I had first experimented with cyanotype as moving image in my animation, A Guide to British Trees
, creating short clips as part of a wider project. Following that, I had determined to make a film entirely out of cyanotypes, as part of my own practice. For a month I had planned and prepared an experimental piece about increased flooding from climate change, as a follow-up to my hand-printed film on wildfires
(using the lumen process). I had wanted to print this entirely in cyanotype, as I felt the aesthetic would have paired well with visuals of water.
However, realising the cost to create an entire cyanotype video, I had to put the project on hold – as I was focused on setting up the Northern Sustainable Darkroom. It was then that I was contacted by Globe Town Records
, based in Shoreditch, London. They had seen some of my work on Instagram, particularly my animations on soil
, and were keen to get in touch. One of their artists, Tycho Jones
, needed a music video for his song Don’t Be Afraid, that had found popularity during the coronavirus crisis.
I suggested to them the idea of a cyanotype-only video for Tycho, as a chance to finally attempt making one, with their support and backing. We talked it over for a couple of days, working out what kind of themes and style would best suit the song’s lyrics, and Tycho as an artist. As most of my work deals with the ecological crisis, I was given the freedom to incorporate my own ideas around climate breakdown and its relationship to birds – whilst representing Tycho’s musical vision.
Overall, it took 2.5 months to complete. The first month involved shooting and collating footage, as well as editing a digital version. This was then split into individual frames, at 24 frames per second. This meant that I had 24 individual jpegs per second of footage – equalling over 5,000 frames in total.
These were turned into negatives, and printed on biodegradable acetate using an eco-tank mono printer. Printing 9 frames per A4 sheet, I had to do about 580 cyanotype prints in total. After a shaky start where I accidentally fogged a batch of paper by not letting it dry properly, I worked out a system where I would coat the day before, dry overnight, and then expose and develop the next day. On average, I was doing about 100 cyanotype prints per day, working for twelve hours a day.
At first, I tried printing in the sun, but this proved to be too unreliable when doing 100 a day! So I was generously donated the use of a UV bed by MAP charity
, an arts educational charity for young people. Designed for exposing large screen prints, I was able to expose about 25 prints at a time, using ten-minute exposures. After exposure, I rushed them back to my darkroom in a light sealed box, where I would then wash.
To save water, I opted for a static wash. Typically, you are advised to wash cyanotypes in running water – but for such a mammoth project, this would have consumed an inordinate amount of water. Instead, I used two trays filled with water, switching the prints between. I would also spray the prints with white vinegar, to exaggerate the midtones and bring out some blues. Again, I used white vinegar as a more sustainable alternative to hydrogen peroxide – but you can use lemon juice or other acidic household ingredients.
After printing all the frames, I scanned them into Lightroom, and cropped them, so they would align. I’m sure any animators reading this will probably know a more efficient way of doing this – if so, do get in touch! All in all, the printing, prep, and scanning took another month.
Dropping the scanned frames into Final Cut Pro, I pressed play and prayed to the cyanotype gods that it would work. And much to my surprise, it did!
Edd Carr: I am an independent artist and researcher from the North York Moors National Park. My work deals with the ecological crisis, in particular the emotional trauma and our material relationship to the nonhuman world. To do so, I adapt traditional analogue processes into animation – as well as innovating new animation techniques. For example, I have created moving image from cyanotype, pinholes, lumen prints and more. I also utilise natural materials, such as animations on wood, leaves, and soil – to create a material link between the work and the natural world. From a research perspective – I am the leader of the Northern Sustainable Darkroom, and have authored two papers on the subject of ecology and photography. Specifically, The Ecology of Grain, which is an environmental and ethical assessment of gelatine in analogue film – and Stare into the Caffenol to Reveal Your Future, which proposes a decentralised network of darkrooms operating sustainably as an alternative to mainstream photo production.