The Alum Chine is the name of a pathway through the Westbourne pine forests to the beaches on the other side. ‘Chine’ meaning ravine where water once flowed, and ‘alum’ because it is the place where the first chemical works existed in Britain- to extract, manufacture and mine alum and copperas or green vitriol used to fix the colours and tan the leather with a black dye, used in the textile and dyeing industry in Dorset in the late 16th century. However, by the mid 17th century mining had ceased due to the fact that it became increasingly uneconomical to extract the deposits. This story of the earliest mineral and chemical manufacturing in the UK has been all but lost to history. These days, ferrous sulphate (copperas) is used to treat anaemia-something I have suffered from and have to take. These pine trees grow tall and strong on the iron rich deposits left where alum and copperas were first extracted, as trees (that can also suffer from iron deficiency) need iron to produce chlorophyll- the pigments and processes used in these photo etchings, explore the colour and chemical industry, and echo the histories of the place as the image is ‘fixed’ and pigmented with green/ blue inks and hand made pigments (created from collected stone and earth from the alum chine itself). The inked photo etching plates are used as outcomes as well as printing matrices. They will eventually fade if left out in the light for prolonged periods, much like our forests which are rapidly disappearing around us. Aluminium, or alum, extracted on this site, is used in polaroid strips, in these polymer plates and in salts to treat human afflictions as well as plant afflictions. They remind me of our place in the world and the anthropocenic layers we are creating for posterity, in the midst of a rapidly changing environmental crisis. These places can always renew themselves, and adapt to new conditions, even perhaps recover. The question is, can we?
BEYOND SILVER, at the HIVE, Birmingham, opening 18/01-03/02/23
curated by @londonaltphoto- Melanie King, Hannah Fletcher, Oliver Raymond Barker and Martha Gray.
Metals and minerals are of the earth- extracted, purified, dried, cut, moulded, extruded, dissolved and filtered. Photographic images are of the earth, they are metals and minerals, polished, coated, sensitised, exposed, developed, washed, fixed, displayed. We rely on the sensitivity of these metals to depict the world around us, the earth that they come from.
Silver has taken a leading role in this history – it is a history of colonisation, extraction, and depiction. From Louis Daguerre’s Daguerrotypes to Henry Fox Talbot’s callotypes in the 1800s, to today’s digital Chromogenic prints – silver is seen as unbeatable when it comes to making a quality, archivable photographic image. However, silver is not the only metal used for image making.
The London Alternative Photography Collective presents ‘Beyond Silver’, an exhibition that explores the relationship between analogue photography and metallurgy. The exhibition will consider the use of silver in photography, as well as shining a light on many of the other metals that are used within photographic image production, in both historical and contemporary practice. In addition to silver, the exhibition will include works which utilise lesser known metals in photography including iron, copper, tin, aluminium, platinum and palladium.