"I am a multidisciplinary artist based in the Midlands UK who focuses on experimental and alternative photographic methods, collage, and installation. I am particularly interested in eco-friendly photographic techniques such as Caffenol or plant-based development, materiality, and transfer methods. Landscape, domesticity, and identity are themes central to my work. I have recently been dwelling on the physical and mental fragility of a surgical procedure in 2019. I have been using lessons from nature's resilience to reflect my feelings and ability to change in the face of life's challenges. My most recent artwork, Route (2021), portrays another phase toward mental healing, or, as the title implies, a journey. I wanted to demonstrate a motivation to be out more in nature while inside during lockdown, and to reflect the connection between myself and the adaptations found there. Conceptually, I chose to investigate how environmental factors affect appearance and make parallels with my post-surgery body, recognising that both humans and nature encounter obstacles.
My process is tied to the effect surgery had on me; I use alternative photography techniques that are considered less harmful to my health, which I then show on to glass to portray fragility. Photographic Negatives are scanned into a computer and digitally printed as transparent decal transfers which are then wet and carefully placed onto glass cut sheets. Finally, these are sent off to be heated by a kiln that retains the images indefinitely, embedding the image into the glass."
A/A: How did you learn about this process with glass?
HH: Glass has always fascinated me since my father used to make copper foiled glass panels, lamps, and fused glass jewellery. He taught me how to glass cut and gave me a lot of valuable knowledge. Also, I spent a day on a course studying different glass art techniques.
My first experimentation into glass and photography was in 2018 when I learnt how to screen-print as part of my MA degree in photography at the University of Derby. I began screen printing on various surfaces, such as glass, but soon realized that it lacked the clarity and tonality that I desired in a photograph. I considered other transfer methods, such as liquid photographic emulsion, but tests revealed that images were not durable and would scratch off.
A technician (Martin Leedham) at the University of Derby gave me some guidance recommending that I pursue transfers to keep the tonality of the image. He outlined the steps needed to experiment with ceramics. I wanted to see if these would also work on glass, so I tried a few different techniques.
I found a company that would digitally print transfers of my film images on ceramic decals. The decals were then soaked in water and gently laid over cut glass sheets. Finally, these get fired in a kiln, which permanently embeds the image in the glass. When heated, the glass can be manipulated into various shapes, transforming the photography into a 3D object.
I talked to several glass artists and three independent glass studios (The Glass Hub, Cheshire School of Glass, and The Magickal Cauldron Lichfield), who instructed me on firing temperatures and also fired the glass for me because I currently do not own a kiln.
A/A: What got you interested in film photography?
HH: For the past eight years, I have worked as a graphic designer, and during that period, I taught myself digital photography. After leaving a full-time design job in 2018, I decided to study photography at The University of Derby to learn more about the medium because I found myself enjoying working with a camera more and wanted to see if I could use it creatively. I discovered a new passion for film photography not long after I began because it was different from my day job working behind a screen. Film photography appealed to me because I enjoyed the practical nature of developing and manipulating film.
Following a traumatic surgical experience shortly after beginning my MA, I began to explore the use of non-toxic photographic developing processes. The process of Caffenol is my chosen photographic method which involves developing photographic film with coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C. I found that these processes were better for the environment but also considered safer to use.
Analogue processes fascinate me, particularly when it comes to experimenting with new methods and exploring the relationship with the materials we use as artists and the results of doing so. Developing film with weird and wonderful household materials and printing in the darkroom, to me, is like magic.
A/A: Do you find your work has a theme?
HH: My work explores themes of recovery, transformation, and adaptation. Both of my most recent artworks (in 2018, 2021) dealt with various phases of personal recovery. I chose to show my photography with glass to emphasize the sense of confinement and fragility in my art’s concepts.
The materiality in my work parallels the concept. How the work is made, the materials it is made from and what it is showing are critical elements. For example, in my artwork Route, I set out to find a way to minimize environmental damage, especially if I was working at home. I thought it would be slightly conflicting to do a project about my love of nature and then using a potentially toxic photographic developer. My creative processes reflect my perspectives on health and the impact of the surgical experience.
I take inspiration from artists such as Helen Chadwick (her artworkEgo Geometria Sum), who used space-occupying objects to draw attention to the spectator view and artist combined. I tried to mirror a freestanding illusion-like sculpture in my series to simulate a sense of transparency with the spectator. I am interested in image and shape, surface and spectator, and the freestanding, illusion-like elements.