The medium is the message. Nowhere can that be seen more than the cyanotype exhibit of photojournalist Chris Lucas at the newly opened KAMUNING GALLERY CAFÉ. There is no consistent or fixed subject matter framing the exhibit. The theme is the monochromatic blue images that are both haunting and eerie. Everyday objects, sometimes places with no particular significance gain indescribable presence in the high contrast, deep dark, blue images. Whether its rice grains swaying in the field (GRAINS OF LIFE), the piercing stare of a cat (DARE TO STARE) or the black and white keys of a piano (GOOD OL’ MUSIC), they start to have a unique meaning in the cyanotype prints.
The images are all of 5×7 inches, and that’s all they have to be. The detail achieved can already be impressive. AGAVE for example has thorny leaves that seem to jut out of the picture. The white edges of the leaves with the thorns seem especially menacing in blue monochrome. The absence of color sometimes enhances the shape and texture of the image as in BOUQUET. This is where orchids and varied flowers come to life, more as shapes with their petals and leaves having an eerie glow.
AGAINST THE FLOW photo exhibit will start from October 16 until October 31. Kamuning Gallery is open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight at at No. 43 Judge Jimenez Street corner K- 1st Street, Kamuning, Quezon City. Tels: 4161637, 4126628, 415-1692.
Like many photographers Chris Lucas struggled between the digital and film medium. As a photojournalist, digital comes with cost efficiency and immediacy. The artist in him longed for the romantic feel of film, the grains of the image and the unique blurry effects of slow shutter. He also laments that a lot of people who buy digital cameras immediately call themselves photographers without having an appreciation for the older processes. This is where he came up with the title for his exhibit: AGAINST THE FLOW. By combining digital and old process he goes against the tide of ‘instant’ photographers who can’t see beyond digital.
Worse than lack of appreciation for photographic history is the ignorance of great photographers who have gone before. One of his favorite photographers is Joan Bondoc of Philippine Daily Inquirer. Her dramatic and touching slice of life photos of can also be seen in some of his works. War photographer Robert Capa is another photographer he admires. Capa’s gritty sometimes-painful photos of the victims of conflict have influenced photojournalists worldwide.
Lucas started out shooting as a hobbyist in the early part of 1990s. It was from a love affair with an old Yashica FX3 rangefinder film camera. Little did he know that the old Yashica he bought in a thrift shop in Avenida would start a life long passion.
He started professionally as a tabloid photographer in 2007 and became a staff photographer of Congressman Alvin Sandoval from Navotas City in the same year. Recently he has photographed Senator Bong bong Marcos (running for vice president), Congressman Lito Atienza and BAYAN MUNA Representative Neri Colmenares. He later became a staff photographer for a Korean broadsheet, Today Philippines. After this, he started covering for some underground bands: KADANGYAN, DISIPULO and so on. His work got recognized and published which led him to shoot concerts of local and international artists and eventually corporate and social events. He also shoots for a men’s magazine FHM once in a while.
After using digital cameras in his professional work he needed a way to express himself through film and experimented in a lot of the older processes for printing. Among them polaroid, pinhole, gum bichromate, chemigram, photogram and cyanotype. He has even designed and created his own pinhole cameras. Examples of photos and some of his experiments can be seen in his blog: kalyepilipinas.tumblr.com
Lucas settled on cyanotype after researching the process and duplicating it himself. Cyanotype is a non-silver photographic printing process that uses two chemicals such as potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate, that when mixed together, will create a light sensitive substrate (e.g. paper, glass, wood). What these chemicals do is make paper, wood, become light sensitive where a negative can create an image on these materials. The process is not confined to negatives; almost any object on top of the substrate will adopt the shape and texture and impress an image. Cyanotype prints are characterized by rich blue color and usually rough edges caused by brush strokes. This technique was first used by Sir John Herschel in 1840s and pioneered by Anna Atkins upon publication of her book British Algae: Cyanotype Impression in 1843.
Photographers with digital files can create digital negatives by using photo editing software and laser printing on acetate. In Chris’ case he creates a digital file and then sends them off to a photo print shop that is able to give him an A4 size acetate. The size is ideal for creating 2, 5×7 images. After treating paper in the chemicals overnight, he places the negative on top and ‘exposes’ it to sunlight for 5 minutes. The image is impressed on the paper after exposure goes through a developing chemical and is washed and dried for display.
For most people the process can be quite tedious. But Chris is a not like most people; “Printing cyanotype is fun and very easy provided you have the chemicals. Here in the Philippines, chemicals for alternative photographic process are often very hard to find and come with high price. And that adds to the exotic appeal of cyanotype in particular.” He also loves the fact that you don’t even need negatives to imprint images, which led him to say, “Creative freedom is in your own hands.”
It takes him along process of experimentation in finding out which subjects are more suited for cyanotype. When asked about the choice of subjects he said, “My photos are basically my thoughts, emotions, dreams and where I’ve been.” From editing his images, to experimenting and producing the prints the whole exhibit was nine months in the making. For anyone interested in purchasing them, they could possibly be a good investment in art. These photos are made from a rare process that can’t be easily found here on in other countries.
Landscapes take on a different feel when printed on cyanotype. THE BELFRY, for example shot in U.P. Diliman in 2015 reminds us of a Bela Lugosi horror film in the 1930s. Especially with the barren thin branches of trees dominating the upper portion of the image. MANIWAYA ISLAND, shot in Marinduque is almost unrecognizable as well except as a dream like state of an island retreat. That’s the magic of photography even in an archaic process as this, which is still capable of making us see things and places in a different light we haven’t seen before.
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