Lens Lab Leeds likes people and places, and are always keen to find ways of experimenting with photography in communities. We believe in its potential to speak, to give voice, and build connections. Over the past year we’ve worked on several commissions which do just this;
During May 2021 Lens Lab made portraits of the community in our neighbourhood. We wanted to make work rooted in the location of our studio, so we set up a series of popup street based photo studios in community spaces in our area, from shop fronts, and roadside pavements, to Lincoln Green Mosque on Eid (which was just fantastic!)
We wanted to find ways to encourage the community to get involved, so we chose to use a couple of different photographic techniques, spanning photography’s lifetime, including the Victorian era Collodion wetplate process on an old large format camera, and a brand new digital camera, with a really old lens on it!
The Collodion Wetplate process involves coating a 5x4” plate with wet chemistry (collodion & silver nitrate) and making an exposure. As the collodion has an ISO value of around 1 (yes, that's correct, 1 ISO) the exposures can be quite long…1 - 10 seconds outdoors, longer if indoors. The plates then needed to be developed in Lens Labs mobile darkroom (an old pram) before they dried out. Simple really. Except it’s not…!
These were then placed next to a beautiful colour image, shot on a brand new DSLR. The contrast between the two images was really interesting, and we were bowled over by how enthusiastic folks were to be involved. People loved being able to watch their wetplate portrait develop in the fixer tray, and then see their colour digital image on the back of the DSLR.
Take a look at the work, and watch the short film about this project, which was commissioned by Leeds2023.
Cargoes; Linking the Tyne & the Thames (Fitzrovia Noir & Heritage Lottery Fund)
Fitzrovia Noir’s Cargoes Project examines cultural and industrial links between the Tyne and the Thames, in the context of current levelling up initiatives between North and South. Cargoes seeks to explore historical innovations, and contemporary practices, whilst reflecting on past links between the two geographical areas. Both locations, once-thriving commercial hubs built on maritime trade, connected by their respective rivers, are now entirely changed spaces in which very little remains of their industrial past.
Artistic director Garry Hunter commissioned Lens Lab to produce portraits of members of the community in both locations, using the historical wet collodion process, on both glass (Ambrotype) and tin (Tintype) plates. This is not just the making of an image, but also a chance for the public to engage with the physicality of the object and process. The handling of these materials creates a direct link between the industrial, material-driven heritage of the areas, and with those who historically worked in the industries which once occupied these spaces. In our digital world the physical object seems all the more impactful, and allows us to draw causal links between our past and present.
Lens Lab is interested in what makes people tick. What drives people, and what things are important? How much of this do we have in common with people who might have different heritage to our own? So when Leeds 2023 asked us to look into this for a piece of research & development we got excited.
Between December 2021 and February 2022 Lens Lab Leeds spent time talking to, and making photographs with people from three different faith communities in Leeds; Mill Hill Chapel in central Leeds, United Hebrew Congregation in North Leeds, and the Al Hassan Centre (an Islamic funeral directors and Islamic education centre, in Chapeltown). We were interested in both the people, and the spaces in which faith communities congregate, and the kinds of activities that take place within those spaces. We made photographs, recorded interviews, and experimented with making video portraits too.
We’re looking forward to continuing this work in the near future, and hope to include an even wider variety of faith communities.