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  • Writer's pictureChiara

Looking up

There are hundreds of cloudscapes on my phone. Looking up has become a habit and as I look up I reach for my phone to capture the moment. Years ago, when trauma dominated my life more than it does now, I had a list by the phone (a landline phone on a wall in the corner of my kitchen). The list included emergency phone numbers, but also small actions to help me stay grounded when flashbacks threatened to overwhelm me. "Look at the sky" was one of the items on that list. So looking up has deep significance for me as an action. Capturing the sky on my phone alters the experience in some particular ways. At the same time as it preserves the moment of looking it also mediates the moment and partly distances me from the present. The act of capturing can therefore be seen as both enhancing and distracting from the act of looking. Nevertheless I have formed the habit and I have hundreds of cloudscapes. Cloudscapes on my phone are a small marker of trauma and of my ability to mediate my own experience.

I wanted to include some cloudscapes in this project as a contrast to some of the darker elements. But I didn't want to simply lighten the mood. I aimed to capture some of the fragility of the moments of looking. And I aimed to hint at the unreality of the everyday in the context of traumatic memory.

Editing, printing and presenting the cloudscapes to approach these aims became the challenge.

To edit my cloudscapes, I sought to exaggerate the contrasting tones to the edge of unreality. I modified exposure and tonal curves and used dodge and burn tools to over-dramatize the relationship between midtones and highlights in particular.

In a nod to the phone, I decided to present these images in a 9:16 ratio. After some consideration, this ratio became a unifying parameter for the entire project, since so much of the experience of COVID-19 and the pandemic has been mediated through our screens.

I was interested in the interactions between the cloudscapes, rather than merely the images individually and I wanted to capture a sense of ephemerality, so I looked at using transparency in the printed images. This proved to be quite difficult to achieve. Printing on transparency film (top right) allowed the images to be seen through one another against a white background, but the glossy synthetic nature of the surface was contrary to the organic nature of the imagery, and the impact of individual prints in the hand was quite minimal. The vellum paper I was able to obtain reacted badly to the amount of ink required to print a photo quality image, curling and smearing and causing grief of all kinds. When I relinquished my desire for transparency and printed on various photo papers, I still had difficulties with the quality of the blue tones. Black and white prints (bottom right) lost the quality of lightness I sought to capture in these images.

I finally settled on a double-layered photographic washi paper for my printed skies. The paper comes as a 95gsm sheet, but after printing the back 2/3 of the paper is peeled off, leaving a 35gsm layer. Pulling the paper off the backing sheet tends to tear the print, so it is recommended to use a cardboard roll to support the print as it is peeled off, this action, plus the lightness of the paper leaves some residual curling.

I installed some of these prints on the back wall of my unit. This is the wall that faces me when I leave my studio which is a large shed in my small backyard. This is often a moment of looking up after concentrated time working indoors. Installing the images here also emphasises their small size and fragility in contrast to the vastness of the sky itself.

I also experimented with randomly scattering and piling the prints on a surface. It would be interesting to see how these prints would work stitched into book form, though the paper is quite fragile.

In recognition of the identity of these images primarily as phone photos and to preserve the luminosity of the originals I have also presented some of these skies as a gallery of digital images on my website.

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