This Equals That: Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
The Photobook

This Equals That: Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin

From early examples of books by Edward Steichen, to publications by Alec Soth and Tierney Gearon, photobooks for children are not a new phenomenon. Last year, The British Journal of Photography featured a report on a new wave of childrens’ books. It identified that, although children are engaging with the language of photography at an increasingly young age, it may be a difficult medium to use for the making of childrens’ books, as such publications encourage young readers to use their imaginations to build stories, and photography cannot escape its indexical or direct link to the world of fact. With this in mind, it is clear photography needs to be employed by childrens’ book makers in engaging and creative ways, teaching children not just to look at images but how to read them too, be them factual or fictional. Enter Jason Fulford.

His typically playful approach to image-making has seen him create books that are puzzles; books that play with word association and books that invite us to solve visual conundrums.  In This Equals That – his new book for children made in collaboration with graphic designer Tamara Shopsin and published by Aperture Foundation – he works with a similar formula.  The clever pairing of images build a small encyclopaedia of visual associations and equations, and encourage readers to think about number, shape and colour and the lovely ways in which fragments of the world mirror each other and slot together.  Though made as a childrens’ book, This Equals That is a puzzle that we can take pleasure in solving at any age, as we consider how the colours of flowers reflect those in stained glass windows, or the curve of an orange relates to a small hole in the sand.

– Joanna Cresswell

This Equals That is available in The Photographers’ Gallery Bookshop, priced at £12.95.


Elisa Sighicelli at MOT International

Installation view, Elisa Sighicelli at MOT, London.

Installation view, Elisa Sighicelli at MOT, London.

The pieces displayed in Elisa Sighicelli’s first exhibition at MOT International look deceptively simple. Three of the four gallery walls are occupied with works from an untitled series in which photographs of fabrics are nailed and gaffer taped to the walls. Both the tape and the nails are real, but also reproduced in the photographs, visible underneath, creating a subtle destabilisation of one’s perception – a topsy-turvy trompe l’oeil in which the suggested objects are actually there. The other untitled series, displayed across the long fourth gallery wall, comprises eighteen round photographs of crystal objects framed in convex glass. The glass device renders the images even more slippery and porous, allowing them to subsume and reflect the external elements, such as the viewers and gallery lights. In both series Sighicelli plays with the idea of doubling or mirroring, and teases out the messy barriers between reality and representation, between presence and absence and, crucially, between image and object.

Although the exhibition comprises serialised and rather homogenised iterations of two main conceits, a few works stand out. Untitled (1632) (2014), for example, is a photograph of a silver piece of silky fabric pending from two (real) nails and inspired by the legend of the veil of Saint Veronica. According to it, Veronica encountered Jesus Christ as he carried his cross to the Calvary, and offered him her veil to wipe his blood and sweat, leaving an imprint of his face on it. For Sighicelli the story is highly suggestive not from a strictly religious point of view, but because the veil – a recurrent motif in many Renaissance paintings – is an early manifestation of an image within an image’ or, as the artist herself told me, “ the first Polaroid in history”. The legend seems to encompass a set of concerns central to Sighicelli’s practice: on the one hand, her long held interest in Renaissance aesthetics and, on the other, her fascination with artefacts and artworks that simultaneously feature both reality and its indexical mark.

Untitled (1632), Pigment print on archival paper mounted on aluminium, 2 nails, 110.5 x 110.5 cm, 2014

Untitled (1632), Pigment print on archival paper mounted on aluminium, 2 nails, 110.5 x 110.5 cm, 2014

Across the room, the photographs Untitled (1517)Untitled (1577) – both 2014 – and Untitled Silk (2013), are both fixed and connected by long stripes of gaffer tape criss-crossing the wall. Again, the images feature elegantly coloured fabrics, pinched and ruffled by pieces of tape, both in the reality and temporality of the gallery and of the studio, when the photographs were taken. The geometrical lines created by the tape are extremely simple and yet, in conjunction with the lush fabrics, they manage to create a texturised sculptural space that sits halfway between the collage and the installation, recalling the mesmerising, abstract photographic arrangements made by Barbara Kasten in the 1980s.

Untitled (Silk), Pigment print on archival paper, gaffer tape, 56.6 x 71.6cm, 2013.

Untitled (Silk), Pigment print on archival paper, gaffer tape, 56.6 x 71.6cm, 2013.

