Updated: Apr 20, 2021
My introduction into photo etching has been both interesting and challenging. I have learnt the extraordinary lesson of embracing mistake and change within the process.
There is a linage of etching as a medium that is very effective in relating on themes of war. These studies are from masters, Goya, Otto Dix, Jacues Callot and my personal favourite Kathe Kollwitz, who never depicted actual battle grounds, only the collateral damage of war: the widows, mourning mothers, those dispossessed by war and forgotten.
Looking at print making and photo etching as a process, I also have been inspired by the subtle landscapes and incorporation of words in the work of Bea Maddock.
Cornelia Parker also does subtle, aesthetic but conceptual photo etches.
Interested in the commentary about the Afghanistan war crimes committed by some in the Australian Special Forces, and the difficult work that needs to be done to bring justice to those that have been wronged, I drew on the image of the redacted report that has become a symbol of a covering of truth.
Focusing on the conceptual elements of the collage, I physically cut and pasted pieces that I used for my monoprint stencils last year - women in burkas, women carrying things, and the stylised Australia War Memorial motif which has been prominent in my work.
I also used the image I had unconsciously named 'torture scene' when I made a digital collage last year. I had no idea at the time what a terrible premonition that piece was.
I repeated the word 'diminished' because I have been thinking a lot about the heavily redacted Brereton Report, which he concludes that "we are all diminished by it." This angers me because most veterans did the right thing and put their hearts and soul into the doing a good job in Afghanistan.
Why can't the Special Forces units in which these perpetrators of illegal violence operated without question or limit, be held to account and diminished. I don't know why these units can retain their Meritorious Unit Citation for the operations they did, when they are completely tainted by sickening war crimes. But today Minister Peter Dutton overturned the military's recommendation to strip these units of their decorations. It concerns me that some people were more upset about losing an honour listing over accepting what happened and why. And now it seems to be a political diminishing of the horrible truth for a whitewashing 'good news story' about 'veteran's being rightfully honoured.' I hope it isn't a sad premonition on how accountability will play out throughout the investigations and trials.
For my photo etch image, I explored different layouts of the photo etch design and transferred the shortlist onto Photoshop.
I decided on this image because I liked the inversion of the burka motif and the way the war memorial tried to cover over the redacted report.
It seemed to speak of how some remain seen as honoured heroes whilst the people who are the 'collateral damage' of war, have their lives turned upside-down and their stories remain unshared. It helped me remember the 39 innocent Afghan's killed and their families.
The image was turned into a black and white pixelated image and printed onto a transparency. The transparency image was then exposed onto a copper plate lined with photographic film. The film was then developed on the plate and etched in a ferric acid bath. All of this was a technically science driven process with safety precautions made along the way. More can be read in my process journal (example of some pages below).
I realised the contrast on my image was too light when the etched plate had not registered much of the details of my collage. I was really disappointed but have learnt a really valuable lesson.
To remedy the lack of detail on my plate, I continued to etch the plate for longer and longer amounts of time. I let the plate sit in acid for a couple of hours. It seemed that, like the war crimes, the image wanted to remain unexposed. Getting the details visible was tedious and emotionally frustrating. You can see here that there were a number of iterations to get the printing process right. Firstly I realised the rough acid eaten edges of the plate held too much ink and I needed to smooth them down. Getting the rough edges to become shiny and smooth was a process in itself but well worth the effort because the inky edges of the print unnecessarily framed the image, making it look less light and minimalist.
Secondly, I had too much tone on the plate and learnt to wipe the plate just so to get the result I was after. There was a lot of trial and error, especially given I hadn't printed an etch in the studio for over five months.
Despite being bitterly disappointed about how my image was so underexposed on my copper plate, I have actually grown to love what the mistake has created. The result is far more pared back and subtle than I would have consciously made. I have editioned the result and enjoy that it looks like a ribcage and spine, the redacted statements being quasi ribs formed over the hollow of the War Memorial image and the abstracted curve of the woman in a burka. The image also looks like a grainy historical aerial landscape photograph from a war zone. The acid burnt holes grow like a cancer, or look like bullet holes.
I am looking at the minimalist subtle work of Christian Capurro's on erasure and redaction for inspiration for my next stage.
I intend on extending this work by making a series of 39 prints, each a unique state, representing one of the innocent killed. As I re-etch and print and re-etch and print, the process will create more scratches, lines and holes which will add complexity to my work. The process is both the process and the concept.
Stay tuned for another update as this project develops.