Physicality of the photograph.

I want to start experimenting with the physicality of the photograph. It is something that I have spoken about and considered in terms of the qualities of the medium inherent already. There have been a number of times where I have looked at this a bit more closely in previous module, yet I don’t think that I have truly considered the impact the my experimentation could have on the surface of the image, in the sense of how mark making and physical manipulation of the image could also be a reflection of the concepts I am aiming to put across.

Wellcome Photography Prize
Figure 1: Phil Hill (December, 2020) 5×4 Portrait of my daughter, Darcie. Developed at 36.5 Degrees and degraded with Fungus.

During the live brief challenges, I came up with a concept for the Oxfam challenge that wasn’t used. I also felt it was better suited to the ‘health in a heating world’ theme of this year’s Wellcome Photography Prize. My concept is based on a change in the way that pathogens may survive at human body temperature:


When my daughter was born, she was cold. Cold enough for the doctors to suggest keeping her under observation within the hospital ‘special care’ unit and followed by regular checking of temperature. Ever since her temperature is normally recording at 36.5 degrees, which is lower than the average of 37 degrees Celsius for body temperatures. This is a trend that is becoming more and more common with body temperatures steadily dropping over a number of decades and has been linked to the healthcare system taking the place of the human thermal barrier.

Alarmingly, at the same time a fungal infection called Candida Auris, which is suspected to have existed for thousands of years has been attributed to a series of infections in people around the world. This fungal infection is beginning to breech the thermal barrier, where previously it has not normally been able to survive in the human body owing to our relative hot temperature compared to the environment. It has been suggested by Arturo Casadevall, et al (2019) that these fungal infections are effectively being ‘trained’ to survive through a series of consistently hotter days year on year, caused by climate change.

It is thought that there are potentially millions of microbes that exist just below the human thermal barrier, some of which may be able to cause disease. Increased temperatures are evolving the capabilities of microbe through mutation to allow them to survive at higher temperatures, just as modern medicine is effectively lowering ours. The next pandemic may take the form of one of these threats, impacting all of us.


For my entry (Fig: 1), I aimed to ustilise elements of the challenges faced by Candida Auris. As I have been using black and white film in my practice and processing it at home, I was able to develop the negative at my daughter at her body temperature. Although this is considered a marginally low temperature for humans, it is extremely hot to process film, speeding up the time and also impacting the emulsion on the negative’s surface.

Figure 2: Seung-Hwan OH (2014) Portrait degraded with bacteria.

I was Inspired by an approach of Korean artist Seung-Hwan OH, who uses bacteria to interact with the image (Fig: 2) creating surreal and abstract portraits that a text on the work by Boraam Han suggests “The visual result of the symbiosis between film matter and organic matter is the conceptual origin of this body of work” (Han & OH, 2014). I aimed to introduce a fungus in the form of mould formed from bread onto the image, which creates the degraded look to the final image. My approach was not to create an image as abstract as OHs, as Darcie is an important part of the image together with the methods I used to degrade it.

The process of making this image has been really valuable in creating the space in the FMP to consider ways that I can interact and intervene with the image that has links to the outcomes and concepts I am aiming to put across.

FMP Experiments:

Considering ways of introducing a physical interaction to the image that relates to the concepts, I have started with an idea of a lack of archive.

During discussions in my second supervisor meeting we spoke about the range of archive based projects. I noted that when I look at my own archive, there is a distinct lack of images present and I as I have mentioned before, this archive effectively ceases in the mid-late 90s as my father’s camera broke and not replaced (until cheap digital cameras made it possible for my dad to buy another). There is also a print album amongst the other images that has had most of its prints removed from the sugar paper pages – a future exploration will be photographing the pages of this album once I have access to a proper studio.

Figure 3: Derek Hill/Phil Hill (Late 80s) Twin Check label over image.

One area of exploration is linked to this idea of memory. I have already identified a number of images that have the ‘Twin-check’ label ingrained onto the image (Fig: 3), which creates link to the process of photography and memory in the way that these numbers are used to match the negative to the person who placed the order. These numbers could become quite important in the development of the work and I am working on some ways that I can include these into my project.

Figure 4: Sebastiano Pomata & Phil Hill (May, 2020) Negative re-photographed

Appropriation of the image is something that I am returning to. During Surfaces and Strategies, I invited others to photograph and then I copied the negatives onto a new roll of film – my film. I felt that this was a kind of appropriation and me taking some kind of ownership over this image (Fig: 4). Although I did not make any of the decisions in taking the original, I did make a series of technical and aesthetic choices to copy the image onto a new film. It can be argued that photographing is a step removed from the reality in which it has been photographed – for me I am only able to see the representation of the reality. I created a further step removed from this reality in the re-photographed version as you are then only seeing a copy of the representation, which I have no connection to – even though I might claim that this version is ‘mine.’ As Walter Benjamin reminds us:

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, it’s unique essence at the place where it happens to be”

(Benjamin, 1968: 220)

To further explore this idea of appropriation and memory, I have started to look at Carbon Transfer Paper used for copying invoices and letters. The idea came from watching the Sara Davidmann guest lecture (2016), where she mentioned all of the carbon copies of correspondence in the archive for ‘Ken, To be destroyed,’ which triggered a memory of my own experiences playing with a carbon copy pad as a child, when I did have a relationship with my grandmother. She had a bureau full of these items and also a typewriter – all things I could consider exploring. Much like the ‘Twin-check’ label, carbon copies of documents are a way of creating a memory of an object, which might usually be associated with being a ‘one off’ prior to digital technology.  

Figure 5: Phil Hill (February, 2021) Negative transferred onto paper using carbon copy paper.

