Noel Myles shares his working practice with Jackie Mellor at the Mill Tye Gallery
There are about two thousand photographs of trees in the ‘Principally Trees’ exhibition by Noel Myles. The exhibition contains a collection of work which spans twenty-five years of the artist’s work photographing Oak trees in and around Sudbury, where the artist lives.
Noel’s interest in photographing Oak trees started around the year 2000, where he began to create monochrome prints, which were often the result of studying the same tree from multiple perspectives over a long period of time.
Noel’s aim in taking this approach is to “Liberate the still photographic image from the single moment and the static viewpoint.” Each study explores “the territory between still photography and moving image, hence the umbrella title ‘Still Films’’.
Initially Noel’s studies of Oak Trees were all shot on 35mm Ilford FP4 black and white film, using a Leica or Nikon 35mm SLR Camera. Some studies would include several visits to the tree and each time the artist would create 72 exposures. A single study could include 8 rolls of film resulting in a collection of 288 negatives to work with. The artist said that he “thinks of these frames as the components of the photograph, not photographs themselves.”
Once the artist had laid out the individual negatives on the light box he would move them around, “searching for harmonious connections” and looking for “formal qualities of line, tone, texture and colour, as well as subject matter, to link the individual units”. This process would result in a carefully considered matrix of 35mm negatives, which the artist would stick together, with sticky tape.
In order to turn the negative matrix into a Monochrome Platinum or Palladium print, Noel mixed light sensitive salts with Platinum or Palladium to create photographic emulsion which he painted onto fine art paper. Once dry, this paper was then placed underneath the negative matrix and sandwiched together with a sheet of glass, to ensure the best contact between the light sensitive surface of the paper and the negative, in a dark room. Noel then exposed the paper to a UV light source for up to an hour.
This method was very expensive,and each print could take three hours to perfect.
Once the paper had been exposed to the UV light, the next step was to develop the paper, so that the positive image could be seen on the surface of the paper.
Here is an example of a monochrome image that was made from the negative matrix as shown above.
Two of the early Monochrome prints were exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Shows in 2008 and subsequent years.
This monochrome print was exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Show and went on to be exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum for twelve months between 2008-2009.
After around ten years Noel revisited around twelve trees featured in the exhibition and photographed them with colour film. He had the colour rolls of film developed and printed as contact sheets and then cut out single frames and glued them to the monochrome prints.
In this example you can see that the artist experimented with placing the colour images to the front surface of the monochrome print as well as behind, creating a third dimension to the surface of the print. He also experimented with breaking the horizon line, challenging the conventions of
photography one step further.
Five years after adding colour photographs to the surface of the monochrome prints, Noel started to add more colour by drawing onto the surface of the prints. This means that some of the works in the exhibition evolved over a period of around fifteen years, starting off as monochrome studies in the year 2000, then around the year 2009 Noel added colour prints and around 2015 he started to draw onto the prints.
In his attempt to create studies which were about the experience of a tree over a long period of time, Noel started to make multiple visits to his subjects at different times of year. In this example you can see all the seasons depicted in one image.
To see further works from this collection spanning more than two decades of the artist life, visit Mill Tye Gallery.
Principally Trees runs from 5th June - 29th August 2021
Watch Noel Myles talk about his work...
Jackie Mellor 2021
The Keepers of Light, A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes, William Crawford, Published by Morgan and Morgan, 1975
New Dimensions in Photo Imagining. A Step-by-Step Manual by Laura Blacklow, Published by Focal Press, 1995
Historic Photographic Processes, A Guide to Creating Handmade Photographic Images, by Richard Farber, Published by Allworth Press, 1998
Looking at Photographs a Guide to Technical Terms, by Gordon Baldwin and Martin Jürgens