MA Graphic Arts
Extended Practice Blog
Scientific illustration of Anning's Plesiousaur paddle
Productive couple of weeks. Managed to get films made so can now make a plate one evening this week. I visited Oxford University Museum of Natural History on Thursday and was well looked after by staff. I was allowed to photograph numerous specimens they hold there; the plesiosaur paddle I knew about, a few belemnites and the surviving tail of ‘ Squaloraia’ the fish that anning discovered. The tail frsagment I photographed was quite large, perhaps 8-10 inches, so the full specimen must have been pretty big. the body of the fish was destroyed when Bristol Museum was bombed in 1940. There were a couple of books with drawings by De La Beche of Anning specimens that i photographed too, , the archives showed me some letters (though there content wasn’t particularly interesting) and Annings pencil drawing of Squaloraia, and a further drawing of a turtle, which is attributed to Anning (though I don’t recall reading about this one anywhere else, but the similarities could be seen).
Finally, there was a young ichthyosaur on display in the main hall, which I was able to photograph with the glass removed.
I have complained previously about the difficulties in photographing some of these specimens, particularly in the manner I have come to look at them of late. Getting close in to these objects is difficult for a few reasons. The are very delicate, and not able to be moved much or removed from cases, and the specimens that are not on display can only really be photographed flat on a table. This causes problems because of the cameras i’ve been using causing real inconsistency with the negative sizes produced. My large format camera doesn’t allow me to focus close enough, and I cannot afford to buy a macro lens, so I have some negatives that I have cropped. The Mamiya RB67 is good, and with the 180mm lens I can get close enough in (though can still only focus 1.2 meters away) but the bulk and weight of the camera isn’t conducive to being tripod mounted and photographing objects laying flat on a table. This time around, to photograph the specimens at Oxford I took a 35mm camera with a 200mm Macro lens which allowed me to get closer in to the specimens, though could still only focus at a distance of 1m. I think I got what I needed, but cannot account for the quality of the Vivitar glass, and the way the focus drops from it is incredibly tedious.
In short, this project would have been a lot more straightforward had I been able to afford to invest in a couple of lenses for my Wista. I do have the kind offer of a free 2 week loan of the Fuji medium format digital camera through Fuji’s sponsorship program, but I don’t want to switch to shooting this project digitally.
Enough moaning. I’ll be processing the film at work tomorrow, will make a couple of contact sheets and get scanning on thursday. I don’t anticipate making any more photographs in museums for this project now, but will return one last time to Lyme Regis to re-photograph the cliffs. After a tutorial last week I think I can now see why the rock photographs I have may not work, despite liking them. I’m not writing them off, but I am going to have another good look at Jem Southam’s rockfalls and go back with these in mind.
I have compiled a set of texts from my research into a shortlist for possible use in the exhibitions/catalog. The texts, all correspondences to/from Anning give another closer insight into her, particulary in conversation about things personal to her, and the way that she refers to herself ‘your loyal servant’ when writing to the learned men of science. They reveal her class; full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. They are often unpunctated over descriptions of found specimens, and reveal her to be something of a salesperson.
Here are those texts:
Letter to a Young Girl
‘I beg your pardon for distrusting your friendship. The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of every one’
‘And what is a woman? Was she not made of the same flesh and blood as lordly Man? Yes, and was destined doubtless, to become his friend, his helpmate on his pilgrimage but surely not his slave, for is not reason hers?’
Letter to Buckland
‘I embrace the first opportunity of informing you that I have discovered another plesiosaurus superior to one purchased by the Duke of Buckingham… Sir is there hope of you coming to Lyme again soone?
Your obliged humble servant Mary Anning
Sir I shall feel greatly obliged by your sending me a line to say what you think I had best do in regard to disposing of it. I must write to the Bristol Institution to say I got such a thing.’
Letter to Charlotte Murchison
‘I would have answered your kind letter by the return of post, if I had been able. Perhaps you will laugh when I say that the death of my old faithful dog quite upset me, the cliff fell upon him and killed him in a moment before my eyes, and close to my feet, it was but a moment between me and the same fate’
Letter to Adam Sedgwick
‘I sent of the ichts on Tuesday 2nd of Sept on board the unity Pearce Mastr which I hope er’r this arrived safe and I trust you will not be disappointed when you Sir see it,’
Letter to Richard Owen
‘Sir, I have endeavoured in a rough sketch to give you some idea of what it is like. Sir you understood me right in thinking that I said it was the supposed plesiosaurus, but its remarkable long neck and small head, shows that it does not in the least [verify] their _______ in its analogy to the ichthyosaurus, it is large and heavy but one thing I may venture to assure you it is the first and only one discovered in Europe’
Letter to Sir Henry Bunbury
‘I have taken the liberty of writing to inform you that I have discovered [a partial] skeleton of an unknown species it is nine foote long and from the extremity of one paddle to the other it is four feete [broade] it [as] a remarkable small head not more than eight inches in length long neck measuring from the sternum to the head it is four feete short body from the sternum to the pelvis two feet ribs one foote
Plans changed throught the week, I had to reorganise the Oxford visit for the 9th November, and the lithographic printing for next week.
On a more positive note, I know that they have some really interesting specimens at Oxford, and have appointments with Earth Sciences and Print collections to look at some letters and Anning related correspondence.
We had a look at the exhibtion space, and got a few ideas of artists I may invite to the show, and, through a conversation with Alex potentially resolved the problem of the exhibtion catalog, moving towards a folded doc such as that shown here.
I’d like to have the rocks peeping through the gap in the doc, which becomes a poster of the full rock face image when unfolded.
Something to experiment with.
Another disappointing afternoon. A scann on the imacon (making .fff files) confirms that the retake of the Ichthyosaur jaw is soft. Incredibly frustrating to get the focus wrong, but working in those small bays where the fossils are stored using the lens I have, means that the focussing distance pushes me back so far that I can’t get behind the camera.
There are a couple of things I can do here; re-shoot using a longer lens (UWE loans has a 210mm lens I could use which would get me closer, but the problem of focussing at distance in small areas would persist) or I could go back to the original image from the medium format negative.
The image area for this is around 35mm in size, but I did manage to push it to A2 for the ‘developing practice’ submission. It looked good as an inkjet print, and would probably make a decent plate to make some lithographic prints.
This seems like the best option, though it compromises the idea of making this particular print (my favourite) ‘monumental’ as planned.
I will send the file off to jupiter to get a film made, so that next Thursday I should be able to
i make the lithographic plate
ii process films from Oxford
iii make a 6ft print of the rocks at Black Ven (so I can be sure files will hold up)