In 2016, during an artistic residency/workshop at UNIDEE-Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella (Italy), several ideas started brewing around alternative photographic processes, transient memories, ephemeral documentation, impermanence. Through a brief research, I came across the anthotype process, and fascinated by the simplicity and complexity of this oldest image-making technique, I started experimenting with plants and flowers in order to create anthotypes, with the assitance of my collaborator, artist Daz Disley.
The word Anthotype is derived from the Greek word "anthos" for flower, and it is used to describe an image created using photosensitive material from plants.This process was originally invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842 who apllied his understanding of light, colour and botany, and started to experiment with making images through light using extracted flower pigmentation. However, before Hershcel, in 1816 Henri August Vogel experimented with making emulsion from violets and poppies and found them to be photosensitive.
Practically, an emulsion is made from crushed flower petals or any other light-sensitive plant, fruit or vegetable. This emulsion is used to paint a coated sheet of paper which is then dried. When a transparent photo positive is placed on the top of the paper and it is exposed to direct full sunlight, then the image part not covered by the material is bleached out by the sun rays. The color remains or fades in the shadowed parts. The paper remains sensitive against such rays, which means that the image cannot be fixed. Eventually the image will fade out and disappear as it remains exposed to sunlight.
Anthotypes challenge the conviction that photography can fix an event for an unlimited period of time. Like dance, photography can be ephemeral.
UNIDEE - Biella 2016. Photo by Fenia Kotsopoulou
Research on anthotype process
Mrs Mary Somerville
anthotype by Fenia Kotsopoulou, using Blue Iris.
In her book "Anthotypes – Explore the darkroom in your garden and make photographs using plants" (2012), author Malin Fabbri, explain accurately the entire process, gives a concise historical timeline, and includes a big range of examples by contemporary artists.
After a period of experimentation and still fascinated by the complex simplicity of this specific process, I embarked on a creative journey of exploration of the performativity of photography, issues on memory, ephemerality, intimacy, portraiture and time.
In 2017, during my participation to the the ART WEEK | Workshop Series 2017: Joint Performance Summer Class by La Pocha Nostra & VestAndPage, in Venice(Italy), I found myself surrounded by inspiring artists and I decided to take the first twenty individual portraits, which I could use later for anthotype-experiments. There happened the so-called: proof of concept. My score itwas simple:
During the one-to-one encounter, I ask from the participant to close their eyes and I make a question to them related to memory; a question that since the beginning remains the same. I sit opposite with my camera and I wait in silence, until I feel the moment to take one single photo. I don't give to myself a second opportunity. The click of the camera breaks the silence. Then the person can open their eyes and on their time they transfer (anonymously) in a piece of paper the answer to the question. They can choose any language they desire.
The image is developed as anthotype and every answer becomes part of a collective text.
anthotype "MARY" and handmade book by Fenia Kotsopoulou
text-based responses by participants, sewn together by Ann Disley
In some cases, at the end of the encounter I ask to cut a small piece of person's hair which is preserved until this element finds its way to the project (something that didn't happen yet). However, even that adds an other layer to the intimacy connected to this project. Hair, death and memory are closely interwoven. According the author Abigail Heineger, the hairworks in in America during the mid-nineteenth-century were not just aesthetic works but they functioned also as cultural artifacts and objects of remembrance, and mourning. Although, shaft of hair is considered dead, I still see it as an intimate part of someone's body which carries personal history. The ritualistic acts of cutting a piece of hair and offering it to me, give an extra layer to the exprience of shared intimacy and trust. With a certain weight of responsibility, I am waiting to find a respectful and, hopefully, a meaningful way to use this element within the work.
There is no deadline in this project, and there is no rush to arrive somewhere. Probably, there isn't a destination. "SCENTS OF EVANESCENCE" has its own time and develops its own rhizomatic, hybrid life. It doesn't belong to me. I am more a facilitator, a curator - someone who takes care of the process. Without the contribution and the participation of others it doesn'texist. At the same time, this work becomes a personal creative tool to explore modes of co-creation and connection with the others, a way to learn how to deal with the fear to forget and be forgotten, as well as the need to let go.