Cooling Down: Carbon Cycle

Photographs by Michael England, printed from crushed coal by artist, photographer and developer Bob France.

21.07.23 - 02.09.23

These carbon prints have been made by artist, photographer and developer Bob France using crushed coal that Michael England collected from the base of a conveyor at Fiddler’s Ferry power station near to Warrington – coal originally destined for the furnace. The coal was ground to make the black pigment which forms the images which were made using a very early photographic technique called carbon transfer printing, a process invented by Alphonse Poitevin in 1855 and practiced throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. 

The prints are not merely reproductions from the film negatives, but are expressive in their own right, the carbon is visible, visceral, its texture can be felt and seen, the images move, fade and crumble in the same way that the subjects of the pictures are vanishing, lost to decommissioning and demolition in the period since the photographs were taken.

Michael's photographs, stem from research project, The Landscapes of Post-War Infrastructure, directed by Professor Richard Brook (Lancaster University) and Professor Luca Csepely-Knorr (University of Liverpool). The project considers the landscape design heritage of reservoirs, motorways, power stations and their respective surroundings, as well as the changes to leisure and community as they are demolished and developed.

The research focused on the hinterlands of the M62, specifically the coal fired power stations of the Yorkshire coalfield – Drax, Eggborough and Ferrybridge. Michael was commissioned, with Soup Collective, to make an immersive filmic installation, which will be shown later in 2023.

During many hours of fieldwork filming, Michael also undertook to capture a series of medium format black and white images of the component parts of the built landscape – the power stations, reservoirs, the bridges, viaducts, retaining walls and drainage channels, some of which we see here exhibited as carbon prints.

As we transition from the carbon economy and the first infrastructural giants of this linear ensemble are decommissioned and demolished, his photographs capture the beads and chain links of an industrial system underwritten by coal and oil. In the mines, in the power stations, in the asphalt, in the concrete, in the trucks, the cars, coaches and motorbikes, in the surface water run-off, the carboniferous content pervades and prevails.

In time, all of this matter will return to dust and it is this sense of circularity that has informed the processes in the production of these prints.

Michael England is a practising multi-disciplinary artist who works extensively in film, graphic design, photography, animation, installation and live audio-visual performance. An anomaly in the digital age, his online presence is deliberately limited. He has worked with some of the world’s leading electronic musicians, including 808 State and Autechre. His work has been shown at the ICA, BFI and the Barbican among other venues. He has performed internationally in 28 countries including at Sonar, Atonal, Unsound and Dark Mofo. His most recent commission was with AFRODEUTSCHE for Manchester International Festival. He is also a lecturer in filmmaking at SODA.

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