It’s all in the detail

Eco-print; feijoa leaf on silk. Image: Su Leslie 2019

This week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge ask us to focus on the details, so I’m going to take you on a wee journey through a very cool fibre art process I learned recently. This is not a lesson in technique (I’m a total novice here), but a glimpse at some of the processes and outcomes. (1)

A couple of weeks ago, I did a workshop (2) on eco-printing — a process which transfers colour and shape from plants to another material (generally textiles or paper).

The theory

The basic principle is fairly simple. Many plants contain chemicals that will, under the right conditions, leach into other materials. Plant dyes are usually made by boiling leaves, bark, roots, fruit and/or flowers and then immersing fabric in the liquid.

Eco-printing eliminates the first stage; instead bringing plant and fabric into direct contact. The actual transfer process can apparently take place without water or heat — but takes weeks rather than hours to achieve. It is more usual to bundle plant and fabric together and either steam, or immerse in simmering water.

A disclaimer

Eco-printing is not for anyone who wants a precise result. It’s a process with so many variables that every piece made will be different — even if they use the same plants from the same source in the same water-bath.

The fun is in the detail!

Basically the same plant material; the same fabric, “cooked” at the same time. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

For someone like me — traditionally driven by results rather than process — that knowledge was oddly liberating. It meant I could simply PLAY.

Olive, feijoa, bracken fern, onion skin, layed out on silk. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The chemistry bit

Some plants — eucalyptus in particular — make excellent dyes while others need a little chemical help to release their colour into fabric. The “chemical help” is known as mordant. Mordants are often (but not always) metal salts. The one we used in the workshop was iron-based — made by soaking rusty nails and steel wool in vinegar. After a week or so, the liquid can be mixed with water and the plant material dipped or soaked in it before being laid on the fabric.

A jar of rusty nails; otherwise known as iron mordant. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Silver dollar gum leaves (Eucalyptus cinerea) give bold colours and definition without an extra mordant. Image: Su Leslie

Detail; silver dollar leaves on silk. Image: Su Leslie

Process

The transfer of colour and outline from plant to fabric happens when the two are in direct contact. The method we used to achieve this is called bundling.

We laid out assorted leaves, stems and bits of bark on our silk fabric, rolled these up, tied them and put them in simmering water to “cook” for at least an hour. The longer you leave the bundles, the darker and more intense the colours.

Happy with the layout. Image: Su Leslie

Practicing at home. Tied bundles ready for the pot. Image: Su Leslie

Slimy mess. Once the bundle is cooked, the leaves are removed to reveal what’s been imprinted. Image: Su Leslie

Finished product

Finished scarf. Image: Su Leslie

Finished scarf. Image: Su Leslie

Detail, finished scarf. Image: Su Leslie


(1) If you are interested, online resources abound (of the usual variable quality). I’d suggest you begin here. India Flint is widely credited with “inventing” the eco-print process.

(2) The workshop was taught by artist Birgit Moffat

A change of scenery

Mt Ruapehu, North Island, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

I live on an isthmus; about 700 metres from the sea at high tide. I can’t see the water from my house, but it’s impossible to travel far in any direction and NOT encounter the Waitemata or Manukau harbours which define and enfold Auckland.

In this, I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Well, except for a couple of weeks ago when three large off-shore earthquakes had many New Zealanders scrambling to evacuate their homes and head for high ground, while the rest of us spent a tense day listening to the news and checking our emergency supply kits.

But tsunami risk aside, living in Auckland means that “the beach” is the backdrop to everyday life. So when I need a change of scenery, my favourite place is the mountains in the central plateau of New Zealand’s north island.

The road to Whakapapa village and ski-field, and the Chateau Tongariro, central North Island, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The road to Whakapapa village and ski-field, and the Chateau Tongariro, central North Island, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

I’m sure part of my longing is tied to memory. My first visit to the area was to attend a conference held at the Chateau Tongariro — a wonderfully grand hotel nestled in the foothills of Mt Ruapehu.

