By a Long Chalk

By A Long Chalk (2021)

Chalk is a material with a long history of associations with art practice. Formed during the Cretacious period (Creta is the Latin for chalk) 145 million years ago at the end of the Jurassic era, it holds in its structure the fossilized homes of millions of empty shells of sea creatures that accumulated in layers at the bottom of the sea and have slowly stratified and been exposed by climactic shifts or mined for human use. My project embodies this history, and its use in photographic etching/ transfer processes- where the latent image of the photograph is etched onto the surface of an aluminium plate with non-toxic light sensitive material. The chalk is brushed onto the surface to ‘reveal’ the image before it is developed in water. In By a Long Chalk, my photo etching plates and photographic transfer images were made in situ- on the shores of the Jurassic coast in Dorset. It is a place that is crumbling and exposing its chalk and shale (black chalk) underbelly, as rocks erode, landslides occur and climate change accelerates this process in the anthropocene. Here, in Chapman’s pool, in a small secluded rocky bay, I expose my images to the sunlight, and develop the photographic plates in the salt waters of the sea. On their surface remain the invisible traces of the place, microscopic infra-thin water particles, marine algae and entropic handmade marks. After printing and transferring these images onto copy paper, I brush, drag, draw and mark the surface of the images with the chalk rock and shale I collected there- leaving traces of the million-year-old fossil shell powder on its surface. In this way I am returning the materiality of the haptic to the surface of the image, completing a circle of embodied practice. The pellicule of chalk dust, black chalk (shale) and white chalk, lightly obscure the image, leaving a forensic dusting, with fingerprints and smudges on its skin.  This references the painstaking geological and forensic techniques used to expose our past- and to determine our constant and unabating destruction of the landscapes that support life on earth. The folds on the surface of the image are reminiscent of maps, literally unfolding the narrative cartography of the place. Photography is in a unique position as a recorder of these moments, creating fragments of its own, that resist and raise the possibility of totality and wholeness, while exhibiting a presentational force.  I feel a responsibility to expose these narratives and to maintain an intimate relationship to nature, one that does not contribute  to our ecological demise, but finds alternative methods to create images of these landscapes that are in the process of disappearing before our eyes.  This series becomes a memorial and witness to our estrangement from nature, and a material reminder of where we come from. The chalk leaves marks on my hands, just as the marks of my fingers are left on the surface of the photographs twice over (on the plates and on their prints) leaving a forensic trace of my encounter with these spaces of disappearance.  If photography mediates between ‘its state of being and its state of becoming’ and allows for a re-cognition of the transient and fragmented, then these redrawn photographic pieces give nature itself agency and the voice to visualize the layers of history it preserves in its microscopic wake.

By a Long Chalk- photo book, hand made, chalk dust and shale (edition of 15)
Photographic transfer image, surface drawing with collected chalk and shale from the south coast
Shale and Chalk dust scratched and brushed onto the surface of photographic transfer print, large scale, on wooden painted stilts