TOUCHED BY LIGHT
An interview with Dave Eva
Tell us a bit about you.
I’m 61. I live in Brixton, South London. I retired last September from 30 years of teaching young children in East London. I’ve been working on photograms for years but now I have more time and energy for it.
How did you get into creating these camera-less images.
Back in the 1980s I was working at playcentres. They often had photography equipment around the place. Someone gave me a half-hour demonstration of how to make photograms, and I took it from there. I’m self-taught. I have a degree in literature but I’ve never taken a photography course. I get bored with the technicalities of cameras, but I could see how cameraless images could allow me to play and experiment. At first it was an activity I did with children, and then I set up my own darkroom at home.
Your work is aesthetically very beautiful and feels sometimes like contemporary art. What are your references and sources of inspiration?
It’s hard to see how influences play out in your own work, but these have been persistent enthusiasms.
Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy, Gyorgy Kepes, Floris Neususs, Susan Derges amongst many others who have made photograms.
Bill Brandt for his use of deep black tones.
Fay Godwin’s brooding landscapes (see Remains of Elmet with Ted Hughes)
The photographs and collages of Nigel Henderson - working in the East End in the 1950s.
Louise Nevelson and Eva Hesse for their use of the grid and variation within repetition.
The sculptures and ink/paper works of Eduardo Chillida. John Virtue and Ian McKeever for their use of black and white paint. Robert Rauschenberg’s screenprints and blueprint photograms.
Can you take us through a step by step process of creating a camera-less image?
This is traditional photography with a darkroom and chemicals etc. To put it at its simplest, you place objects/materials on photographic paper and expose the paper to light. The parts of the paper touched by light will go dark when washed in the chemicals. The parts that are covered up will stay white. A photogram is a shadow picture. But then I complicate matters, or create more possibilities in various ways. I use a range of light sources: the enlarger, the room light, torches, lamps. I change the angle from which I shine light: from above, from the side, even from below. I re-expose the paper, sometimes multiple times as I build the image. I vary the length of exposure enormously, from half a second to half a minute. And then, more often than not, I tear up the finished images and re-combine them to make collages.
It’s important to stress that you rarely know in advance what the photogram will look like. There’s a large element of chance. Light is mercurial and unpredictable stuff. This is one of the things I like about the process. I’m interested in the ideas of John Cage, the American composer who used chance as a working method. He said don’t wait for inspiration. Just do the work and see what happens.