Black And White Photography, Old School - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Black And White Photography, Old School

Black And White Photography, Old School

Published March 6, 2014

Making water photograms with Jeremy Lynch

Photos by
Yasmin Nowak

Making water photograms with Jeremy Lynch

“There is no such thing as a human that isn’t creative,” says abstract photographer Jeremy Lynch, “but not everybody is aware of her or his abilities.” He is currently staying in Reykjavík at KEX Hostel with the sole purpose of putting people regardless their background—if artistic or not—into a new environment and catapulting them into the world of good old black and white photography.

“One does not need any background to analogue photography to get beautiful abstract results especially when water is the real artist; we have no control over the outcome and only work as assistants when we are making water photograms,” Jeremy points out.

Into The Dark

“Open, knock loudly,” reads the sign on a door, the only thing distinguishing this dormitory from all the others at KEX Hostel. This space, where backpackers would normally sleep, functions as the temporary darkroom and studio of Jeremy Lynch. After knocking twice, a male voice tells me to wait two more minutes. Then the door opens slightly, and Jeremy invites me to enter. As expected, it’s pitch black inside. No light ray shall interfere with the making of a photogram except for a brief well-timed and well-positioned flash.

It takes some time for my eyes to get used to the complete darkness. Slowly, I’m able to identify Jeremy who has a red light hanging on his right ear, which is actually a bicycle lamp. There are a few loft beds along the walls. A large table stands in front of two windows that are completely covered by black curtains. Several basins in different colours and sizes are arranged on it like a buffet.

Jeremy kneels down to pick up a piece of photosensitive paper from an old looking box. “These are DDR-originals. Some schools in former East-Germany gave them to me as a donation,” Jeremy explains, which means the paper must be more than 25-years-old as East and West Germany—or DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) and BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland)—were reunited in 1990. Now it’s time to give it a go and put some stuff on the magic paper. Jeremy has been experimenting with different elements for the past ten months: “In my studio in Berlin, I’ve had people brush their teeth and spit on the paper, I’ve had some piss on it, a woman used her menstrual cycle and a couple … well, use your imagination for that one.”

There Is No Wrong Way

Today we’re not going to have sex in a darkroom and Jeremy instead instructs us to grab some basic kitchen tools: oil, water, salt and a mixture of coffee, oil and water. The basic idea is to work with different consistencies: a drop or two of oil here, a drop of water there, a splash of the mixture and some salt on the top, which gives the photogram a crater-like look. Then, he hands me a stick to draw some lines. “Do it as you feel.There is no wrong way,” Jeremy underlines.

Nevertheless, he gives me instructional hints and shares knowledge he has gained over the past ten months from the start. After I produce a tremendously chaotic and concept-less photogram, I change my wild designing approach and my second one ends up with a minimalistic look. I had not understood how the photograms would turn out based on my movements until then.

Before I can develop my photograms, they have to be flashed. Most photogram artists position their light source on top of the paper, which gives the picture a look that is too plain in Jeremy’s opinion. Jeremy reveals he is influenced by the Gaia theory that suggests that the earth is basically a self-regulating complex organism with an infinite number of forces that work to keep our planet a liveable place. He believes that water as well is its own life force, unconventional and rebellious all the way.

Letting Water And Creativity Flow

The liberating effect of losing control is the key to Jeremy’s project and his approach to art. “In today’s society, everyone is trying to be heard, to be noticed. The project steps away that and harkens back to the medieval concept where genius was all around us in nature and that all one had to do was to open the box,” he encourages me.

Introducing strangers to abstract photography is one of his ways to break out of “this shit business driven world,” as he calls it. We don’t go with the conventional way of flashing. Alternatively, we put our light source in front of one of the paper’s corners. That’s how the light spreads from an almost parallel angle onto the paper, doesn’t hit every part equally and creates a smooth gradient instead of a distinct grey-tone.

Jeremy claims he’s not a perfectionist, but the cleaning process involves one bucket with soap water plus two basins with pure water to wash the soap away. Pure precision. Finally, I can put the photosensitive paper into the developer, a chemical mixture based on the phenol hydroquinone.  “Now, you shake the paper a little, leave it for 20 seconds and shake it again,” he guides us. When we see shapes forming, we have to make an irreversible decision about when exactly to take our paper out, as this determines how bright or dark it will be, and that’s Jeremy’s favourite part. Before my photogram gets too dark, I fish it out and put it into the stopper bath for only a few seconds and continue to the fixer bath where it has to rest for three minutes.

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When the print is well dried and the lights are on, I can finally examine my art piece properly. “Kunst oder Scheiße?” Jeremy asks me with a big grin on his face. Probably some of both: art and crap. Jeremy disagrees and tells me he thinks it’s beautiful. It looks different now that the lights are on. Whatever I see, you might interpret differently based on different associations you make and I realise that’s the beautiful thing about abstract art.

When I ask Jeremy what he’s aiming for he answers with a counter question: “Don’t you think it’s a great way of spending your time?”

Jeremy Lynch studied photography in London and at the University of Toronto in the late ‘80s. Currently he is living and working in Berlin, Germany. He will continue his workshop at KEX hotel for a few more weeks. “Probably until the end of March,” specifies Jeremy. Don’t call, just come by, knock at the door and give it a try. The first print is free, but you won’t be taking it home, as he’ll keep it for upcoming exhibitions in Reykjavík this April and in Berlin this September – no names attached. On March 8, Jeremy will bring a little Berlin to Reykjavík and run a pop up exhibition of his work from the capital of Germany at Listamenn galleri, just two doors down from KEX darkroom. His darkroom opens daily from 11:00 to 22:00.

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