Thirty Pieces of Silver

There is a certain deceit in a reflected image – a reflection in a mirror gives us the idea that we are seeing a truthful likeness. But of course we are party to this conspiracy ourselves, knowing it not to be the case. And the mirror gives a sense of depth that again we allow ourselves to be taken in by, the surface of the glass being impenetrable and unyielding.

The Claude glass or black convex mirror which I have been using to make many of my recent drawings and which I described in the entry entitled, “Polarities of Light and Dark”, adds another layer to this deceit. Across its dark surface the reflected image is tonally unified in a way that no ordinary mirror would allow.

I recently discovered that when the first daguerreotypes, those early photographic images on copper plated with a layer of thin silver, were first described in a public lecture, they were likened to a Claude glass. And if you hold a daguerreotype in your hand you can understand why – at the slightest movement of your head, the image seems to have vanished leaving behind a ghost image of what appeared to be so clear just a moment ago.

Claude Glass - Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

I first had the idea of using pure silver and palladium in my drawings when I began to experiment with some precious nine-times-dyed sheets of indigo paper. The paper has a bloom – hints of iridescent purple across its surface. I had discovered from discussions with Neil Brown at the Science Museum that Claude glasses can be found in a range of tints of black – brown, violet, blue – and so the indigo paper seemed to be right for the new drawings.

Each day I have been working in bound powders of pure metal across the surfaces of the paper. Sometimes the metal is difficult to manage but I want to persevere. Repetitious tiny drawn marks accumulate and the drawn image takes on a different form – like the Claude glass and the daguerreotype it seems to invite a closer look – and then it winks and starts to disappear as you begin to move your head.

Siân Bowen, from 'Gaze' series, 2006 - Click to enlarge

Click on thumbnails for larger versions.

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