The new works gathered in this exhibition are a point of departure for Turin-based Sighicelli. Her previous projects focused mostly on interiors, architectural details and even Renaissance paintings, exploring the poetics of space and light in photographs that shared the understated and serene universe of Uta Barth and Luisa Lambri. Displaying them in partially backlit boxes, though, Sighicelli was already producing images-as-objects. But whereas her conceptual crux then seemed to be the representation and materialisation of light, her most recent output seems to have shifted towards the unsolvable riddle of representation itself, which results in a playful exploration of the trickeries of perception.

Untitled pigment prints on polyester white film mounted on plexiglas, convex glass, 36.5 cm, 2014

Untitled pigment prints on polyester white film mounted on plexiglas, convex glass, 36.5 cm, 2014

With the use of real elements to complete the photographic prints, pinning them, literally, on the plane of real physicality, the artist is also re-claiming a material stake for a medium that has become relentlessly dematerialised since the advent of digital technologies. Yet, despite the emphasis on materiality, this is Sighicelli’s first series to be shot with digital cameras. Committed to analogue photography until very recently, embracing digital technology has meant for the artist “ a liberation, providing me with a newly found freedom to experiment and play in the studio”.

This development creates an even more convoluted interplay of the indexical, that type of image-making that bears the physical traces of the photographed objects with its digital, disembodied counterpart. A beguiling loop between reality and its representation, from which I am still trying to find a way out.

All images © The artist and MOT International. Elisa Sighicelli ran at MOT International, London, between 23 May – 28 June 2014.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso is a writer, critic and curator based in London. Her writing has appeared in Photoworks, frieze, art-agenda, The White Review, …ment Journal, Revista Concreta, and this is tomorrow, as well as in several artist monographs, gallery and museum publications.

Deep-sky imaging from the New Forest Observatory
Photography Science and Technology

Deep-sky imaging from the New Forest Observatory

Sword of Orion ©Greg Parker. Photographed from the New Forest Observatory, Brockenhurst, England.

Sword of Orion ©Greg Parker. Photographed from the New Forest Observatory, Brockenhurst, England.

Photography has an inseparable connection to science and technology. Camera technology is often used in scientific investigations to document research findings and produce images that illustrate natural phenomena. From time to time – and perhaps more regularly than we might realise – such research yields strange and beautiful pictures. Emeritus Professor of Photonics Greg Parker’s deep-sky images are an inspiring example of this. Since retiring from the University of Southampton in 2010, Parker set up two observatory domes to photograph galaxies and nebulae from his New Forest Observatory in Brockenhurst, England.

Parker’s career has been in research and development since graduating from Sussex University in 1978 with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. A common factor throughout his research has always been light, including lasers and optical instruments and optical devices. For over twenty-three years he researched into optical components called Photonic Crystals at the University of Southampton, together with Optical Biomimetics, looking at how Nature had come up with elegant solutions to optical problems.

“ The tracking has to exactly follow the motion of the stars in the region being imaged or we will get unwanted star trailing – perfect tracking will show all stars, right across the frame, as perfectly round balls of light.”

In September 2004 Greg first started taking deep-sky images from his observatory using a new device called a Hyperstar. Since then he has also constructed a second observatory housing his “ mini-WASP” array – a multiple refractor, multiple imager, parallel imaging array so that 4-hours worth of data can be downloaded in just one-hour, very useful given the British climate.

Professor Parker explains the technology and theory of his process

In order to take deep-sky images we need to accurately track an astronomical CCD camera at the focus of a telescope for the duration of the sub-exposure time. The tracking has to exactly follow the motion of the stars in the region being imaged or we will get unwanted star trailing – perfect tracking will show all stars, right across the frame, as perfectly round balls of light. Tracking is often carried out using a second telescope, usually a small aperture refractor and a small guide camera. The guide camera sends its image to a computer which controls the motion of the (equatorial) mount which carries the main imaging scope and camera. A star is chosen on the guide camera image and the guiding software makes sure that the chosen star remains in the same position to within a fraction of a pixel on the guide camera by “ nudging” the mount to the appropriate degree. In this way, the main imaging camera can take the very long sub-exposures which are required to acquire the faintest objects, without any obtrusive star-trailing.

During an imaging session as many sub-exposures as possible are taken to improve the quality of the final image. In practice the individual sub-exposures are added together, using software packages created specifically for the purpose, so that the final image has an improved signal to noise ratio proportional to the square root of the number of sub-exposures. In plain English this means that nine sub-exposures can be combined using the software to give a resulting image that looks three times better than a single sub-exposure. In addition the software can also remove annoying “ hot pixels” produced by the imaging camera during long sub-exposures, even though the image camera itself is cooled to reduce the number of hot pixels present.

