Particle physics art

Steve Lovegrove still uses his darkroom and teaches others the art of slow photography


Within the narrow confines of the darkroom of Steve Lovegrove’s photography, the sight stretches into the darkness and all other senses intensify in response.

This intensifies the tingling sensation in the eyes and the taste on the tongue of the various developers and chemical solutions open on the table to be used in a historic photographic process known as wet collodion.

Bathed in a faint red glow, Lovegrove describes the process first used in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer.

“I pour collodion on this anodized aluminum foil, which forms the emulsion, much like a film emulsion. Iodides and bromides are encrusted in this collodion. After that, it goes through a bath of nitrate. silver where the collodion attracts the silver out of the solution, so we now have a light sensitive material, ”says Lovegrove.

A constraint of this wet plate process is time. The whole process, from coating the plaque to its development, takes about 15 minutes.

Lovegrove says her hobby is a combination of two of her passions.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Having a high quality digital camera handy in our smartphones makes a quarter of an hour seem like an eon, but in the world of analog photography it’s actually pretty short.

“It’s not just about taking a photo with your phone, it’s on Instagram and it’s gone in 30 seconds in this world of instant gratification,” Lovegrove said.

These wet plates can be inserted into the back of a camera to create a “photo” as we mean when that word is said, but Lovegrove prefers to create its images without a camera, placing found objects on the plates.

“Every picture is different”

In this case, a skeleton of a small bird and exposing it to light in the darkroom.

The wet plate with the bird skeleton placed on it is exposed to six minutes of light in the darkroom.

Photograph a bird skeleton on paper in a dark room
Lovegrove doesn’t need a camera, but instead exposes the plaques to found objects.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

When the time is up Lovegrove carefully picks it up and washes it with water.

Under the red light, an imprint of the skeleton appears on the plate.

The lights are on and the plate is immersed in a developer bath, transforming the milky blue color print into a solid black.

A photographic print of a bird skeleton sits in a chemical bath.
The end result of the photographic process.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Lovegrove runs his finger over the edge of the plate, carefully inspecting the corners.

“Wet collodion is known for its artifacts, for its edge damage, things that can hurt,” he says.

“The chemical process I work with is not perfect. It is not possible to make a perfect wet collodion, every image is different.”

This effort for the “perfect imperfect” defines Lovegrove’s workflow and philosophies when it comes to photography.

Early interest in news photography

Lovegrove sees this methodology as a perfect union of two of its passions.

“My personal photography has often been linked to found objects, to grunge things that people would pass by without noticing… The wet plate process and that kind of subject came together to create the perfect medium to express what I see. in these various objects. bring back to the studio, ”he said.

Collections of dead insects, animal bones and leaves sorted in shallow boxes
Lovegrove is interested in grunge and imperfect things.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

The genesis of Lovegrove’s 40-year association with photography can be easily traced.

“Growing up in South Australia, both of my parents worked for local newspapers so I was interested in news and current affairs photography and when I started doing photography in high school I was more interested in this type of photography. “

After high school, Lovegrove attended technical college to pursue her interest. His graduate studies stand in stark contrast to the way photography is taught in today’s digital age.

“I have a very good technical background in chemistry, physics and various types of cameras,” he said.

A collection of dead insects on a white background inside a black frame
Some of the found objects Steve Lovegrove uses in his photography.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Lovegrove’s professional career began shortly thereafter in Alice Springs.

By vocation he worked for newspapers in the Northern Territory, also for the territorial government, taking photos for all their different departments.

Photography took him to Asia for several years, then he listened to the radio one day and heard John Laws on talkback radio talk about Tasmania and decided to give Tassie a try.

“Time alone to make art”

As a commercial photographer, Lovegrove had to embrace digital photography when he arrived, but soon realized it wasn’t for him.

“Around 20I3, I started to get tired of sitting in front of the computer and the dominance in the digital world of the time that post-production demanded. more practical and more interesting for me. “

A man in protective overalls crosses his arms and smiles in a dark room.
Steve Lovegrove greatly prefers slower methods of photography in the digital world.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Lovegrove has always been drawn to the darkroom and the tactile elements of loading, developing and processing images.

“Working slowly with processes, just enjoying this alone time to make art is very inspiring,” he says.

His studio and darkroom are located in the Kickstart Arts district of New Town, Hobart.

“My goal is to create a community darkroom, a place where people can come and learn these techniques, where I could teach these techniques and where people had access to a darkroom even if they didn’t want to take a course,” he said.

A collection of tobacco tins
Lovegrove teaches her photography skills to others.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Providing a space for people to learn more about non-digital photography processes and keep those processes alive is extremely important to Lovegrove.

“Photography has been wonderful for me and I think it’s something that a lot of people can appreciate,” he says.



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