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

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 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

Negative space

Image: Su Leslie 2019

Is negative space the space you don’t like, or the space that is not there? And if it’s not there how can you tell? — Emma Bull

I read somewhere that negative space exists to give the eye a place to rest. Implicit in that of course, is that there is something to rest from.

I guess that’s what distinguishes negative space from space which is merely empty.

Understanding that distinction — and becoming comfortable with it — is not easy for many of us. We fill the frame, fill the page, fill our stomachs, our homes and our time (and our children’s time).

And then, at some point, we talk about simplifying, editing, down-sizing, stepping back. We are looking for the negative space in which to make sense of life.

Crikey, I hear you say, that’s a bit philosophical for a photo challenge.

Ah, but in the company of many thoughtful photographers (indeed lens artists), I think musing on the philosophies that inform our work has its place.

I play a lot with negative space in my photos.

It has been a slow and not always conscious process, though  I do remember the first time I was aware of trying to take something out of an image, rather than trying to fit it in!

Looking though my archive, I notice that many of my images have quite high contrast between positive and negative spaces.

There are some exceptions.

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge | negative space

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

Comfortable

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Cats can make themselves comfortable anywhere, but sunshine and a fluffy rug don’t hurt. Image: Su Leslie

Children are pretty good at finding the adults they want to be around. When he was young, the boy-child would often make a beeline for a particular person and (sometimes literally) throw himself into their arms, ignoring everyone else present. Gotta say, he had great instincts.

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First meeting; the boy-child and his great aunt and uncle. Image: Leslie family archive

What makes you comfortable? A sunny afternoon at the beach?

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Image: Su Leslie

Sharing a drink with a friend at the end of the day?

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Image: Su Leslie 2020

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. — Jane Austen

I have no aspirations to luxury but I do like my home to feel comfortable.

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A comfortable place to work. Image: Su Leslie

cushions

Recycled kimono sash cushion covers. Image: Su Leslie

knitted throw

Knitted lap blanket for those afternoons snuggled in the armchair with a good book. Image: Su Leslie 2020

Lens-Artist Photo Challenge | pick a word.  I chose comfortable

Autumnal memory

dried leaves greenhithe 1 july2

Image: Su Leslie

“It was one of those perfect … autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.”  ― P.D. James

Autumn is the perfect time of year to live in New Zealand. The summer humidity abates, the weather settles (apart from the odd tropical cyclone) and the kids go back to school, making it a great time to travel on less crowded roads and stay in less price-inflated accommodation.

This year of course, we spent a large part of the season in lock-down, exploring the neighbourhood not the country. In doing so, I found that my suburb has a lot more deciduous trees than I remembered.

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Image: Su Leslie

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Image: Su Leslie

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Image: Su Leslie

Perfect to photograph — though not so much fun when it’s time to rake up the fallen leaves.

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But memory is selective, and for me autumn will always be golden and taste of fresh figs, straight off the tree.

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Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | Autumn

The season of the kowhai

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Spring. Tui feasting on kowhai flower nectar. Image; Su Leslie 2019

Amongst all the flowers that burst forth in Spring, the one that speaks most clearly of the season in Aotearoa New Zealand is the kowhai.

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Image: Su Leslie

Kowhai (eight species of tree within the genus Sophora) are native to this country. Unlike many NZ natives, kowhai are semi-deciduous, making their spring-time transformation even more spectacular. Unusually too, kowhai flowers appear before the new leaves.

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Kowhai flowers. Image: Su Leslie

Kowhai is the Maori word for yellow, and the plant has great significance; practically and culturally. Infusions of kowhai bark were used in traditional Maori medicine to treat a huge range of ailments from dandruff to knitting together broken bones. It was even given as a (fairly dramatic) cure for constipation.

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Kowhai flowers. Image: Su Leslie

These days, the medicinal use of Kowhai is not recommended, as it’s known that the plant contains cytsine, an alkeloid common in several species within the legume family. It is similar to nicotine and, in humans, can cause headaches, breathing difficulties and in large doses — death.

Other animals are clearly not affected; kowhai flower nectar is a favourite food of the native Korimako, Kaka and Tui.  One of the great springtime pleasures is watching and listening to Tui in a kowhai tree.

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Tui in a kowhai tree. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Tui in a kowhai tree. Image: Su Leslie 2019

If you’d like to know what Tui’s sound like, this video‘s good and has footage of Kereru (wood pigeon) and Tauhou (wax-eye)

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | Spring

Friday Flowers

Mantles of red and golden weather

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Pohutukawa flowers. Image: Su Leslie 2019

For many here in Aotearoa New Zealand — especially those of us living near the coast — the arrival of summer is heralded by the flowering of the Pohututkawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa).

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Pohutukawa flower buds. Image; Su Leslie 2019

A member of the myrtle family, pohutukawa grows easily along the country’s coastline, often spilling precariously over cliffs. Incredibly strong roots anchor its spreading, silver branches that twist and gnarl at impossible angles. It is long-lived, providing generations of beach-goers with shelter and shade where sand meets bush.

pohutukawa flower cluster wet

Image: Su Leslie 2020

And between November and February (but particularly in December and January) you will find pohutukawa trees all over the country covered in a profusion of (generally red) flowers.

Early European settlers “adopted” the pohutukawa as the New Zealand Christmas tree, using wreaths and branches to adorn homes and churches during the Christmas festivities. Today, pohutukawa-themed Christmas cards, gifts and tree ornaments are sold in shops around the country.

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… some of us make our own cards. Image/design: Su Leslie 2018

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Pohutukawa flowers — NZ’s “Christmas tree.” Image: Su Leslie, 2017

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Image: Su Leslie 2014

The pohutukawa is a common symbolic element or icon in much of my nation’s culture. One of our foremost playwrights, Bruce Mason, wrote a play called The Pohutukawa Tree, but it is from another of his works — The End of the Golden Weather — that I draw these words

“The red is of a fire dying at dusk. The green faded in drab. Pain and age are in these gnarled forms, in bare roots clutching at the earth, knotting on the cliff face, in tortured branches dark against the washed sky.”

— from The End of the Golden Weather, a play by Bruce Mason.

Each year, on Christmas Day, a scene from The End of the Golden Weather is performed on Takapuna Beach, near my home. Each year, several several hundred Aucklanders turn up to see this — free — performance. That too has become a part of what summer means in this tiny corner of the world.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | Summer

Friday Flowers