During my residency in Trinidad and Tobago I have been leading a series of pinhole photography workshops with local artists and the community around Alice Yard.
These workshops introduced the idea of creating a camera from scratch and we turned the box space in Alice Yard into a temporary camera obscura for the day to illustrate how pinhole cameras work. We then spent time creating cameras from old shoe boxes and packaging.
I brought photographic paper with me, mostly out of date stuff I had picked up from second hand shops and car boot sales, but it was impossible to bring developing chemicals with me on the plane or indeed to find any available in Trinidad. The cost of shipping makes bringing professional dark room chemicals nearly impossible here, so we had to be resourceful. I had heard of “caffenol” processing for film before, when developer can be created using coffee, baking soda and vitamin C. For a few weeks I experimented with this and we were able to create a reliable paper developer using instant coffee, dissolvable vitamin C tablets and bicarbonate of soda. For the stop bath we were able to find powdered citric acid from a local retailer which we dissolved to create a mild acid stop bath. The fixer was the most challenging chemical to create from scratch, but eventually we discovered that Sodium Thiosulfate, which is sold in chemists to treat fungal skin infections, works as a fixer. This definitely isn’t as reliable as professional fixer and I found that that images tended to darken slightly after developing, but it worked well enough.
After our first workshop at Alice Yard, a new darkroom space was created at Granderson Lab – a former print workshop that now houses artists studios and flexible working space. We spent a few sessions here creating more cameras and developing the resulting pictures. It was an interesting way to work – deliberately slowing down the process of picture making and having to relinquish creative control and be experimental.
A new thing for me was creating multiple aperture pinhole cameras, which I didn’t think was possible. This creates really fascinating kaleidoscopic results that I developed further as a way of describing the complex understanding of space around Port of Spain. It was invaluable having the input of photographer Dabura Muhammad over the course of the past two months which led to a fruitful collaborative project.
About the programme:
I was was selected as part of the Transatlantic Artists’ Residency Exchange (TAARE) programme initiated by the British Council Caribbean working in collaboration with Delfina Foundation, Gasworks, Autograph ABP and Hospitalfield Arts; and Caribbean partners: NLS Kingston in Jamaica and Alice Yard in Trinidad. The aim of TAARE is to focus on artistic exchanges between UK, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. The residency is for visual artists, art critics and curators who want to make new transatlantic links, build on existing connections or to explore the further developments of their practice.