John Austin: Black and White Photography, Rae Starr: Pinhole, Cyanotype and Textiles


Homage EW 1985 - Picture Story

Oct 8th, 2019 • Stories

"Never work with children or animals" is tentatively tributed to W C Fields, but this is dubious.  However, I will never work with live snails again.

Homage EW, 1985 is an homage to Edward Weston, a photographer who's work partly influenced my first serious work with a camera.  'Though the two real early influences were Bill Brandt and Wynn Bullock.

This iconic picture by Weston is wholy about light, and how he used a very simple form as a modulator for this light.  (For more on Light Modulators see L Moholy Nage Light Modulator Exercise and the paper cut-outs of Francis Joseph Bruguière.)  Beyond this, that for all its beauty it is just a mollusk shell, and not so very far removed from a garden snail.

Setting up the camera, a Sinar Norma with 8.5" - 210mm Wray HR Lustrar, and lighting, Bowens flash heads was simple and easy.  Getting the snails was also easy, Helena Williams in Fremantle had a garden with lots of snails, so I asked for a couple for this picture and she gleejoyously delivered a bucket full to the old WA Filmworkers studio in Market Street,

Now the difficult part; at close range snails are quick, very quick.  They are also heavy, they don't like strong light and they poo constantly.  They like finely sprayed water and hiding in the bottom of nautilus shells.  When rested they poke an eye high enough to see out and to ruin the picture. They do not take direction well.  Snail wrangling is a specialised job.  The phrase "Never work with children or animals" is tentatively tributed to W C Fields, but this is dubious.  However, I will never work with live snails again.

The nautilus was held on the black background with Blue-Tack, normally strong enough for a job like this, but with two snails on the same side the shell toppled over and cracked.  It is still cracked and is on a bookshelf behind me as I type.  Their poo, their constant poo, is very sticky and took a lot of work to safely clean off the shell.  After lots of film and work I finally got the picture I wanted, which was not this one, this one happened on the way, but is the one I ended up choosing to print.

Anyway, once the pic' was made I switched off the lights, coiled the cables, threw the dark cloth over the Sinar, put a piece of cardboard over the bucket ot snails and went for a coffee with daughter Jessica, who had helped me in the work, and who also felt the stress.

Later I processed the film and felt good about the results

But, big but, a bucket full of snails have a lot of shared strength, strong enough to lift the lid on the bucket and infiltrate every office and nook and cranny in the shared studio.


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