It has been no secret that myself and several other photographers have expressed our discontent at the current state of photography. As discussed in prior articles and interviews, we have reached a point where it has become difficult to separate photographers because the work that is being produced or commissioned looks similar to the last. It has become increasingly harder for photographers both mentally, creatively and emotionally to not join the trend, its style or its image making process, in the hope of greener pastures and the publicity or work it could bring. Which is why this week, we look at a photographer who’s images are a million miles away from what we see constantly on Social Media. We hear from Al Brydon and his latest body of work “Solargraphs”.

Al Brydons latest publication “Solargraphs”, produced by the superb JW Editions, is a slow and methodical process to image making which many of you will never of heard of. A Solargraph, in basic terms, is essentially a small, roughly made camera, produced with items such as a beer can, which contain a piece of photographic paper which is then exposed to light. The process is similar to pinhole photography, but a little bit different In its execution.

Brydon describes this process as “how I think a tree might experience time if it could.” 

Al Brydon Solargraphs

An experience of time is something that Brydon demonstrates with the choice of camera:

“I made the Solargraphs from empty beer cans. I would place a piece of 5×7 standard photographic print paper in the tin, tape it in place, pop the lid on and then gaffer-tape it shut. As simple as it gets.”

In the photography world, people tend to work in similar ways. It is easy to take 20,30,100 even 1000 pictures in a day, but what happens when you slow down and take time to create one image? The world and its surroundings open up a new way of seeing and a new way of image making, which Brydon discusses in exceptional detail:

“The exposure times for these cameras is measured in weeks, months and sometimes years, rather than fractions of a second. This slowing, this winding down, was one of the aspects of the process I found attractive. Due to the lengths of time involved in making the photographs it would essentially be a different me collecting it than the past version of me who’d left it. I started using them as barometers for life. Every bad thought, every smile, life, death, all the minutia of daily existence funnelled down onto a 5×7 piece of photographic paper.”

Al Brydon Solargraphs

This slow, methodical process feeds its way to the viewer in the imagery. Rather than flicking through the work, you study each image and all its details. Is it angelic or is it dark? Questions only each individual viewer can respond too. Is this work captivating the notions of life and death? Is it hinting at the afterlife? Or is it hinting at a world below the earth’s surface? Solargraphs opens the mind to ways of thinking that most photographic projects don’t. We see the same type of images time and time again, to a point where we simply are no longer able to respond to them. Whereas in this work, it makes you think, it makes you stop, it makes you study. The creative possibilities and journey the imagination can take you on is endless. Brydon cannot be credited enough for creating this.

The images themselves are exponentially beautiful. Combining the ideals of the picturesque and sublime, the images force these notions together in spectacular fashion. For a process that was created so slowly, the outcome is explosive. The details, the textures, the colours and lights lead your eye across the images, wondering what it is you are actually spectating. The locations in the images are hard to make out, but yet sometimes obvious. The images have a sense of spontaneity surrounding them, it feels like Brydon really wandered to find the right spot, he let his mind guide him. He discusses this:

“I originally made Solargraphs to unwind after finishing whatever body of work I’d been working on. They were a great way to mentally untangle myself. I’d put three or four Solargraphs in a rucksack, go to a place I love then just wander.”

Al Brydon Solargraphs

This sense of wandering is clear in the work. The methodical process used to create the cameras is one thing but choosing where to place them is another. However, with a project of this nature, it was apparent that not all of the cameras would survive:

“The places I chose were usually out of the way. I didn’t want other people to find the cameras so I found myself in some remote, almost secret, spots. Even then some were found. Sometimes I’d return after three or four months and there would be nothing but a few scraps of tape on the floor. I’d almost find the missing ones more interesting than the ones I was able to collect. That bizarre interaction with someone or something in the process. Occasionally I’d find them intact but thrown into a bush or crushed. Sometimes the lids had been pecked through by birds letting the light and weather in. It was all part of the serendipity.”

Handmade camera out of beer can
Al Brydon Solargraphs the south west collective of photography ltd
Al Brydon Solargraphs

Although not all of the cameras survived, you have to acknowledge Brydons commitment to the cause. Having your work tampered with or destroyed is extremely difficult, but not always a bad thing, especially in this case. As discussed Brydon created this work very naturally, he followed the wind, chose where he placed the cameras and chose how long to leave them for. I suppose that it is only fair that nature had its say in the work.

Nature intervened, destroyed and explored these bizarre objects which were paranormally placed into its ecosystem, gently disrupting the balance of life itself, in turn creating the most extraordinary series of images where you really do feel natures power.

Al Brydon Solargraphs the south west collective of photography ltd
Al Brydon Solargraphs

The images were created and effected by nature. The very thing that allows us to live is the very thing that can turn around and destroy us. Life was curious about these cameras. Life itself manipulated and created its own interpretation of photography using the tools provided by Brydon. Brydon had no power or control of the outcome; his only influence was time and the spot where the cameras were placed. As photographers, it is our job to document our surroundings, document what we see, but this time, nature has turned the photographer into the spectator as it corrupts and manipulates the images into its own form. The images are truly exceptional in this regard. They are unique, thought-provoking and demonstrate an alternative way to be a photographer.

The outcome of this project was turned into a photo book produced by JW Editions in the form of a 1st edition, comprising of 350 copies, plus, a Limited Print Edition book comprising of only 50 Copies.

Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions THE SOUTH WEST COLLECTIVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY LTD
Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions
Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions THE SOUTH WEST COLLECTIVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY LTD
Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions

The book its self is fantastic, the layout, design and execution are top-notch. The choice of colours and design are superb. The images flow from page to page and provide the viewer with a poignant, but unique viewing experience that most books don’t offer. This book is a visual record and study of how nature can affect a foreign object placed within its ecosystem. We should watch and study its effects, but take it as a grave warning for our own species. I cannot help but feel that the work Brydon has created warns us of the catastrophic effects that we are having on our planet. If nature can affect paper and manipulate it in a box, could you imagine what it could do to us in our giant floating enclosure?

Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions THE SOUTH WEST COLLECTIVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY LTD
Solargraphs by Al Brydon © JW Editions

The book is a trophy. It is proof that no matter how crazy or bizarre your idea is, or how long it takes, it is possible to get your work published.

You can pick up a copy of the book here

Al Brydon

All images used by Al Brydon.

Website: http://www.al-brydon.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/al_brydon/

About

Al Brydon is a photographer based in the North of the UK and Co-founder of the ‘Inside the Outside‘ Collective.
He is less tall than he seems on the internet.

Upcoming exhibitions and publications.

Solargraphs Book – Published by JW Editions Feb 2019 – Link
Cemetery Bins, the graveyard’s graveyard book – Published by Another Place Press 2019 – Info Soon
One day pop up workshop with Fleur Olby and myself – Email for info.

Books:
Inside The Outside zine – Bleak
As we Wander (link)
Based on a False Story (link)
F.Stop Magazine review of Based on a False Story (link)

Article by Collective Founder, Samuel Fradley

If you enjoyed this article by Sam, check out our conversation with Toby Glanville