For initial explorations using this material, I have been attempting to transfer a negative onto paper. There is a subtle relief on the surface of a negative; where there are highlights there is no emulsion and where there are shadows there is emulsion present. In this first attempt however, I am only getting an outline of the negative. This does create an interesting image in itself and I quite enjoy the idea of this being a direct impression of the negative as an object and that there is an image on its surface even if you can’t see it in this representation (Fig: 5).


Benjamin, W., 1968. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In: Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, pp. 217-252.

Casadevall, A., Kontoyiannis, D. P. & Robert, V., 2019. On the Emergence of Candida auris: Climate Change, Azoles, Swamps, and Birds. American Society For Microbiology, 10(4), pp. 1-7.

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

Han, B. & OH, S.-H., 2014. Impermanence_Untitled. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 26 February 2021].

Abstraction again

Marianne Hirsch makes a number of interesting observations on personal connection to the family album, which allows me to make a start on this project. Hirsch is looking at an image of her mother and grandmother, finding it challenging to really study it, owing to her connection to the people in it: “Perhaps it is the familial look itself that makes it difficult to read this picture which will not reveal any identifiable truth” (1997, p. 104). Although I don’t think that Hirsch believes that there is an objective truth that can be found within the image as she is quick to remind us that:

“Photographs are exciting and helpful because of their ambiguity, because of the reading they demand, because they do no transparently offer a single truth”

(p. 75)

Hirsch is suggesting that the task of ‘reading’ is made all the more challenging because of the emotional connection to the photograph. This of course is something that I need to seriously consider too, working with my own family archive of images that I have seen many times before and also some of the existing stories that accompany them. Hirsch does offer some insight into this, as when referring to Cindy Sherman use of titles, she notes:

“They refuse to participate in the narrative frameworks with which we are comfortable and instead insist on existing in the space of their production”

(p. 111)
Figure 1: Cindy Sherman (1981) Untitled Film Still #34
Figure 2: Unknown (1970s) Accidental panorama – film wind error

Sherman creates ambiguity by removing any sort of descriptive title for her images, which creates opportunity for audiences to create their own meaning (fig: 1), and whilst I was going through my own family’s archive of images, I have found a series of what would be perceived as ‘mistakes’ – those images that did not make it into the album (Fig: 2). However, although there are plenty of technical errors omitted from the ‘edit,’ there are plenty of images in the album that would still be considered the same: exposure, cropping etc. Not that I am particularly interested in the judging of technical qualities of images in terms of why they make it into a photo album, it does highlight the importance of the content of some images over others. Again, Hirsch offers a reasoning behind this as well:

“Family albums include those images on which family members can agree and which tell a shared story. Pictures that diverge from then communal narrative tend to be discarded as ‘bad’ or ‘unrepresentative’”

(p. 107)
Figure 3: Unknown (1960s) Manual Intervention photograph from family archive.

That said, one of the reasons for my interest in my own archive are the so called ‘manual intervention photographs’ (Maucci, 2020), which Interrupt this shared narrative even further (Fig: 3). It is what is not being shown that becomes even more intriguing than what is readily consumable within then fading albums. This is much like the ‘Winter Garden’ image of Roland Barthes’ mother described by Barthes in Camera Lucida (1993) but never ever seen, and may never have existed at all – perhaps used by Barthes as a tool to show the pervasiveness of the image to supplant memory (Photoworks, 2013). Hirsch uses this as an example to make a point about family secrets, which I feel is incredibly valid (even if the Barthes’ Winter Garden Image never existed):

“Barthes refusal to show us his mother’s picture, are designed to keep family’s secrets and protect it from public scrutiny”

(1997, p. 107)

It shows us that what we don’t see is just as important to those presenting the images as for those reading the images.

There is a real interest in what we choose to exclude. This has appeared in my research before, even from Barthes’ when speaking about the way that we live together within our communities but also very much separately. Barthes’ here perhaps offers a reasoning behind why my own family chose to keep ‘manual intervention photographs’ within the album, knowing that this would lead to further questions: “What’s excluded is included, but retains its status as excluded. It’s the contradictory status of the pariah: rejected and integrated, integrated as a reject” (2012, p. 81). As I am in the early stages of my investigation into my family archive, I have yet to closely look at the reasons why the ‘manual intervention images’ exist. I am interested in the images that have not made the edit but still remain in the print envelopes, so have chosen to focus on these first.

Twin Check
Figure 4: Parrallax Photographic (2021) Twin Check Label for photo processing.
Figure 5: Unknown (1970s) Twin Stamp Label over image.

There have been quite a few images in the archive that are obscured by the label that the processing lab would have attached prior to the film going through the machines (Fig: 4). Interestingly, some of the numbers from what is known as a ‘Twin Check’ label have ingrained themselves onto the first, or last images of the roll of film (Fig:5). I am drawn to these images, they instantly remind me of Hirsch’s comment of Sherman’s image titles – merely referring to the means in which these images are produced. The labels are a direct link to this production. They also provide a direct link to how the production is linked to ideas of memory, Twin check labels are a way of matching up the processed film to the owner of it once it has been processed. Here I have a visual means of highlighting the way that the family album is a poor keeper of memories. I am moving towards this more and more as a way of exploring my core themes. Abstraction and obscure images provide the ambiguity to remove my own personal connections (albeit no fully), and allow multiple readings of them, which is important if I am to construct my own narrative as the project develops.


Barthes, R., 1993. Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

Barthes, R., 2012. How to Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of some Everyday Spaces. Translation ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hirsch, M., 1997. Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory. 2012 Reissue ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Maucci, Q., 2020. London College of Communication: Family Narratives & Working With Archives. London: London College of Communication.

Photoworks, 2013. The Great Unknown. [Online]Available at: [Accessed 07 February 2021].