Horsehead Nebulae ©Greg Parker. Photographed from the New Forest Observatory, Brockenhurst, England.

Very faint objects require long sub-exposures to capture the faint detail, and lots of sub-exposures are required to give a “ clean” noise-free image. So it is clear that the most demanding (of time) deep-sky imaging is the capture of faint deep-sky objects, usually nebulae. Stars being intensely bright point sources of light require much shorter sub-exposure times to create a nice looking image, so star field imaging is much less time-consuming than imaging nebulae. As a rough approximation, a high quality star field image will require sub-exposure times of around five minutes and a total exposure time of three to four hours. A medium brightness nebula may require ten to twenty minute sub-exposures with a total imaging time of at least eight hours. These figures hold reasonably well for both f#2 and f#4.5 imagers for reasons that are too technical to go into in any detail.

The second observatory dome at the New Forest Observatory (the North dome) houses the mini-WASP array. This is an array of four refractors each working at f#4.5 which all image the same object at the same time. Why do this? The main reason is that working at f#4.5 means that we are operating 5 times slower than the Hyperstar system working at f#2, so by using 4 refractors in parallel we are nearly as “ fast” as the Hyperstar system. So why bother using refractors at all? There are several reasons, including much better image contrast using refractors rather than reflectors, and the ability to image very bright stars without bad “ ghost” flaring – something that cannot be done using the Hyperstar.

How to photograph a galaxy

Galaxies are “ island universes” – great masses of stars all grouped together in what we call a galaxy, and what used to be called a nebula before it was realised what galaxies actually were. Our nearest galaxy is M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy which is a mere 2.5-million light years away. Because M31 is so close to us (galaxy-wise) it actually appears quite large in a telescope, much larger than most people think. The Andromeda galaxy measures over 4-degrees across at its widest part, and the full Moon in the sky is only half a degree across, so the Andromeda galaxy has the width of 8 full Moons! M31 contains around a trillion (a million million) stars, whereas our own galaxy, the Milky Way contains only around 200-400 billion (thousand million) stars. Galaxies generally are very much smaller than M31 so they require long focal length telescopes to image them to give sufficient magnification. However, there are a sufficient number of “ large” galaxies (M33, M101, M81/M82) that the Hyperstar and mini-WASP arrays can capture them at a reasonable image scale to give a pleasing result.

Emission nebula IC1396 in Cepheus ©Greg Parker. Photographed from the New Forest Observatory, Brockenhurst, England.

Emission nebula IC1396 in Cepheus ©Greg Parker. Photographed from the New Forest Observatory, Brockenhurst, England.

How to photograph nebulae

Most nebulae, such as the Great Nebula in Orion – M42 – are regions of ionised gas that emit light in the red part of the spectrum. If you ionise the gas Neon in a Neon sign by passing an electric current through it you get the usual red colour. In the case of emission nebulae (like M42) the gas is Hydrogen and rather than an electric current it is a nearby very bright star that ionises the gas. Ionised Hydrogen, like Neon, emits light in the red part of the spectrum. There are however other types of nebula. In “ dark” nebulae the nebula appears like a smoke cloud cutting out the light from the stars behind it as can be seen in the clouds surrounding the Iris nebula. A dark nebula does not have a nearby bright star to ionise it, so it acts just like a light absorber and absorbs the light from more distant stars.

A reflection nebula, like the blue reflection nebulosity around the Pleiades, is a region of dust, where the dust has the consistency of cigarette smoke particles. Such particles scatter short wavelength light (blue) much more efficiently than long wavelength (red) light – and this is why reflection nebulae look blue.

The other colours that may be present in emission nebulae are blue, from another ionisation state in Hydrogen, very deep-red, from ionised Sulphur and blue-green from ionised Oxygen. The inner region of the Rosette nebula has a different colour to the outer region, mostly due to the presence of ionised Oxygen. The deep-red nebula to the left of the Jellyfish nebula is mostly light emission from ionised Sulphur.

Photography Science and TechnologyReviews

Black Diamond – Mishka Henner

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

In The Right to Look: A Counter History of Visuality (2011) Nicholas Mirzoeff traces the original deployment of the word visuality from its usage in war zones. Visuality expressed the ability of the General to oversee the conflict from an elevated position and strategise far from the action. It was the capacity to look without being seen, and the primary weapon of power is the ability to control visibility; the panoptic gaze is one that can’t be returned. Mirzoeff’s formulation of the counter-visual can be summed up as the response to the command: “ there is nothing to see here, please move on” with “ let me see for myself.”