The Chateau Tongariro, built in 1929 to encourage tourists to visit the newly opened Tongariro National Park. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

The central plateau, more accurately the North Island volcanic plateau includes three active volcanoes; Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu and the Rangipo Desert. Not that Auckland doesn’t have volcanoes too, but ours are much smaller, never snow-covered and tend to erupt only once. Mt Tongariro last erupted in 2012; Mt Ruapehu in 2007.

Mt Ngauruhoe, Central Plateau, NZ. Image: Su Leslie

Rangipo Desert, Central Plateau, NZ. Image: Su Leslie

And just as the macro landscape is vastly different to my “normal”, the flora is too.

Close up shot of small green/red plant growing around the snowline at Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Alpine flora, Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Close up shot of four-leafed alpine plant growing around snow line on Mt Ruapehu, NZ. Leaves bright green with white, fuzzy edges. Two of the leaves are beginning to brown. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Alpine flora, Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Close up shot of spreading yellow-green succulent-type plants growing amongst white moss. Seen at the snow line on Mt Ruapehu, NZ. Image: Su leslie, 2017

Alpine flora, Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Small white flower clusters mixed in with green mosses seen on Mt Ruapehu, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Alpine flora, Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Although I appreciate the benefits of living in a city, the noise and bustle and sheer number of people and cars exhausts me. I’m not sure I could live in the shadow of the mountains, but it brings me joy to spend time there.

First light on Mt Ruapehu, Central Plateau, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Morning light on Mt Ruapehu, Central Plateau, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Early morning under lowering skies with low cloud around Mt Tongariro, SH1 south of Turangi, North Island, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

The Desert Road, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Storm clouds, Central Plateau, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

First light Central Plateau, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | A change of scenery

Special moments

Two photographers doing what we love. Image: Su Leslie 2018

The history of photography was, until the digital age, entirely the history of special moments. Early photography was both expensive and extremely time consuming. Cameras — large, often bespoke contraptions that worked by exposing chemical-coated plates to light over relatively long periods of time — were the preserve of a few wealthy enthusiasts.

Even after new technologies made cameras accessible to the mass market (thanks Kodak), the cost of buying and developing film meant that many (most) people still saved photography for recording the events and moments of most importance to them. Five selfies with that cheeseburger — no way!

Now that most phones have (perfectly decent) digital cameras and are internet-connected, the way we think about — and use — photography has utterly changed. One of the most intelligent writers about photography (in my opinion) was the late John Berger. Writing in 1972, he said:

Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph is a result of the photographer’s decision that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen. If everything that existed were continually being photographed, every photograph would become meaningless.

John Berger

Recording the experience of art; a project I consider worthwhile. Image: Su Leslie

With the ubiquity of photography in our lives, how do we choose special moments? Not just those we capture — but those we share with the increasingly wide audience available through social media. How different bloggers respond to that question, posed in this week’s Lens Artists Photo Challenge, is fascinating in itself.

My lens for this project is creativity. My special moments are those in which creative activities are being practiced, or their products enjoyed.

Exploring creativity with a compassionate and talented teacher. Image: Su Leslie

There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.

Sophia Loren

Image: Su Leslie

Image: Su Leslie

Image: Su Leslie

Exploring the boundaries of art. Image: Su Leslie

” … I feel that what we should get from art is a sense of wonder, of something beyond ourselves, that celebrates our ‘being’ here.” — Trevor Bell. Images: Su Leslie

Before and after. Recording process matters. Images: Su Leslie

Lens Artists Photo Challenge | Special Moments

What served in the place of the photograph, before the camera’s invention? The expected answer is the engraving, the drawing, the painting. The more revealing answer might be: memory.

