Trials and tribulations of making a cyanotype video

I am delighted I have a video work on show at New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, New Zealand, as part of another fantastic ArtCan organised exhibition.

This time the theme was ‘Amplify’, in recognition of how artists working together can make a greater impact, and the video was to be a maximum of 1.5 minutes long.

‘Amplify is a collaborative film exhibition by ArtCan, seeking to share, speak out and magnify. By bringing together multiple works through the medium of film, the collective work of their artists will reach across geographical boundaries, amplifying their accumulated voices.’

This is my first foray into video art, and I saw it as a great way to experiment with my cyanotypes, and film the usually fleeting moments of the process, when the printed image is not fixed in water, and gently fades away in u.v. light. The beautiful copper, blue and green/yellow tints disappear once it is fixed, and you get a blue and white image instead.

Cyanotype before fixing, displays copper yellow and blue tones

My idea was a simple one – to expose an image on to paper coated with the cyanotype chemicals, then film it at the point before it would usually be put into water to fix it, and instead it fades away. I would then reverse and slow down the video, meaning instead the image would gradually appear over the minute and a half, revealing the gorgeous tones, as well as more detail, and thus the image would ‘amplify’.

A simple idea, but of course I was trying to do this in March and April in London in the U.K., which meant hoping for any kind of period of sunshine proved to be beyond frustrating!

I have invested in a UV light to make my cyanotypes, as relying on the sun in the UK for any kind of regularity is pointless, so this has enabled me to make prints anytime I want, which allows for more experimenting and to be able to print limited editions with some kind of predictability as to how they might turn out. But for this piece I needed sunshine and daylight, as filming under a uv light would not produce the desired effect, as it has a strange coloured light. I would expose the image initially under the UV light, but leave it to fade in the sun.

After a couple of brief experiments I worked out I needed about an hour of sunshine for the image to fade enough, but this also had to be at a certain time of day as I needed to film it in my studio doorway, as this was the only place I had access to inside that got at least some sun! I don’t have a garden, and although we have access to some outdoor space at our studio, if it was even slightly windy, the goose neck camera holder I was using wobbled a bit making too much shake in the video, also people would stop and ask me questions, as it is a public area, not realising I was at a vital moment in filming a great work of art! 

Ideally an hour of sun without much cloud, as this cast shadows in the video, between approximately 12.30 and 1.30 pm when the sun came through our studio door. After various failed attempts, I finally had it all set up, perfect image exposed, perfect weather conditions at just the right time…. and then my phone ran out of storage part way through the filming. Talk about leaving time for unexpected things going wrong!! I eventually had to increase my icloud storage, so by this time I had lost the perfect weather and image, and I had to start all over again…. preparing the paper, waiting for it to dry, exposing the image, hoping for some good weather…..making cyanotypes can be unpredictable rough, so this all added another layer!

I just counted up, and I made 28 videos all in all during all these trials and tests!

Eventually I managed to film for long enough to get a video I was happy enough with, I chose an image of a swan with lots of foliage behind, as this added more texture and detail. I reversed the video, sped it up to just under 1.5 minutes, then added some sound taken from one of the previous videos, which was just incidental sound, but fitted quite well with the feel of the video.

You can see my final video, title ‘Accretion’ on the ArtCan YouTube Channel here, mine is about 31minutes in, but there are plenty of other great videos to watch also….

Swan swimming right, with blue and green details of leaves behind it. The whole image is a cyanotype print so it is slighly blurry in its pinted effect
Still from the video ‘Accretion’ by Anna Walsh.