It was in the attic-room of a typical student house in Roath that recent art graduate Sera Wyn Walker introduced me to her extraordinary photographic creations known as lumen prints.
Walking up a narrow staircase to the top floor I didn’t know where to look first. To a couple of film cameras perched on the windowsill, to old photos framed on the wall or to vast amounts of her photography artwork lined around the room. That was before I even saw the colourful butterfly collection hung above the bed!
Twenty-two-year-old Sera finished her university studies from Howard Gardens campus at Cardiff Metropolitan University in June. Although she studied fine art, Sera has developed a narrow and more focused interest in print and photography and since then has worked to establish herself in the Cardiff arts scene.
Like others who use film, Sera produces her work using traditional dark room methods yet this is film photography with a twist. Intrigued to know more, Sera explained.
“I wouldn’t call it photography. I would refer to it as camera-less photography which I have taken from artists I admire, like Susan Derges who used the same sort of technique I do. I use light sensitive paper and old photographic methods in the darkroom to capture my work.”
I would refer to it as camera-less photography which I have taken from artists I admire
Sera said she is inspired by all things natural. This was an interest that she pursued by studying the ‘Golden Ratio’ theory for her dissertation. Never heard of this before? Neither had I, but apparently this theory is all about underlying symmetry in nature and underlying mathematical patterns which, Sera explained, are believed to govern all beauty in the world.
“I look quite broadly at the patterns in nature and the underlying rules that seem to occur. I like how you can look at a dragon fly wing and you can see the same fractals and patterns that are reflected in other areas of nature. So, a leaf skeleton has patterns on it that are similar to rivers or the veins in our bodies say.”
If you look at Sera’s prints of leaves, insect wings and even salt crystals it now becomes clear how this has influenced her artistic vision.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty details of how Sera produces her work, who for a novice like me had only a basic idea, it was fascinating to discover that quite a straightforward process can create such stunning images. I wanted to know what lumen prints were, and how these prints are made without the use of a camera.
“You can do a contact print, putting something on top of a piece of paper and exposing light around it, or you can take something that is more translucent, put it in a negative holder and look down on it for a more microscopic image. You can either use light sensitive paper, which is more of a one off print, or you can get the negative and go into that territory of creating your own. That’s where it comes into this camera-less photography because you’re using the film.
“The first lumen prints I ever did were in my house at home about a year ago using my velux window to expose images to UV sunlight. I had already done photograms in the darkroom so I figured out you could do lumen prints at home or using the fixer. And then it went from there. Lumen prints can be done anywhere. As long as you have UV light you can do them wherever you like. That’s one of the things that I really like about it; that you can create the prints, fix the prints and make the prints in any location. There are a lot of places I can go with my work now.
That’s one of the things that I really like about it; that you can create the prints, fix the prints and make the prints in any location
“Or when you get a piece of negative film you put it in the negative holder and slide it in. I have a negative holder with two pieces of glass so it stays flat, put the object in, and you project the image to enlarge it. From there, you can record that onto light sensitive paper. Or I figured negative film works in the same but it’s just more sensitive, so I got some old 5×4 film as it is easier to work with. By getting the image onto a negative you can get a lot more information from it. It feels a lot more microscopic and in depth.”
Looking at Sera’s prints each have a unique tint or shade but don’t be fooled in thinking these are colour prints. She explained that this is all down to the toner and fixer used in the development process.
“I only use black and white light sensitive paper which is much easier as you block light. It is all about working with shade. I have a lot more control in the development technique using black and white than I feel I do when I use colour.”
Sera may use contemporary film methods to create her photography images but she is an artist with a unique perspective who clearly innovates through traditional techniques. She described why this method works for her.
“Fox Talbot, the inventor or photography did them; they were done before with lace and ferns. So, essentially I’m not doing anything ground breaking or new. I’m going right back to the roots of photography but using it in a contemporary context. You are exploring an object through my practice. I want to project what is actually there and get a sense of the object itself, not my artistic eye. Artistic skill is helping it along but I want the projection of the actual object to speak for itself.
Not only are the traditional methods that Sera uses interesting to hear about but the prints that she produces are captivating. She has made a name for herself displaying work in Made in Roath’s art festival back in October, holding stalls at Milkwood Gallery market, and is soon to move into a new studio space on Fox Lane. If you would like to see more of Sera’s work go to http://www.serawyn.tumblr.com.
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