Tangled – exhibition in Kirkwall now

My ongoing fascination with seaweed brings me back to the shore to get specimens and make artwork to try and better understand what strange beauty it is that attracts me.

Orkney Seaweed photograms

The photogram process was used in early photography, is it a camera-less technique. The seaweeds are placed directly onto light sensitive paper and exposed to light before they are developed in the darkroom. There is no negative, the seaweeds create their own image. This means that each image is unique, a one-off. I love the whole process of going down to the shore, gathering the seaweed, taking it back to the house, setting up the darkroom and making the images –never quite knowing how they are going to turn out.

Sometimes I solarise the photograms – introducing light while the print is being developed. This brings the silver in the paper to the surface creating a darker print with a metallic feel. Again this technique is, at least for me, difficult to control and I enjoy the unpredictableness.

I was inspired by the work of Anna Atkins, believed to be the first woman photographer. Atkins produced the first photographically illustrated book, British Algae, in 1843.  The book contained cyanotypes of seaweeds, a similar process to the photogram.

Orkney Seaweed prints

The prints, using the collograph process, were made at Solisquoy Print Studio, Kirkwall. Like the photograms these prints also rely on the seaweed itself making its own image. In the prints this is either by inking the seaweed up and using the seaweed as a plate, or by creating prints with no ink but using the seaweed to create its own impression. These printing sessions were under the insightful and amusing guidance of artist Diana Leslie.

All images are printed by the artist and are all one offs including the traditional photographic print which is a single edition.

I have just finished my MLitt in Orkney and Shetland Studies through the Nordic Studies Centre, UHI Orkney…. and of course my chosen dissertation topic was the social history of seaweed in Orkney. Its title? Tangled.