Fayum – Mike Ware

Mike Ware with Evaporation Basin. South Ronaldsay, Orkney. 1984.
from an 8×10 inch negative.

Continuing with an infatuation to draw connections between my portrait work and the extraordinary panel paintings from Fayum, I look back to this photograph of my dear friend, technical guru and the most generous of souls, Mike Ware. This photograph, one of the first made with an 8×10 camera, was taken while he was visiting me in Orkney as we delved into the puzzles of platinum-palladium printing and malt whisky. Somewhat incredibly, the delicate glass basin just happened to be sitting in the shed of the fishing cottage Mike and his family were renting. Mike is a chemist.

Mike’s sideways look, the almost-smiling but stolid mouth, his eyes catching light and this catching echoed in the glass basin and then passing on again as shadow on the wall, all gather into something that harkens to… that space inside the basin, where the air is still and substances may evaporate without being disturbed. I recall clearly that we were both living and dreaming in and about the platinum-palladium printing process at that time, and looked everywhere for indications and signals that would help us update and modernize the process. We were looking for a smoothly rendered tonality, a stilled transition. Mike’s ability to manifest as print and tone his conceptual understanding of the chemical processes at play astonished me. And still does. And I will always be indebted to him for the way he has clarified this and other photographic processes to myself and the greater photographic community.

At the time we began to successfully modernize the process, many people were interested in the archival aspects of the process—being composed of noble metals attached to cellulose fibres makes the platinum-palladium print one of, if not the most permanent and enduring of photographic processes. It is possible that the prints could last 2000 years. The Fayums, if still around, will then be 4000 years old.

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3 Comments

  1. Aieee! The platinarian replatinized!
    This is the only portrait of me that I can bear to have on the wall – thank you Pradip!
    It helps that I was 28 years younger then – if already dissolute: that black T-shirt has actually been turned inside-out; it should read “Theakstone’s Old Peculiar”.
    I would only add two other things to your kind commentary:
    Those shadows on the wall are such an appropriate reminder of the Allegory of Plato’s Cave.
    And do you see the big black fly, also on the wall ?
    Memories…
    Mike

  2. I had forgotten about that little bit of eversion! And yes indeed, the cave—that has come up so many times in our conversations, and lately for me, much more in relation to Burke’s thoughts about the beautiful and the sublime. I think the obvious reading of Plato ends up damning photography and photographers, but somewhere, there is a fly in that cave/ointment, and on this wall, as metaphor of experience and art (sorry, just cannot resist, chuckle). What would have Plato said of the fly that settles on the shadowy cave wall eh? 🙂 More on these twisted, and I am sure, pocked ramblings of mine at another time. However, that fly; yes, noticed it but not when I took the photograph. Thank you Graces, thank you Mike!

  3. By the way, for those of you not too familiar with British culture, Mike is peculiar, but certainly not old, and he belongs to Marie, not Theakstone. The inside of the shirt proclaimed his fondness for a wonderful beer.

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