Two photographers, two Holgas, 250 miles and one unique collaboration
1st June 2011
Craig and Stewart, both originally from Edinburgh, have known each other since the age of 13. First meeting in a geography class, they immediately bonded over a shared love of music. Real life conspired against their friendship in the late '90s when Craig moved to Birmingham, however they stayed in touch and visited each other regularly.
It was on one such visit in late 2006 that Stewart, having recently acquired a new digital camera, suggested the pair take a walk under Birmingham's notorious Spaghetti Junction. Intrigued by the idea, Craig brought along his little point and shoot camera. By the end of the day, they had been inspired by each other's images and a love affair with urban photography had been born.
Stewart started a daily photo project soon after his visit, with Craig joining in about a year later. Both converted to Blipfoto at the end of 2008 and have posted daily since then. These small glimpses into each other's lives has been invaluable in maintaining their friendship.
With the encouragement of the Blipfoto community, the pair's curiosity with photography grew and they became increasingly experimental in their approach. Not only were they blipping with digital cameras, they were also soon shooting, developing, scanning and uploading photographs taken on film. In order to stick to Blipfoto's one-a-day ethos, this was quite a challenge.
Another blipper, etherghost (or Megan Chapman to her friends), forged a friendship with the duo through a mutual appreciation of their art and, in an echo of one of the most powerful bonds between Craig and Stewart, through music.
When Megan, an artist and curator at the Fayetteville Underground, proposed the idea of Craig and Stewart doing a joint exhibition, the pair, thrilled at the prospect of exhibiting together, jumped at the chance.
After discussing ideas for their show, the pair hit upon several characteristics they wanted to highlight in the work, the most important of which was that the whole process had to be as collaborative as possible.
The purest expression of this idea they could identify was to shoot double exposures, allowing both to shoot part of each image. Secondly, after so much time shooting digitally, they wanted to get away from its consistent perfection and embrace the random chance possible with film.
To achieve this vision, they needed a tool that would easily allow double exposures, would introduce random elements and that would shoot in the pair's preferred square format. Looking in their growing collections of vintage and plastic cameras, Holgas were the obvious choice.
The Holga, a rudimentary plastic-lensed medium format camera, was originally intended as a mass-market point-and-shoot in its native China, but gained cult status amongst lo-fi photographers worldwide, who appreciated the unique character of its photographs.
Deciding on a basic set of rules for the photographs, where the first exposures were made the with the camera upright and the second with the camera upside down, the pair set to work. Stewart shot a handful of films in Edinburgh, wound them back and posted them to Craig, who then shot the second exposure on them in Birmingham. Both held their breath as Craig developed and scanned those first films. This had to work because they didn't have a plan B.
They needn't have worried. This first batch of films returned some superlative images, a few of which ended up making the final cut for the show. The camera-flipping double exposure technique allowed the subjects of each photograph to meet in the middle of the frame, creating spectacular images where the character of the two cities, as well as the character of the individual photographers, blurred together. Truly, they had arrived at a collective vision.
Buoyed by this initial success, the pair went on to shoot around 30 films, with both photographers initiating films. They first shot in black and white, however latterly also in redscale - a process whereby colour negative film is placed into the camera in reverse, lending the image a fiery, orange-red tone. This lent another element of chance to an already chaotic mix.
Through the whole process Blip was instrumental. They used the site to test out ideas and to keep in touch with one another and with Megan. On one occasion, Craig induced a sense of panic in Stewart by posting a blip of a dozen unexposed medium format films, that he intended to shoot on and send to Edinburgh!
When they were done shooting their film, more than 300 images had to be whittled down to just over 20 for the show and fine prints had to be made. Craig and Stewart had hand-developed all of the film and they also wanted to produce traditional darkroom prints. However space, equipment and time counted against them.
Instead, high-quality scans were made of the final images, which then went through a laborious manual process of dust removal, before being sent out to a photo lab. The quality of the resulting prints took the pair were aback, matching closely their vision for the project. They knew at this point that they had a strong exhibition.
Initially, neither Craig nor Stewart had planned to go to America with their show. However Stewart decided that he could not resist the opportunity to go and see a part of the world he had never even thought of seeing before, not to mention finally getting to meet the elusive etherghost! Stewart was therefore able to not only carry the prints to Fayetteville, but also frame and hang the show.
On the opening night of the exhibition, many hundreds of people came through the gallery and Stewart talked up a storm. He also gave a talk about the exhibition, prompting sales of several of the works. Throughout all of this Craig was able to watch at home in the UK, as Stewart recounted his adventures on his Blipfoto journal. Stewart will soon be back home, followed shortly after by the exhibition, an exhibition which would never have come about without the community of Blipfoto.
After being so well received in the US, Craig and Stewart's next challenge is to find a venue to show their exhibition in the UK.