John Berger

Natural light

The last of the day, Murrays Bay, Auckland. Su Leslie

What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

John Berger

Light and shade; colour and texture. Male Hamadryas baboon, Auckland Zoo. Image: Su Leslie

Hints of sunset, Muriwai beach. Image: Su Leslie

Photos have no narrative content. They only describe light on surface.

Garry Winogrand

Back-lighting illuminates shape and detail. Image: Image: Su Leslie

The moment you take the leap of understanding to realize you are not photographing a subject but are photographing light is when you have control over the medium.

Daryl Benson

I definitely don’t feel in control, but the more photographs I take, the more I have come to understand the wisdom of the quotes above.

Back-lighting reveals colour and clarity. Image: Su Leslie

Water adds a new element and changes the quality of light: Image: Su Leslie

Water adds a new element and changes the quality of light; wet tarmac. Image: Su Leslie

Morning mist; and the world seems flat. Image: Su Leslie

Storm night. Image: Su Leslie

Morning light, hotel room, Wellington, NZ. Image: Su Leslie

Image: Su Leslie

The only photographer I will compare myself to is the one I used to be.

Emma Davies

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | natural light

The letter S

Sunset, Christmas Beach, Herald Island, NZ. Image: Su Leslie

Many (many) years ago, I used to watch the TV programme Sesame Street with my baby brother. At the end of each show, the “sponsor” announcement went something like “today’s show has been brought to you by the letters … (take your pick) and the number … (usually a small one)”.

This week’s Lens-Artists challenge, which asks for subjects beginning with the letter S, reminds me of that (and how convenient that the show was called Sesame Street).

So of course we have a sunset.

And how about some sea, sand and sky?

Kakanui Beach, Otago, NZ. Image: Su Leslie

Or sunflowers.

Image: Su Leslie

Perhaps something sweet …

Image: Su Leslie

Or do you prefer savory?

Image: Su Leslie

I like to sew …

Image: Su Leslie

But I’ll leave singing to others.

Image: Su Leslie

Amongst the visual arts, I’m particularly fond of sculpture.

Sometimes serious …

‘Gretchen’ Sam Harrison, 2014. Exhibited at NZ Sculpture OnShore, Devonport, New Zealand. Image: Su Leslie

Sometimes a little bit silly?

‘Damien Hurst Looking for Sharks’ Cool Shit, 2018. Exhibited at Sculpture by the Sea Bondi, NSW, Australia. Image: Su Leslie

Just like Smurfs on a road trip …

Image: Su Leslie

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge subjects beginning with the letter S

Focus on the detail

“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.” — Elizabeth Lawrence. Image: Su Leslie 2021

Some people look at big things, and other people look at very small things, but in a sense, we’re all trying to understand the world around us.” — Roderick MacKinnon

I’m a detail kind of person. The kind who notices when pictures are hung a fraction off; who will unpick and re-sew a seam until it’s just right. The kind of person who not only owns plating tweezers, but actually uses them.

No surprise then that I love macro photography. Nor that a walk around my garden results in an abundance of close-up shots — but not one that shows the shape and structure of the garden itself. Though given that it’s (euphemistically) a “work in progress” — maybe that’s no bad thing.

Cosmos: the garden gift that keeps on giving. Image: Su Leslie 2021

Image: Su Leslie 2021

Image: Su Leslie 2021

Image: Su Leslie 2021

Image: Su Leslie 2021

New buds. Image: Su Leslie 2021

Beauty in decay. Image: Su Leslie 2021

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge | It’s a small world

Friday Flowers

Favourite images of 2020

Waiting for rain. Highway 22, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2020

The Lens-Artists challenge for this week is to look back at 2020 through our favourite photos.

These are not an attempt to make sense of the year (as in last week’s Changing Seasons), but to consider my journey as a photographer.

I love photographing landscape, but not the picturesque and panoramic landscapes of travel blogs and brochures. More and more, I want to capture the back roads, the mundane, the damaged. I love how small changes in light can render the ordinary, if only fleetingly, extraordinary.

