Here lies a tale of perseverance and victory. You see I’m a self proclaimed ideas person, it’s on my CV and everything so it must be true. The unfortunate thing is I´m not so good at finishing any of these totally brilliant ideas before being distracted by yet more ideas, shiny things and squirrels.
I have notebooks (physical and digital) filled with bullet points, ideas and sketches of photo projects I want to do. All my notebooks have names, the original of which was a ratty red notebook titled “Plan Stan by Laura Crossley aged 28¾”, followed up by “Plan Stan the Revival by Laura aged 39¾” and the current version of “Plan Stan Won´t Quit! By Laura Cogan aged 41 1∕10”. Writing this now is doing an excellent job of making me feel old as fuck, so that´s an unexpected twist in all this. But back to the point at hand, I´m good at starting things but shite at finishing them. Until now that is, for I, Laura Cogan aged 42⅓, have actually finished a project of mine, not only finished but to the point of it being exactly how I imagined in my head when I started. The kicker is it’s taken me 7 months, 2 packs of darkroom paper and half my sanity but the point is it’s done and I´m ready to share it with the world.
I’d like to point out that in stark contrast to the above statement, I´m actually one of the most organised mother fuckers on the planet, when it’s not too personal, such as at work or managing important life stuff like keeping the hobbit fed and such. I´ve been described as being inhuman in terms of this, a statement I´ve decided to take as a compliment rather than an insult. The problem is translating that same organisation into my art because I honestly think I’d be an unstoppable creating machine if I could. I´ve got the notebooks to back me up, I just need to find that thing I’m missing to translate it into finished projects that are released into the world like little Laura soul butterflies. Ew that´s a bit poetic innit. But whatever it is I think it might have something to do with a combination of lack of self confidence, discipline and consistency. Oh if I could wield that fickle trifecta I’d be… oooh something, not sure what but grrrrr it´d be something grand. I know some people will be all “don’t put extra pressure on yourself and photography should be fun la la” but honestly discipline is not a dirty word, having purpose is not stifling my creativity, it’s expanding it but i´d like to find some of that consistency too please.
Anyway, back to the project that I’ve actually finished. It started out as a printing project in terms of my whole purpose kick. I decided to make some books or zines but wanted to keep it analogue for this project. Of course the idea of hand printing photos for a book is mad but I wanted to find a way to do it and after some mind tennis I settled on this idea of upcycling old books that were unwanted and a bit unloved. Books also being analogue fit the theme perfectly, analogue on analogue within analogue innit, some analogue inception level shit if you will. The idea was to source a selection of different books and somehow fuse my hand printed images into them. I really loved not only the idea that I was recycling something that would otherwise be discarded, while sticking to the analogue inception theme, but also create something individual and unique. No two will be the same and there will never be another, these truly will be one off pieces and that excited me more than anything I think.
I made a plan on how I was going to achieve this and set about like a mad scientist with a scalpel dissecting books and creating a prototype, sitting back with evil cackles of “it’s aliiiiiiiive!” This success spurned a hunter gather for suitable books, mostly Icelandic but more important was to have some funk to the covers that would work well with my images as well as my personality. After collecting a few I retreated to my lab (kitchen table) for more frankenbook action. I have to admit i´m not particularly adept with a scalpel and some of the books died by my hands (collateral damage). The trick was being able to remove the pages by not completely fucking up the rest of the book, especially the spine as that would be needed to be folded in and kept nice so the finished product didn’t look like a dogs dinner. It took a few tries, a lot of frustration, sliced fingers and swear words but I got the process down how I wanted it in the end and came out with 8 completed book covers with new pages inserted ready for the prints to go in.
It’s not until this point that I’d actually chosen the sets of images to go in them. Each book would have a set of 4 images and I wanted to make each one different but also cohesive. I had a brain fart moment of deciding some of the books would have 6 images each but swiftly u-turned on that idea after the first days of printing when I realised just how long it would take and knocked it back down to 4 each. I also had to drop two of the books due to the fact that they just weren’t on the same level as the others even if I did like them. Tough choices but if I had a hope of actually finishing this project, and I was already flagging by now, then I had to make some sacrifices.
The actual printing of the images was a revelation and the best learning experience I think. I´d been getting back into printing in the darkroom but with no set purpose at the end of it the results were sporadic at best. It would be a lot to get the darkroom and chemicals all set up for no real reason, so this gave me the motivation to get back at it on the regular. I decided in my wisdom that I was going to split grade the prints using the opposite extremes of Ilford multigrade filters, the grade 0 and the grade 5 along with a splash of no filter for good measure. I ended up developing a technique of building up an image starting with a test strip of no filter, then adding in the grade 0 and then the grade 5, finally dodging and burning where necessary with combinations of dark card, my hand and weirdly cut out shapes to get the desired effect.
This is not to say I didn’t make some mistakes along the way, some more stupid than others. One of the more stupid mistakes was pulling the negative out of the holder without fully opening it and unbeknownst to me at the time resulted in a fecking great scratch down it that would come back to haunt me later. Another discovery quite late in the game was that the plastic on my copyboard was reflecting a thin strip of light onto the edge of one of my photos and after some adjusting and readjusting the negative realised what it was and covered it with tape, shadow gone! Oh and one mega important tip I’ll give anyone using filters in the darkroom is heed my warnings and try not to be a bloody butterfingers like me because once you drop them those fuckers go invisible!
Some images took a lot longer and ALOT more paper to get the desired results than others (snow is hard!) but 7 months and 2 whole packs of paper later I finally finished printing in September along with a stack of reject prints and test strips to boot (see cover image for proof). I never thought it was going to end and as I came scarily closer to the end of the second pack of paper I was starting to become a bit manic with it to be honest.
The final part of the puzzle of trimming the prints for the books was by far the worst and I never want to see the business end of a scalpel again in my life! I´ve shredded the fuck out of a metal ruler for a start, how that´s even possible I don´t know and I´m paranoid that I´ll have poisoned us all with tiny fragments of metal floating in the air from it. The sound is the kind you can feel in your teeth as well, just how you’d imagine. Not to mention I went through 3 scalpels as well. BUT enough of that horrible image because the prints are trimmed and finally in the books and finished.
An additional mini project within this one was creating some sort of branding to go with the books. I’d decided that I didn’t want to sign the prints or books in fear of ruining them (also quite frankly I don’t think my scrawl adds any value to this) and so I wanted to include something with each book when they go off into the world. To fit with the theme of upcycling I actually created some business cards in the darkroom using the Lauragram method (plagiarized from Man Ray’s Rayographs) and old spools from the films I’ve developed. You can read about that part of the project here on my website. I love these little fellas and again they´re limited edition and hand printed, not something often said about business cards I’m sure.
So all in all It’s no surprise that it’s taken me 7 months, honestly if it wasn’t for the impending house move and potential for no darkroom for a while I’d probably still be at this in February next year, if I’d not got too distracted by shiny things of course. Keep an eye out for part two of the project which involves printing on more stuff in analogue inception style, but this time it’s not paper, ooooooh. I just need to work on the consistency and discipline to get things finished sooner.
I’m incredibly proud of how these books have turned out, not only because I actually finished the project but because it´s come out exactly how I saw it in my head all those months ago. Certainly more ambitious than I had set out to do but they truly are one of a kind and worth all the blood, sweat and tears i´ve put into them. So without further ado here they all are in their full glory and if you are interested in purchasing one of these one of a kind wonders then they will be available through my website here at the same time this article is published. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have making them.
Go for Laura