pilgrims left a stone or a trinket from their home, leaving it at the cross. It has become a place of many places. Often there is something symbolically assigned to the stone, maybe words or symbols written on it. There are paper mementos of those lost, old pieces of jewellery left, toys and flags and other items all building up to make quite a mound of which you need to clammer up to place something at. I have heard a myth that in times of old, rich people would hire someone to walk their pilgrimage for them, paying someone to atone their sins by placing a rock at the Cruz de Ferro for them.

For me, I had carried a stone that my daughter, Imogen, had selected from the gardens surrounding the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. She decorated it with blue pen, and it looked a little like Afghani lapis. For me, it represented a lot of the anger I felt about her dad abandoning us through suicide. I didn’t want to hold onto it anymore. When I placed the little stone at the top of the Cruz de Ferro mound of stones, I was amazed by how light my pack seemed afterwards.

My pilgrim friend, Maria, a Brazilian anaesthetist in her 70s who was walking the Camino in her 70s alone, took the snap. It is amazing how we managed to meet regularly throughout the five-week walk, particularly at poignant moments for each of us. Despite the fact that we couldn't communicate properly because of the language barrier, we became good friends throughout the walk. I wonder how she is going now, with Brazil being hit by COVID-19 so badly.

Transferring a digital image to an analog screen print takes so much time and effort. It is incredible to go through the process of deconstructing an image only to reconstruct it again in a mandraulic way which looks so quaint, organic and kind of rough. I wondered why I was doing it sometimes - maybe in the way that I wondered why I was walking the Camino sometimes! The screenprinting process is explained more thoroughly in my journal (small extract below), including the safety components which are important to remember along the way.

The time it took reminded me of the time it took to do the walk. In fact, I've probably be working on this project for about five weeks and in that way, it seems to reflect something of the Camino in process and experience. The deconstructive process of pulling the image apart on photoshop and creating transparencies of the traditional print colours of Magenta, Cyan, Yellow and Black (Key) made me reflect on the layers that were involved in my walk. After I exposed the images onto my screen coated with photographic emulsifier, I began to layer the image back together again. The subsequent generative process of building up the image after its deconstruction made me think of the restorative aspects of doing the walk.

Going through the process felt messy and awkward at the start. I wanted to make my 'body a machine' in the way Andy Warhol talked about his screen printing process. I listed each way to make it work better next time, and it slowly became more comfortable.

Somewhat disappointed with how the imaged perfectly layered and aligned looked like a poor replica of the digital photograph, I started to experiment with the way the image could look if I purposely (and accidentally) mis-registered it, spacing out the colours or even rotating the images around.

I felt that the subverting of the image by flipping it upside-down was not the look that I was after. The layers side by side definitely looked the best and expressed the most about what I wanted to say about the journey of the Camino, and what it was like to lay a stone at Cruz de Ferro.

Out of all of my versions, this one looked the most striking and reminded me of the rollicking poetry about the Camino by David Whyte which I read on the Way, illustrating my copy of his book Pilgrim along the journey.

Laid out with all the images presented as a building of colour, or being simplified, or simply adjusting along the horizontal plane has been the most effective.

I realise that I need to make some more prints to extend it out completely.

Inspired by the vertical and colourful images of Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter, I built on the passage of time and experience to layer more coloured screen prints together. I also introduced a more playful colour palette, moving on from the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. I felt it related to the experience and nature of the pilgrimage with more accuracy.

For the installation, I laid the images up along a long display shelf, experimenting where the transparencies and images looked best. I made the images seem to get lighter closer to the end of the line, expressing the lightness I felt in releasing my stone. I found some stones and placed a pile at the left of the installation, and painted another pile of stones colourful. The painted stones expressed a colourful enhancement after the ritual of pilgrimage. It seemed a little funny to me to be painting stones, because this was always considered a punishment in the Army!

I was really happy with my installation but I would like to discuss further experimentation with my digital image. I used the technically advanced printer in the studios to make a highly technical digital print. It was a great process to go through and you can see the image on my studio wall. I felt that out of all the images I'd made so far, the digital print suddenly seemed to say the least about my journey.

After this, I turned the digital image into a photo etching. I transferred the image onto a transparency, after having pixilated the image and turning it black and white and amping up the contrast. Then exposed the image onto a copper plate that had had a photographic film placed on it. I developed the image onto the plate and exposed what was left of the film in the ferric acid bath. More information on the process and safety elements of this scientific and technically detailed process can be seen separately in my journal (extracts here):

The image had transferred almost perfectly, and I printed it using a blue black blended ink to reflect the lapis look of the stone. The image reminded me of a stilled postcard from my past self, reminding me of the memory. The image though, seemed to be static and immortalised. The vividness of the reality of my feelings at the time seemed to have disappeared. I much preferred the colourful and playful screen prints of the event - but this was a worthwhile experiment of techniques and look.

Reflecting on the result, of which I tried printing in a blackish blue to reflect maybe a hazy bruise-ish memory that looked a little like lapis (lapis being the stone which the colour ultramarine was traditionally made from). The photo etch seemed to immortalise the image and set it in stone, as opposed to the more experience-layered-memory look of the experimental screenprints. Still, I do like the photo etch prints and I cut one down to the size of a postcard - it seeming like a snapshot moment sent back from my past self.

During the exhibition opening and whilst in the studio, many people have told me that they thought the image looked like a war memorial. It is actually the opposite to that. Cruz de Ferro is where you can relinquish that which does not serve you.

Throughout this process I have reflected on my Cruz de Ferro moment digitally, and then expanded on the idea through print. I photo etched it onto copper and made it look like a postcard from another version of myself, hazy in pixilated memory. I also screen printed a version of the photo. The most evocative images resulted when I layered the image, spreading it across many ‘history’ printed pages.

Conceptually I am looking to extend this image further again. I will build on the idea of remembering the forgotten people of history. I will continue to explore methods of print to find the most effective technique to express my ideas.

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