Don’t look back. Ararimu Valley Road, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Water, especially the sea, has always been a focus for my photography. But again, I’m interested in the quiet places, the cloudy days.

Not even the fishermen. Wharf, Island Bay, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Beach walk. Kariotahi beach, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Shooting indoors, I find myself again drawn to the quiet, liminal spaces.

Echoes. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Rest. Image: Su Leslie 2020

I started 2020 with the intention to take more portraits, both to improve my technical skills and to make me engage with people more. With hindsight, yeah, I picked the wrong year.

Windows on the soul. Image: Su Leslie 2020

The guy above asked me to take his photo. He thought I’d be interested in his moko (tattoo), and I was. But I was way more interested in his eyes.

In the middle of lock-down, and lacking human subjects, I shot a “Portraits of the Mundane” series. The goal was to play with lighting, but I enjoyed the results too.

Whisked. Image: Su Leslie 2020

All that remains. Image: Su Leslie 2020

As in the past, my photo archives are overflowing with images of food and flowers. With both, I think my skills have improved over the year, but (perhaps because the field is so crowded) I don’t have any real favourites — except perhaps this.

And probably because it’s one of the few flower shots I’ve captured that I think works well in black and white.

After the rain. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge | favourite images of 2020

The sun will come out tomorrow

“Into every life a little rain must fall.” Image: Su Leslie 2018

It’s probably not surprising that sunshine is so often used as a metaphor for joy and positivity. Most life on Earth, including humanity, is dependent on the energy of our Sun.

So we describe people as “a ray of sunshine” or as having “a sunny disposition.” Stevie Wonder sang “you are the sunshine of my life, while Morecambe and Wise often signed off at the end of their show with “Bring me Sunshine (in your smile)

“You are my sunshine.” Image: Leslie family archive.

The flip-side of course is our use of rain and cloud metaphors. My mother’s fond of the phrase “a face like a wet weekend” and I’ve always liked Billy Bragg’s “a little black cloud in a dress.” (Must I Paint you a Picture).

A face clouded. Image: Su Leslie 2018

And when we want to offer hope in bad times, we promise sunshine after the storm.

… if you hang on for a while longer, there is always something bright around the corner, or the dark clouds will go away and there will be sunshine again. – Charles M. Schulz

Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray. — Lord Byron

Lens Artists Photo Challenge | The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

A walk on the beach

Te Henga/Bethells Beach, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2020

If I told you I encountered a major road-block when thinking about this post, you’d probably imagine some emotional or psychological barrier about which I’m going to unburden myself.

But actually, I missed a road sign announcing that Scenic Drive in Waitakere was closed to traffic, and found myself driving towards an actual blocked road. With the car behind me way too close for a safe U-turn, I ended up on Bethells Road, heading towards the beach.

Te Henga/Bethells Beach is one of four road-accessible beaches on Auckland’s (wild) west coast. Although it’s the closest to home, I seldom visit there, probably because the next closest — Muriwai — has the twin attractions of the gannet colony and a good fish and chip shop en route.

It’s school holidays here at the moment, but the beach was surprisingly quiet. Perhaps it was just too cold and overcast.

Although I saw a few people carrying surfboards, I didn’t see any actually in the water, and the surf life-saving tower wasn’t manned.

The closest anyone seemed to get was surf-casting.

I may have missed a road sign, but I did manage to notice lots of small treasures on the beach and in the surrounding bush.

Lens Artists Photo Challenge | A Photo Walk

Growing

A week of glorious sunshine has delivered lots of new growth and flowering in my garden. It’s especially exciting to see the plum blossom, but I think the bees are happiest amongst the borage flowers. You’ll have to take my word for that now — I was up too early to catch any in action.

This week’s Lens-Artists Challenge | Pick a Word offered Growing (amongst others). I thought I was done yesterday with Comfortable — but how could I resist flower photos.

And it’s Friday.

#fridayflowers