Mishka Henner’s first solo exhibition in London, Black Diamond at Carroll/Fletcher, interrogates the potential of the counter-visual. In Henner’s most famous work, made in 2009, he appropriated Robert Frank’s iconic book The Americans, cutting out parts of it so that elements of the original photographs floated on white backgrounds. It was a neat conceptual gesture that inverted the impetus of social photography. Documentary discourse has been historically allied to the democratic project – visual representation is tied to political recognition. Henner’s iconoclasm inscribes his own subjectivity over the canonical work, asserting his own historical conditions. Henner replaces the shutter for the screen grab, a camera for the laptop – he doesn’t make images but sources them – navigating and editing what is already available.

‘If we extend the persistent allusions to the Internet as a type of liquid expanse, then the spammer is a type of pirate that occupies the semi-legible spaces between international jurisdictions.’

Mishka Henner, Cedar Point Oil Field, Archival pigment print mounted to aluminium in tray frame, 149 x 258 cm, 2013-14. ©The artist. Image courtesy Carroll/Fletcher.

Mishka Henner, Cedar Point Oil Field, Archival pigment print mounted to aluminium in tray frame, 149 x 258 cm, 2013-14. ©The artist. Image courtesy Carroll/Fletcher.

The series Feedlots and Oil Fields (2013-14) are representative of his practice. The large-scale photographs, installed over the first two galleries of the exhibition, present the two most in-demand commodities in America – beef and oil. The photographs are uniformly sourced from Google Maps and printed at scale with evident high-production values. The drone-like images feel ominous. Cows, houses, people and cars start to look the same, each becoming a component of a much larger abstract system. The expanses depicted are the manufacturing sites of global capital and the cheap fuel and food that sustain our economic conditions. Like Dorothea Lange’s images of displaced agricultural migrants during the American Depression, Henner’s work depicts, with affective immediacy, an economic system that resists visual representation.

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

Mishka Henner, Black Diamond, Installation photograph, Carroll/Fletcher, London. ©Carroll/Fletcher

In the third gallery Fifty-One Military Outposts (2010) Henner displays images on top of plinths. The photographs present Google Map images of American military bases around the world. We hover over the image, inverting the surveillance-like gaze – the watched become observers. The project shifts the public documentarism articulated by Frank and Lange towards the unseen spaces of private finance and security. The co-ordinates of the sites were sourced from WikiLeaks and public domain ‘loop holes’. The ability to navigate and edit data provides new conditions of political accountability in an era of information as capital. Henner’s work recalls Eyal Weizman’s reading of the politics of verticality in relation to the Israel occupation of Palestine. For Weizman, power is structured around a vertical axis by asserting sovereignty over the land (through archeology) and surveillance (by controlling the elevated spaces and skyline). Henner’s images of military sites  dramatise this verticality by inviting the spectator to look down at things shot from above.

Downstairs Henner presents Scam Baiters (2013 – present), a new body of work that explores the strategy of Internet vigilantes who feign receptivity to email scammers in order to publicly expose them. The project brings together email correspondence, signs and photographs made by the scammers in a process that remains slightly oblique. If we extend the persistent allusions to the Internet as a type of liquid expanse, then the spammer is a type of pirate that occupies the semi-legible spaces between international jurisdictions. Through his presentation Henner attempts to re-embody these virtual figures that normally remain out-of-sight. One can also see the scammer offering another in-demand, if non-existent, commodity – easy money.

Similarly to the larger photographic work seen upstairs, Henner formulates representative conditions for places and people that would prefer to remain hidden. Whether it is agricultural, virtual or military topologies, Henner’s work is engaged in a complex and experimental relationship with the documentary tradition of photography. His practice is pervaded by the notion of the counter-visual, and taken collectively, his images offer new opportunities for the development and understanding of documentary practice.

The Rehearsal of Space: Edgar Martins at Wapping Project Bankside

The Rehearsal of Space: Edgar Martins at Wapping Project Bankside

We think we know what space exploration looks like, but a big part of that idea comes from popular culture and in particular from fictional representations. I’m dimly aware that I tend to compare visions of space to movies which have had a formative influence on me, almost judging the value of science fact by how far it correlates with the visuals of science fiction.

On a visual level Edgar Martins’ The Rehearsal of Space and The Poetic Impossibility to Manage the Infinite had me from first glance. These large, beautiful prints capture the strange geometry of the high-tech facilities of the European Space Agency (ESA), with whom Martin undertook a two year residency. From a vacuum chamber in the Netherlands to a rocket gantry in French Guiana, Martins’ camera reveals this normally unseen world with the stark clarity for which he is well known. As well as documenting massive structures and sterile labs, he also focuses in on smaller details with similar precision, capturing a moon rock encased in resin and an astronaut’s empty glove reaching skyward.

