Spanish-born Felix Xifel has recently graduated from BA Photography here at Camberwell, he is interested in turning places and rooms into life-sized cameras using the process of creating a camera obscura and blacking out the space to complete darkness. In this blog, he shares his techniques used to produce the pieces for his degree show.
Tell us about your work
My work is about light, architectural mapping and is site-responsive. My way of working starts in the dark, I’m interested in how light leaks into spaces and how this produces images that look like drawings. I’m also interested in creating work that is relevant to the place I’m exhibiting by using my photographic approach of camera obscura or contact prints.
In my latest work for the degree show I explored the surroundings of the university’s campus. I wanted to record the viewpoint from inside Camberwell’s campus but also document what occurs outside of it. Camberwell’s Peckham Road site is being refurbished, and some of the rooms that I created images in will change in the future and others will not exist anymore. The piece on display was a large image made of individual contact printed photographic colour paper.
What inspired you to make this project?
My inspiration came from the curiosity of learning how every element works in photography. For instance, how the camera was discovered. I’m inspired by how philosophers like Mo Ti and Aristotle discovered or encountered the way in which light passes through an aperture, and how this technique has evolved to become the camera and photography as we know it today.
In 2013, I went to the Taylor Wessing Portraiture Award at the National Gallery where one of the finalists was the British photographer Luke Watson. The image he presented was named Eclipsed and it depicted a portrait of a woman looking fragile and vulnerable. While looking at the image, I read its description which explained the woman had an illness called Lupus. Among the common symptoms of Lupus are fatigue, aches and skin rashes which sometimes are sun-sensitive. This inspired me to look for similarities between the light sensitive aspect of Lupus and photography. Unable to find the right representation for Lupus, I continued to explore the subject of light. Also after thinking over and looking back on my work practice, I concluded I find interest in places where I work. I like representing my work places with my personal, different approach.
What materials did you choose for this project?
I tried working with several materials. I tried liquid emulsion, black and white negative film, colour negative film and few types of photographic papers with different sizes. Due to the nature of the work and the scale, the film negatives were very tricky to do and the result had very little effect. I dropped the idea of using liquid emulsion after I knew I was not going to carry out my initial idea to focus on Lupus and decided to stick with colour paper, focusing on the reaction of the photographic paper and the manipulation of the light with filters.
Did you find any obstacles during your process?
Ha, this project was all about difficult situations, out of control, unpredictability, all you can think. Every photographer can tell you that you need good light to shoot and get the right exposure, there are exceptions to this but generally we depend on it. For instance, one of the biggest images I created was 129×91 inches, with 112 sheets of paper sizes 10×8 inches each. To set the paper for the exposure it took me 2 and half hours to place it on the wall, in pure darkness, as colour paper is very sensitive to light. Placing the paper in order in the dark is a task that can lead to catastrophe, also the exposure time can change in that time and I had no way of knowing. Lucky enough I managed to get the image.
Any advice you’ll give anyone doing a similar project to yours?
Be persistent, plan in advance and have a system that can be moulded or change but a system to begin with. You can’t do something like this if you are not patient, I am not but I loved what I was doing and the results were rewarding. So, love your work, don’t just do it because you can, do it because you feel passion for it, because it reflects your personality. Ultimately your work has to be you.