I started night scanning during the first lockdown. The world was dark and gloomy, my little London garden was blooming and I didn’t have much equipment to access and a scanner was one of the things I had to hand.
The flatbed scanner is an almost defunct bit of tech, 3D scanning and image tracking are both now almost at high street level in terms of access - and there is something quite exciting about going back a few technologies to find a new process. It seemed like a wonderful way to use quite a basic technology to record beautiful natural blooms in super high-definition.
The process takes away my hand in a sense - the machine copies, creates its own light source, see’s the flower as it is at that moment and renders it. I don’t have to mess with aperture or shutter speed or ISO or thousands of digital menus - in some ways modern cameras have become too complicated for me to use and this took it back to a brilliantly high-definition but low-fi camera. ‘Scanner as Camera’ created a brilliantly limited palette for image making - the scanner bed becomes a massive sensor, the incredibly short focal length is fixed and away you go. The framing is done by placement and then afterwards tweaked on the computer.
At the time I was deep into thinking about the lines, good and bad, where technology and nature interface. And the problems that humans continue to make for ourselves by meddling in nature too much. Through the works I’m navigating and probing ideas from William Morris and others about when technology should and shouldn’t be used or when it's useful, and when it undermines enjoyable craft and artistic expression. So using this slightly out-dated and lo-fi technology that I had in the house already - but that could render a tiny flower at extraordinary resolution, felt really exciting.
The broader inspiration for the aesthetic of the works comes from the extraordinary deep black backgrounds and high saturation of natural objects of flemish 16/17th Century still lives. But also from the comedy office culture of playing with your face (or bottom) on the work photocopier!
I capture the images in a few different ways. I realised that as you set the dots per inch higher on the machine, the scanning arm moves slower and slower across the bed and you can move the natural object in time with the scanner. In a way my ‘roller scans’ create an almost cubist or futurist flattening of a 3d object onto the lens - a hyper-natural 2d glitch of an organic object.
I also take the scanner outside and I’ve created a fairly Heath Robinson contraption to allow me to scan ‘en plein air’ - traditionally a fascination of artists to actually paint outside in nature. So there is no need to cut the flowers, instead I position the scanner as close as possible using a tripod and various contraptions, and then setting the scanner to run. Lurking in gardens and flowerbeds in the middle of the night, with the only light provided by the laptop screen and the scanner itself is quite a magical experience. Once you press scan at the resolution i’m working at it takes about half an hour to create each image and you are left waiting - almost taking you back to an experience we used to have, or that photographers who still shoot film have where you have to wait to see how good your image is instead of the instant output we have become used to with traditional digital images.
The third approach is a more simple archive portrait of cut flowers on the flat-bed scanner. These works subtly nod to colonial herbariums, like at the natural history museum or Kew gardens, where explorers were bringing back and cataloging specimens for prosperity and posterity. In a different way it feels like a moment in time where recording our natural environment for posterity - as biodiversity is dwindling - has an added resonance to it. Something about giving these individual stems a platform to be raised up into 3000dpi and being reproduced at 500% the size they were is both magical and urgent.
I’m still learning what I am doing. There’s something exciting about creeping around in the dark with multiple scanners and capturing different parts of gardens. I’m working with florists to explore the arrangement of the physical objects. I’m even starting to take to the streets to capture night scans in front gardens and public spaces.
There is something about the spectrum of colours that you can get in an individual natural specimen that I have been exploring for a while. If you take the Hellebore scans for example - on one scan you have three different coloured flowers on a single stem - it’s totally magical.
The work carries a simple but needed message to spend more time looking, to spend more time enjoying. Take satisfaction from things that return time and again, that record the passing of time. The subjects depicted are delicate and fragile yet bold and extraordinary and these prints bring that into extraordinary resolution and permanence. The deep chiaroscuro (extreme light and dark) that we recognise from those flemish masters creates totally stunning images. And I love just getting on a roll with making them and I’m looking forward to making more.