As the title suggests these photographs aren’t really about space travel, but about its preparation and anticipation. It’s easy to forget that as the complexity of human endeavour increases, the resources required to support these undertakings grow exponentially. For the handful of astronauts who will leave the earth’s atmosphere there are thousands of support staff and dozens of facilities scattered across the globe. The man or woman sealed in a capsule atop a rocket is like the invisibly fine point of a very long spear.

S5 payload preparation complex – spacecraft fuelling bay, CSG-Europe’s Spaceport, Kourou (French Guiana), C-print, 120x150cm, 2014

S5 payload preparation complex – spacecraft fuelling bay, CSG-Europe’s Spaceport, Kourou (French Guiana), C-print, 120x150cm, 2014

The image of a spear however, isn’t just a convenient visual simile for a rocket, the two objects are also inherently linked in ways which are fleetingly visible in Martin’s photographs, and which he briefly acknowledges in his statement about the work. Space programs remain shrouded in great secrecy, and part of the reason is that for all their lofty scientific ambitions and humanitarian rhetoric, they remain closely connected to the militarisation of space. It’s well known that the first launch vehicles were adapted from military rocket technology, but less discussed is the fact that much of today’s space hardware is built by the defence industry, and civilian space facilities are routinely used to prepare and launch military technology. In other words, the immense promise of space exploration was born from and remains entangled with the possibility of human self-destruction.

Viewing these photographs with this thought in mind, their meaning seems to change. No longer a record of an exciting, technologically sophisticated present, instead it starts to feel like Martins has predicted a grim future where super-technology reigns supreme. A place where almost all evidence of the natural world has been scrubbed away, and human figures are present only as featureless automatons, garbed in white as they service the overlord of high technology. The windowless pods of space simulators start to look like grim cells, and the heavy, spiked hatch of an anechoic chamber resembles the padded door of some hideous torture chamber.

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014: Brett Rogers, Director, The Photographers’ Gallery, on this year’s nominees

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014: Brett Rogers, Director, The Photographers’ Gallery, on this year’s nominees

Now in its seventeenth year, the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 rewards a living photographer, of any nationality, for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format, which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe between 1 October 2012 and 30 September 2013.

This year’s finalists are Alberto Garcia-AlixJochen Lempert,Lorna Simpson and Richard Mosse.


Kate Bush, Curator
Jitka Hanzlová, Artist
Thomas Seelig, Director/Curator, Fotomuseum Winterthur
Anne-Marie Beckmann, Curator, Art Collection Deutsche Börse
Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery, is the non-voting Chair.

The winner of the £30,000 Prize will be announced on Monday 12 May 2014.

Sophy Rickett – Objects in the Field
Artist ProfilePhotography Science and Technology

Sophy Rickett – Objects in the Field

In 2012 Sophy Rickett began working as Associate Artist at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge. She began an ongoing, cross-disciplinary project initially inspired by some old analogue negatives of the night sky, and her encounters with the scientist who produced them, Dr. Roderick Willstrop, retired fellow of the IoA, and inventor of the Three Mirror Telescope. This camera telescope produced black-and-white negatives of space by using three mirrors instead of the previously practiced use of one or two in other telescopes, to widen the optical path of light entering the lens and therefore increase the detail with which an image can be configured and captured. Rickett has re-visited negatives from 1990/1, the short period during which the telescope exposed analogue negatives before being converted to a device for digital capture, and produced new prints that develop the tonal and wider aesthetic qualities of the images. For another part of the project Rickett wrote a text, which, with kind permission of the artist, we reproduce here in accompaniment to the pictures. The artist combines a personal account of time spent at the institute – incorporating scientific and vernacular language – with other memories and narrative voices, to give a vivid sense of her experience while considering the nature of collaboration, obsolescent technologies and our relationship to space.

Installation view, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 2013

Installation view, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 2013

Objects in the Field

The machine in the corner of the consulting room is on wheels. There is a chinrest with a pad of disposable paper strips, so that my skin won’t have to make contact with the same surface that someone else’s has.

I might put my chin on the rest and it might get warm, and the paper strips might buckle.

‘Put your chin on the rest’

I don’t want to put my chin on the rest.

‘Put your chin on the rest’

I put my chin on the rest and it feels unnatural, my neck strains.

