York Open Studios – Alun Kirby

York is home to a diverse community of talented artists. One of the many pleasures of the annual York Open Studios event is the opportunity to discover makers, materials and methods you may yet to have come across in your average art exhibition or gallery.

This is certainly the case with the resident of Venue No.2. of this month’s York Open Studios, now in its sixteenth year celebrating the city’s artistic output. Artist Alun Kirby works with analogue and cameraless photography, a fascinating artform rooted in the past and yet producing pieces that feel very modern.

Invented and popularised in the nineteenth century, cyanotypes were an early form of photography created using iron salts which react to ultra-violet light (such as the sun’s rays). Placing an object on top of the chemical-coated material stops or slows the UV rays, leaving an ‘image’ which varies depending on the time it’s left exposed.

Kirby has been experimenting with this and other forms of alternative photography for over 20 years, but also produces more traditional film-based photography – silverprints, which feature abstract scenes – with space for creative experimentation by differing the chemicals used in his own dark room.

Pride of place in the artist’s house during the open weekends is a beautiful collection of ‘metamorphograms‘ created by folding squares of paper coated in chemicals into origami cranes (‘orizuru’) and leaving them to develop. After days, weeks, or even months, the crane is unfolded – while the form is undone, the ‘memory’ of each fold is visible in the paper.

In Japanese folklore, it is said that you are granted a wish for every thousand cranes you fold, so each example lovingly pegged to Kirby’s display is a thousandth of a wish and each entirely unique – much like memories themselves. It’s a joyous representation of a special tradition told using an old-fashioned technique to inspire a new audience.

Kirby is also keen to share his love of the process as well as the product, offering workshops for both adults and children on the cyanotype technique (don’t worry, the chemicals involved aren’t harmful). For more information, visit alunkirby.com or follow @AlunKirby on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo by Rachel, reproduced with kind permission of Alun Kirby.

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