Laura Fisher REMLA Evaluation

October 10, 2017by laurafisherNewsRoyal Engineers Museum and Archive (17/18)

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After being fortunate enough to be allocated the Royal Engineers Museum and Library Archive (REMLA) as my project for Element 1 of the Exposure Unit, it was essential to find a focus early on. As the photographer in residence element of was only 4 weeks, it was paramount to make full use of every available day at the archive. Being given an open brief and the added bonus of an exhibition was a great incentive to produce an interesting, creative piece. I spent time looking at the museum’s online database to find some inspiration. I kept coming back to the idea of using portraits. I also knew that the archive held a book of cyanotypes. I am drawn to old photographic processes and I wanted to use these 2 ideas in my work. I knew I wanted to take a human interest in my work, as I feel many visitors to the archive come to do this themselves, looking for family members and ancestors to fill in the gaps of their family trees and making sense of their own identities. My search led me to a fascinating photograph album containing 18 individual portraits of young Royal Engineers Officers, dated 1910. Young men, full of hope and aspirations who had passed their exams and were entering into a new phase of their lives. I saw echoes in this with my own pathway, as along with my fellow students, will be entering into a new phase of my own life next summer. I also looked at the book of cyanotypes and came up with the idea to make a contemporary interpretation of an army tunic out of material, using cyanotypes and the portraits. I am not a natural sewer so this seemed like an ambitious task, but I wanted to push myself and see what I could do. I asked some sewing friends for some advice and set about finding a pattern, fabric, buttons, etc. I made digital negatives of the scanned portraits and printed them onto acetate. I used these to make the images on the calico fabric to make the cyanotypes. The cyanotype process takes a long time, but it is a simple process, once you get your exposure times right. Once the fabric was dry I cut out the sections and sewed the garment together with red thread. Then I added the buttons and collar badges. I then painted the stand of the tailors dummy cyan to compliment the piece. I have pushed myself with this project, trying out new things and learning new skills. I had no idea what the outcome would be but I am surprised and happy with what I have created. I wanted to convey the identities of these young men, to bring them out of the darkness of the archive and into the light. The project was developed in consultation with my client who advised and supported me throughout the development of my piece. I have titled my final piece ‘In Memoriam’, in memory of the young Royal Engineers Officers that I have spent the last 4 weeks researching. During the First World War, 3 of the young men were injured and 2 others died of their wounds. They were all born around 1890 and are now all deceased. The words In Memoriam, followed by a name, have been found on epitaphs, monuments and gravestone and in obituaries. I wanted to bring these young officers out of the darkness of the archive and into the light. Each portraits bears their signature. Signatures are unique traces of a person’s hand, a proof of their identity. Printing their images onto fabric was a way of giving the photographs substance and texture, making them touchable and warm, and bringing them back to life. I am still unsure what to do with Herbert Ronald Sandford. His portrait, fittingly, bears a question mark and he was accidently omitted from the tunic. I will endeavour to find a way to incorporate him into the exhibition.
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