‘Put your hands down’

I do as he says. I look forward and stare into a tiny point of light that wafts up, down, to the left, to the right. Freshly shaven, his face inches closer, hidden by the moving point of light. I adjust my focus and there he is, this unfamiliar person, receding into the dark.

‘Don’t look at me, look at the light’

I feel uncomfortable with the intimacy of the exchange, the unbalance of him looking deep into my eye.

I must have needed to wear glasses for a while. I don’t know what prompted the examination, whether I was showing signs of not being able to see, how clear it was to others that the world was shrinking around me. We lived by the sea, it was rural, not much light pollution, but still I would have not, until that point ever seen the stars, barely even, the moon.

We went to the hospital for my eye appointments. My mum seemed not to move as we waited. I looked up at her from my place, examining the side of her face, the set of her jaw. The sweet trolley would appear at the end of the corridor pushed by a struggling tea lady in a gingham smock. She was nice, reassuring.

‘Can I have some sweets?’

And two minutes after that, the sweets would be gone, and the trolley would be making its way away down the long corridor, its black rubber wheels spinning inefficiently over the polished floor tiles, scuffing them as it went.

Eventually my eyes would be tested in that corridor, sitting in a big black chair, with the card to read from hung on the opposite wall. The nurse put a heavy frame on me and I felt the weight of it bearing down on my nose. The lenses were in a wooden tray on a table between us, each stored, in order of thickness, in its own felt lined compartment. She’d choose a lens, and carefully place it into the frame and the letters became clearer, but still, I would rather not have been sitting there, people walking past.

Back at home I put on my new glasses and for the first time I can see clearly beyond the middle distance. The tree I am looking at is alive, each and every leaf a separate, distinct entity. A movement of wind causes boughs to bend. They move and shake separately and also as one. It is all connected, one organism, but made up of a million shades of colour, inflections of movement.

Years later on my way to Asia, my backpack freezing in the hold, I open my eyes as I drift awake. The cabin lights are dimmed and all around my fellow passengers sleep. Outside through the curved frame of the cabin window, the sky is bristling with stars, and below I can see the line of the horizon, backlit by the rising sun, a perfect line of brilliant pink light stretching away, far out into the distance.

I waited for him in the library. It wasn’t the first time we’d met but it was the first time I had any clear sense of what I wanted to see. We’d spoken before about the Three Mirror Telescope and at a table in his office the first time we’d met, he’d shown me the working prototype. He talked me through its internal mechanisms, hesitantly at first, as if the details, its idiosyncrasies were coming back to him as he spoke, remembering with his hands. I hadn’t been sure what I was looking at. I’d felt confused, bereft of knowledge, with a sense that my understanding only seemed to converge with his on the subject of photography, and also I realised later, optics.

‘Who are you waiting for?’


‘He might not be in until later – he often comes in during the afternoon as he still makes his observations every night’

I hadn’t realised that…


‘Well, three nights a week…’

I picture him at dusk making his way down the path to the telescope.

When he arrives in the library, I ask if he still makes his observations. He doesn’t – it turns out that he used to make them every night. Well, three nights a week.

‘Did you do it alone?’



‘I suppose I didn’t think it would be fair, asking a research student to sit with me all through the night. I didn’t really need anyone else.’

I imagine him at work. Each negative had to be prepared individually, the film sensitized and customised to fit the carrier by a specially constructed device that punched a circle of exactly the right dimensions into a sheet of 5×4 film. He’d make up to four exposures a night, and during each one would watch the telescope shifting its position as he had programmed it to do, compensating for the movement of the stars it was photographing as they tracked across the sky.

‘And when did you stop?’

‘Oh, when I retired, about ten years ago’

The 125 negatives he made during the first two years of the twelve that the telescope was functional are stored in his office. It was completed in 1989, and in 1991 the machine was adapted to record digital images, which transformed the exposure time from 40 minutes to 90 seconds. He flicks through the negatives, each one in its own envelope, marked with the date, the length of exposure, the co-ordinates of the field of view, other technical details. One of the first negatives he shows me is of a comet. He hands it to me and as I hold it up to the light, I can see the distinctive shape of a comet. I’m struck that it is a proper photograph – full of its own subject. Later on I think about the chronology, and about how that one of the comet must have been made years after the telescope was modified to record images digitally.

‘What will happen to the negatives eventually?’

‘I will deposit them with the museum archive.’

‘If I print them, will the prints be of scientific interest?’

