Camera

Collagraph camera

On the way to the art college this lunchtime I picked up a hitch-hiker near Beccles. We started talking about hitching, as is traditional and how no one picks anyone up any more. I said I used to hitch all over and told him about hitching across Europe and spending a winter in Israel when I was nineteen. I hitched across France, into Spain, picked grapes, went across Switzerland, the north of Italy and then across the middle of Yugoslavia to Greece, picked olives on Crete and then flew to Israel and worked on a moshav in the Negev for two months. I had then given it up and gone home, rarely leaving the UK since, deciding I wasn’t very good at it. ¬†He asked me how I had found that I talked about the militaristic atmosphere and the Uzi on the tractor and so on. I said that I had found Jerusalem very interesting, in the way that the different religions that have disputed the city over the centuries have done this through architecture, building on top of each others sacred sites and, more subtly, in the way of each others sacred sites. This seemed to show an attention to detail and a degree of respect held for each others religious views, in a way.

I then apologised for talking about religion straight away and hoped that I hadn’t offended him in any way, as they say one shouldn’t talk about religion or politics. Oh, I am interested in people’s take on it, he said, I don’t believe, I used to be a Marxist. How do you mean, you used to be one? I said. And he told me about being ‘heavily shepherded’ in the SWP in Sheffield in the early eighties. He said the stories of the knock on the door at two in the morning to check that you hadn’t strayed from the path was probably mythical but that you were held to account and sometimes given a bad time. It had been hard work and he had got fed up with it and had decided that he was just too petite bourgeoisie¬†for it all.

Ah, I said, that was always my problem but once I realised that I was actually petite bourgeoisie and that there wasn’t much I could do about it, that was my class background, and that people like me go to art college and do the things they do because they are petite bourgeoisie and that this is probably not a bad thing, in the great scheme of things, then I learnt to relax about it. I said that the petite bourgeoisie were a much maligned and under-rated class which was actually quite dynamic and creative as they negotiated their aspirations between the two classes they didn’t quite belong to. We agreed that the petite bourgeoisie could be quite anarchic, which was why the hard left never liked them and, as we were both teachers, where would the teaching profession be without the petite bourgeoisie.

My background is one of crafts people really. One gran was a seamstress making samples in a dress factory in Leicester and taught me to sew. My grandad was a joiner. The other gran worked in a knicker factory for fifty years. Both sets of grandparents lived in council houses all of their lives. One set lived in a prefab for forty years. My Dad was a photographer and worked in industry, as a high street wedding photographer and latterly as the chief photo technician at DeMontfort University. Fay Godwin considered him the best ‘record’ photographer she had met. Most of his cousins became teachers of various sorts.

So today’s image of a camera made as a collagraph connects to something from all of that. It is also my camera du jour, a toughened Olympus, the perfect art room camera, shrugging off drops and paint and clay. A key research tool. I was trying out some of the plastic circuit board backing we found in the DT room and I used PVA wood glue and corundum to make the image. I only had time to pull two prints and there was some tearing of the paper which we thought might have been from the PVA glue losing interest. Ernst gave me some shellac to try instead of the button polish I had used and I will try a couple more coats. I had been worried that the plastic sheet wouldn’t hold the glue so I was perhaps partly right. An interesting image though. Very dark and I liked the speckles across it which came from stray specks of corundum being moved about and trapped in the layer of varnish. So I was trialling a material for possible collagraphs with the pupils and demonstrating the technique, making an example and making a work for the still-life sequence here.