Carbon Copy – Experiments

In thinking about how to apply ideas of memory into my project I was thinking about ways of extending the twin-check label idea. I was then considering the way that we record and make copies as I have been creating copies of negatives from my family archive (Fig: 1 & 2).

Figure 1: Unknown/Phil Hill (1970s) Scanned page from family archive with ‘Manual Intervention’ images
Figure 2: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Re-discovered image from negatives showing person cut from album image. Re-photographed onto black and white film.

Listening to Sara Davidmann’s guest lecture (2016), I was struck by the mention of how Davidmann’s mother used carbon copy paper to make and keep a copy of correspondence, which is something that I distinctly remember my grandmother doing. I have also got a great deal of items within the archive from my parents wedding that include things like receipts and invoices that have used the carbon copy method of creating a copy of the original text. It feels very indexical to create a copy of something this way, much like photography does. To experiment with this, I wanted to see of it was possible to use the carbon copy paper photographically and create a unique photographic object using it.

Figure 3: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Scanned image of St Christopher Necklace
Figure 4: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Scanned image of Rubbing using Carbon Copy paper

For the most part, what I was able to create was a form of rubbing drawing over an object, such as the St Christopher necklace (Fig: 3 & 4). Although this is not photographic yet, I did think that it yielded some interesting results in the sense of the trace left by an object. I did try to do this with a negative as there are subtle differences in the relief of the surface of a negative between the way that shadow and highlights translate into the emulsion however, not nearly enough to make an impression on the page (Fig: 5) That said, I also enjoy the idea of an image being present at the time of this rubbing, even if you cannot see it in the carbon. In a sense, playing with the Barthes idea of the not being able to deny that the thing had been there (1981, p. 76). There was an image on the negative – just not one that is able to be resolved by the carbon paper. The reality of the carbon versus the photographic image are two distinct objects that diverge in the reading of them through the qualities of the medium. Perhaps to add intrigue to the carbon rubbing, I could play around with the text that accompanies it. Then, the image that cannot be seen on the negative could be whatever I wanted it to be.

Figure 5: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Various rubbings over black and white negative

The rubbings, although interesting, are clearly not photographic unless scanned or photographed themselves. This then creates a photograph of an object over the use of the carbon within the photographic practice. To further explore methods of adding carbon to the process, I attempted to apply the rubbing directly onto photographic material (Fig: 6), knowing that through chemigram processes, there is the possibility of an image being resolved under the parts of the image that developer and fix are unable to get to. I didn’t have access to paper, so I used film stock instead. Unfortunately, this didn’t create a result as the carbon washed off the print before it had a chance to create an impact. Now that I have access to a darkroom, I may attempt this process again with photo paper instead of film as the slower processing time will provide much more control over the outcome.

Figure 6: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Rubbing onto sheet of 5×4 black and white film.
Figure 7: Alternative Photography (2012) Carbon Transfer Printing process.

Interestingly, there is a long established printing process called carbon transfer (Fig: 6), that I could eventually resort to. Although, this would effectively produce images that would not directly show the medium, it might be useful to reference the idea through this form of printing. That said, at the moment this is a very small idea within a larger whole and I must be careful not to find myself in some kind of dead end – potentially the printing process might lend itself to some additional subtle referencing.

Figure 8: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Colour positive scan of carbonb copy sheet
Figure 9: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Black and White negative scan of carbon copy paper.

One interesting development from this experimentation however, was the impression the rubbing left on the sheet of carbon copy paper (Fig: 8). I attempted to scan this and the result was heavily banded, possibly as a result of the scanner software trying to resolve the heavy black tones over a large area. However, I quite like the merging of qualities of each process – creating a slightly more photographic result (Fig: 9).


Figure 10: Phil Hill (March, 2021) Twin-Check Label Experiment

Figure 11: Lee Russell (1937) Untitled photo, possibly related to: Mr. Tronson, farmer near Wheelock, North Dakota

Another small experiment was to use the twin-check label in some way and apply the sticker before I made any photographs. My aim here was to see how the sticker would impact the emulsion, and if I could create an ingrained double exposure as in my family archive (Fig: 10). The results were varied, with some interesting outcomes from the images I made. Mostly, they created a rectangle image, where the light was unable to penetrate the sticker surface, reminding me of the Roy Striker ‘killed’ images from the FSA archive (Fig: 11). This however could feed into the idea of state control, narrative, censorship, and the idea of absent memories that I have been exploring in my work.

  • It was noted by Ross in the portfolio reviews that as I have switched back to shooting colour, there is a certain ambiguity in the work in determining images from my archive and those made by me. This confusion could be useful in creating the mystery alluded to through the feedback from Hanah-Katrina Jedroz. There is potential to carry the Twin Check idea into the images that I am shooting somehow as a reference to everyday vernacular processes of photography.

Barthes, R., 1981. Camera Lucida. 2nd ed. s.l.:Vintage Classics.

Davidman, S., 2016. Guest Lecture: Sara Davidman. Falmouth: Falmouth Flexible (Falmouth University).

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