‘No, these were taken twenty years ago, and not properly calibrated. A few of the nearest stars move slightly against the background of the others, and any planets will have gone around their orbits four or five times. These are a record of the skies as they were twenty years ago.’

He leads the way outside, and we walk towards the wooden building which houses the telescope. The day is bright and blustery, spots of rain in the sky. The exterior paintwork of the building is peeling, the little padlock stiff with rust, and inside, the black painted metalwork of the telescope is dusty, insect wings hang off threads of cobweb in the corners. The telescope is set in the middle of the room, on an equatorial mounting, I have read. Its design is based on the principles of light reflection, and he explains how it enables very clear images to be made of a much larger field of view than had previously been possible with a reflecting telescope.

There is a notice board with a display of images produced by the telescope, which seems to have been prepared for an open day held several years before. The prints are attached to the board with drawing pins at each corner, while the explanatory texts, brittle with age, flap in the wind. I look at the photographs critically, thinking only of aesthetics, no real idea what I’m looking at, and despite the captions, much understanding of their significance. But still they are photographs, and I can’t help myself judging them on that basis.

‘This must have been one of the last telescopes to be made that used film – I mean before everything went digital…’

‘Oh’. He pauses and thinks… ‘I wouldn’t go that far.’

‘Are you going to make more prints?’

‘The darkrooms are all gone now.’

I think about printing them myself. I think about the dialogue between us – we have the photographic process in common, but some of the language we use to think about our work is not shared. Later we look through the box of negatives, and make a note of which ones I take. The next day in the darkroom, circles of the night sky darken in the safelight as the developer gently softens the surface of the paper.

‘Will it be used for observations again?’

‘Probably not – it has fallen into disrepair. The mirrors are corroded.’

‘Why did you stop?’

‘Well, I became chair of the Libraries Committee. So I had all sorts of other duties. But I did say to Martin Rees at the time, that if any money became available to make a Three Mirror Telescope with a larger aperture, then I would like to be involved.’

I try to find more information. I can’t believe that’s the end of the story. I can only find fragments, the tail-end of a scientific dispute, where the author describes the Three Mirror Telescope as ‘arguably the most significant advance in astronomical optics in recent decades’.

I read that a proposal to build a bigger version of the Three Mirror Telescope was rejected by the Science and Engineering Research Council in 1987. This was just after Roderick’s working prototype was completed, and two years before the Three Mirror Telescope was to become fully functional in 1989. And I read that in 2000, a team of scientists in Arizona won approval to build a telescope of this type, slightly modified to allow the use of many CCDs, with an 8 metre aperture.

I think of him when I read these details, and wonder how many more I have missed.

I am on a train as it pulls out of a small seaside station.

Two boys are standing on the sea wall, framed by an expanse of sea and sky, a shallower paddling pool in front of them. They are different ages. The younger of the two is waving at the train, a big smile on his face, full of childish enthusiasm. The older boy, I notice, as he raises it high above his head, is holding a boulder. But the younger boy has not seen it – it is as if his whole being is taken up with the wave.

So the older boy is holding this boulder above his head, while the younger boy is waving manically, and just for a moment they are frozen like that, in a kind of muted hiatus. And then the boulder is slammed, whoosh, into the water and it soaks the younger boy with a splash. And at once the waving stops, and he sees he is all wet, but there is a hesitation before it seems to dawn what has happened.

Through the double glass window of the moving train, I am transfixed.

I see the younger boy begin to take the long slow turn to face his friend.

I see just the beginning of what is to pass between them, a fragment of story as it begins to unfold.

And the train speeds up and then I have gone.

Objects in the field, 2013

Objects in the field, 2013

Observation 111, 1991/2013

Observation 123, 1991/2013

Observation 123, 1991/2013

Sophy Rickett will be in conversation with Martin Caiger-Smith on Thursday 20 March, 7-8pm, at Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD. Tickets to the talk, titled The Encounter Between Art and Science are available for £5. Caiger-Smith is head of the MA programme in Curating the Art Museum at the Courtauld Institute and former Head of Exhibitions and Acting Director of the Hayward Gallery.

Sophy Rickett is a visual artist based in London, working with photography, video and sound installation. She is represented by Camilla Grimaldi.

Brittania Coco-nut Dancers: An interview with Craig Atkinson of Café Royal Books The Photobook
The Photobook

Brittania Coco-nut Dancers: An interview with Craig Atkinson of Café Royal Books The Photobook

1. What, in your view, do photo books contribute to the culture of photography?

A gallery is easy to walk through. It’s easy to glance at and sometimes dismiss things. It’s easy to miss something, to misunderstand something, or to not give something the time it deserves or requires.

