Tim Smith's Cyanotypes

  • Tim Smith's Cyanotypes

    Hi Tim, am I right in thinking these Cyanotypes started life as a digital file? Printed onto OHP then printed via traditional Cyanotype method?  

    I shoot all of my skate photos digitally before editing them on my computer and all of the cyanotype photos started off life in this way. Once the photos have been edited on the computer, they are then printed onto acetate sheets, which are then used for exposing the final cyanotype photos. I’m pretty lucky that is plenty of acetate sheets at my work and access to a photocopier, otherwise it I’d be stuffed, haha.

    Felix Tailblocks in Ashton Under Lyne

    How did you set up your file/negative ready for print? Was there much extra editing of an image to more readily suit the format?  

    Getting a photo ready to use for a cyanotype print doesn’t take much more work than any other digital file. I’ve found that high contrast images are most suited to the process. I tend to start off with an image that works well in black and white, and then bump up the contrasts. The final digital file needs to be inverted, turning the black in white and the white into black, before it is printed onto an acetate sheet. That’s the basic preparation process but there are more things I have experiment with like, printing images across multiple pages and scratching the acetate images to give a more distressed look.

    Could you breakdown the process of achieving this for those of us who’ve never printed Cyanotypes before?

    The whole cyanotype process is really easy. It’s an alternative process of making photos that uses sunlight to exposure the print, meaning you don’t need a darkroom setup. I’m not claiming to be an expert in the field but this is the basic breakdown…

    Firstly you need to pick up the chemicals online for around £15. You then mix the two chemicals (I have no idea what they are called) together in equal parts and then use a paintbrush to apply them onto some thick paper in darkened room. Once the sheets to dry stick them in a black bag and pop them into a cupboard. The paper is now light sensitive so any sunlight will react with the chemical and spoil the sheets, so keep them out the light. You’ll get a better result if you use the paper straight away so I only tend to prepare the paper in small batches.

    When you want to make a print you’ll need a sunny day so, in Yorkshire I have about a two-week window to make these photos, haha. It’s possible to expose the prints on a cloudy day but it can take up to two hours to get a decent image, sod that!

    Once the sun pops out from behind a cloud, place your paper onto a flat board, line up your acetate sheet on top and place a thick plastic sheet on top of the whole thing to weight it all down in place. You then wait for the image to turn a coppery colour. Each image will take a varying amount of time, I tend to go with my gut feeling when I think the print looks properly exposed. The paper is then take inside, washed with cool water and then let to dry in a darkroom, which in may case is my toilet floor, nice!

    Frank One Foots in Manchester

    How did you go about choosing which of your images to use for this? Is there any particular feature you were looking for when gathering potential images?

    To be honest I didn’t really put a huge amount of thought about the images that I choose to use, I just picked out photos that I liked.

    You recently had these up for an exhibition as part of Endemic’s 10-year celebrations; did this affect your choice of which images to print?

    That’s right, the initial inspiration for these photos came from the looming deadline for the recent 10 year of Endemic exhibition. My main aim was to try and make a selection of images for the exhibition that would showcase everyone who makes up the core of the Huddersfield scene. I was trying to cover the whole period of time that I have been shooting skate photos in Huddersfield, which is just over 3 years. Some of the images which where used have been realised before and few where new shots.

    The exhibition was only one part of a much larger celebrations including, an Endemic craft beer, limited edition products designed by Pete O’Toole, drinking beers, live music from Serious Sam Barrett, guest Dj sets, dancing, an excellent video from fellow lend master Nathan Page, hangovers, street comp and more beers. The whole thing was amazing, big up to every involved and who travelled from all corners of the country to get down.

    Josh Whitehead Bonelesses in Barnsley

    How did your images relate to other media exhibited? There were a number of different guys showing work right?

    Rod Root and myself curated the whole exhibition. The main thing that linked all of the exhibited photos together (including my work) was the Endemic team and Huddersfield. We where lucky enough to have 18 photographers submit photos for the exhibition and we’re extremely grateful for everyone who took the time to submit there photos. Contributors included;Dave Bevan, Ben Bostock, Andy Cullen, Nigel Murgatroyd, Tom Bamforth, Eavesy, Rory Devlin, Sam Downey, Lee Johnson, Josh Whitehead, Nathan Page, Tim Smith, Sam Ashley, Horsley, Leo Sharp, Chris Johnson, Dan Abrahamsson, José Barrios & Jørgensen. The exhibition has been taken down now but if you want to see the photos you can pick up a copy of AcheZine fourhere.


    Is this something you plan to continue doing or was it just for this occasion?

    Once the sun comes back out, the plan is to make more of these in the near future. I have a few plans up my sleeve about how add an extra twist to the process. Initially I was interested how the process could breathe new life into old images but now I’d like to put out a new body of which will only be made using cyanotype. We’re constantly bombarded with digital images and I find that a lot of skate photos look pretty similar. Don’t get me wrong, there a tons and tons of amazing photographers out there and I’ve nothing against them, I just wanted to make something that had more of a hand made aesthetic. Manual processes force you to accept an element of chance in the final photo, allowing for serendipity. I think that cyanotypes have a dreamy appearance to them and look more like a memory of a trick rather that a clean digital document.

     Kieran Ollies in in Huddersfield

    All photos by Tim Smith, check Ache Zine for more from Tim and the rest of Huddersfield