Simon Williams is an artist-photographer, formerly a science teacher and a church minister, living and working in Weston-Super-Mare. He makes images using antique cameras and historical processes.
"The speed and ease with which we can now take photographs is amazing - but in the haste we can lose the pleasure and mindfulness that a slower form of the process can offer. Taking a stand against the relentless drive for ever more MEGA-images that are becoming more “real” than reality, this work celebrates the imperfections of a more basic process. With no batteries or micro-chips these cameras can be used to create evocative images that invite the viewer into them. Pristinely clear images from our modern cameras and phones can be scanned, appraised - re-tweeted or ignored and then forgotten, but an image that draws you to explore, think, imagine - can create and deposit something of value in us, that will last.
My equipment is almost entirely antique, mostly over 100 years old. My "out and about" camera is a Thornton Pickard Imperial, full plate, 8.5x6.5”, bellows, triple extending, field camera with a roller shutter and Beck symmetrical lens (f8 to f64). I also enjoy using a 10x8” New Countess field camera for indoors work and for large collodion wetplates. I love working with the old cameras even though they present problems, there is just something special about using an historic camera. D.H. Lawrence wrote about this; “Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years. And for this reason, some old things are lovely warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”
My “film” can be ordinary sheet film, but is most often X-ray film which can react to ordinary green and blue light (not red). When I first started using these antique cameras it was with photographic paper as film and I still enjoy the special look and feel it gives.
The prints I produce from negatives are contact-prints and are therefore the same size as the original negative. I print on ordinary photographic paper but enjoy more hand-coating watercolour paper with solutions of iron and silver salts to make “cyanotypes”, “Vandyke Browns" and "Argyrotypes".
The hand-made nature of the images allows me to exercise artistic control over the look and feel of the images producing images that, when it works well, convey the sense of the subject as much as its looks.
My most recent work is in wetplate collodion - a 150-year-old technique I learned during the confines of the 2020-21 lockdown, but that is contemporary with the cameras I am using. Here the images are silver on glass that interact with the light in a lovely way that digital and print do not.
Recent collaborations have been with Underfall Yard and the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust to produce work that celebrates the history and character of Bristol’s industrial past highlighting the beauty that comes with the aging process.
It has been exciting to find the level of interest from others in this work – the camera attracts a lot of interest when I am out on location. This has led to features in local press, radio and a video on the BBC website in 2022. (Links from my website)
I always have work on show in Studio3 at Clevedon Craft Centre and am there every Tuesday 10am-4pm and always happy to talk photography."