A photobook pauses the reader. While looking at a book – even if flicking or simply browsing through it – it is difficult not to be caught by something; not to be drawn in. A book can be picked up again the next day, week, year and so on. It’s always there, it isn’t ephemeral; it has a lasting effect. A book offers people time to consider, time to learn and some privacy. Books are personal things. I don’t think there’s a simple answer to what they contribute to photographic culture but I think they encourage learning in many ways.

2. How do you define your role within the growing and changing field of photo book publishing? What are you trying to achieve?

I take pictures, I publish and edit, and I’m a lecturer. I don’t really have a fixed role but all I do fits within being a ‘practitioner’ I suppose.

If I had aims and long term ideas, chances are they wouldn’t happen: I like spontaneity and I like making quick decisions, so that makes ‘trying to achieve’ anything difficult. I lost my personal collection of books in a flood a few years ago, so I have a strange relationship with books in that I rarely buy them but I frequently publish them; one a week average last year. Maybe I’m trying to publish the books I’d like to collect. Really I do it for myself; I only publish work I like. The books become a series, they are each made to the same format, it’s become a kind of ongoing project.

I like to create affordable, limited edition, well-finished publications. Generally they document change in one way or another, and often social change in Britain. The books are collected by many museums and galleries, and are seemingly popular with individuals. This makes me feel I’ve achieved something because the books are often discussed, exhibited and cited. This, along with the gallery collections they are part of, makes me feel they’re locked-in somehow – it gives them historical value, at least in my mind. I think that’s what I’m trying to create.

I don’t care so much about top ten lists, of which there seem to be hundreds, or about making overly designed and decorated books. I like to make honest things where the only real focus is the image.

3. Do you publish online books and what might the future hold for this method of digitally distributing books?

I don’t publish online. I might one day, I’m not against it, but I like the feel of paper and the smell of ink too much. I’m sure in a few years there will be little in the way of printed media. Probably just niche publications with more attention given to paper stock, ink type and the book as an object or container of information. Digital is the way forward for newspapers, novels, general reading; it has to be. In terms of the photobook though, it feels too sterile at the moment.

4. What kind of a relationship do you strike up with the artists whose work you publish?

I only meet some of the artists I work with. Often we bump into each other at events but usually well after the books are published. Because the books are simple, pretty raw and fast things, and because there is no real money involved, research trips and business visits are out of the question. We speak online, on the phone etc. There’s a lot of trust involved on both sides. Because I generally work to the same format people know whet they’ll get, the tones, the quality, the paper etc, so once the book has been edited there aren’t many ifs or buts.

It’s always nice to finally meet the artists and slow the conversation down a bit compared to the speed of publishing – John Claridge, Homer Sykes, David Levenson… All great blokes with many stories. I’d sooner meet them to talk about their stories than talk about a book; the books just seem to happen.

Craig Atkinson is an artist, publisher and lecturer based in Southport, UK. He founded Café Royal Books in 2005 as an experimental way of exhibiting and disseminating his own work in book form. He now publishes roughly 50 titles a year, including collaborations and his own projects; most of which document an aspect of social change. Café Royal titles are collected by many major international galleries and museums, including Tate, V&A and MoMA.

Iain Sinclair – Ghosts of a Ghost: William Burroughs, time surgery and the death of the image

Iain Sinclair – Ghosts of a Ghost: William Burroughs, time surgery and the death of the image

In this video, recorded at The Photographers’ Gallery to accompany our exhibition of photographs by William S. Burroughs, Iain Sinclair presents a fragmentary consideration of the interplay of photography, sound recording, manipulated autobiography, interview and anecdote in the work of Burroughs.

Supported by the University of Edinburgh and The Leverhulme Trust.

Iain Sinclair has lived in (and written about) Hackney, East London, since 1969. His novels include Downriver (Winner of the James Tait Black Prize & the Encore Prize for the Year’s Best Second Novel), Radon DaughtersLandor’s Tower and, most recently, Dining on Stones (which was shortlisted for the Ondaatje prize). Non-fiction books, exploring the myth and matter of London, include Lights Out for the Territory, London Orbital and Edge of the Orison. In the ‘90s, Iain wrote and presented a number of films for BBC2’s Late Show and has, subsequently, co-directed with Chris Petit four documentaries for Channel 4; one of which, Asylum, won the short film prize at the Montreal Festival. He edited London, City of Disappearances, which was published in October 2006. Recently he has publishedHackney,That Rose-Red Empire (2009) and Ghostmilk (2011).