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Blog and News

Q&A with Artist in Residence Elizabeth Zeschin

24th May 2019

From salt prints to cyanotypes, this year’s Artist in Residence Exhibition showcases Parham through the lens of analogue photography. We caught up with our Elizabeth Zeschin in between her sessions in the dark room to hear about the inspiration behind her upcoming exhibition this June.

How different is it photographing Parham on a traditional plate camera to a digital camera?

When you are looking at an image through a plate camera, you are seeing it upside down and backwards whilst looking through a magnifying loupe on a ground glass with a large black cloth over your head to keep the ambient light out. You are forced automatically to SLOW DOWN and really study the composition, from side to side and top to bottom through the glass. It’s wonderful!

In advance of this enterprise, you have loaded two sheets of expensive 10×8″ or 5×4″ film into a film holder. You will have to develop the film later. Traditional large format photography forces one to carefully consider the subject, its composition, the shadows and highlights of the light falling on it, its shape, its contours. Digital photography has the advantage of instant gratification. Images can be deleted at will and manipulated on a computer later.

I always tell my students “never press the camera shutter without imagining the image in your viewfinder on the wall of a gallery or the page of a magazine”, since the difference between digital photography and large format photography is enormous.

I have photographed Parham for over five years using a DSLR digital camera. When I was given the opportunity to be the Artist in Residence at Parham, I decided to return to something always dear to my heart, FILM.

Shooting on a large format camera, a technique I was trained in as a young photo assistant in New York, provided a means to look at the familiar in a new way.

What inspired you to choose these traditional print techniques?

The magic in photography for me has always been seeing the image slowly develop in a darkroom. About fifteen years ago most of my commercial clients stopped accepting analogue submissions. We all had to go digital. But, from the moment I decided to become a photographer I have always had a darkroom – the first one was in my kitchen on West 83rd Street in New York. I then progressed to a rented space in Soho, and finally one in my Studio in London’s Battersea.

In addition to commercial work, I have always exhibited my own personal photography, most often as black and white prints. Over the past thirty years, I have printed using traditional silver printing techniques. The photographic printing methods of the nineteenth century have always held an allure for me. Images shot by the pioneers of photography like Julia Margaret Cameron and Eugene Atget inspired my own early work.

When I became Artist in Residence at Parham it seemed obvious to me that if I were to shoot the project with a Large Format Camera, then I would explore these early photographic techniques.

The two printing techniques I have employed, Salted paper and Cyanotype printing can be made with modern digital negatives, thereby bypassing the need for large format photography. Many contemporary photographers do use digital negatives. I have chosen not to.

What effect do these printing methods have on the final prints?

Both Salt Printing and Cyanotype printing are what we call Contact Printing Processes. The size of the final print is determined by the size of the original (or enlarged digital) negative. In Salt Printing, the paper is “Salted” and then sensitised with a solution of Silver Nitrate which causes it to become sensitive to UV light. The image is developed in daylight and is then processed in a salt water solution. It is quite ‘fugitive’ unless toned with something that will replace the oxidising silver particles. I use a gold toning solution for this. The resultant prints have a particular vibrant delicacy that I find very appealing. They are also quite unique objects, because it is almost impossible to produce identical prints.

How did you choose the still life objects at Parham that you photographed?

I chose my favourite objects, things that resonate with me in the House and my favourite flowers and areas in the Garden. Some were photographed in situ, and others, like flowers, were brought back to my studio to be photographed.

What can visitors expect from the exhibition?

I fell in love with Parham upon my first visit years ago. The beauty of the House, the Garden and the Grounds has provided a tremendous source of inspiration for me. The work I have created for my Artist-In-Residency focuses more on the minutiae of Parham, than the general. The glory of Parham is also in its details. I hope that visitors to my exhibition will be moved to experience Parham through new eyes.

Our Artist in Residence Exhibition takes place from 5th June – 30th June. Find out more information here.