The Metamorphosis of Daphne

Daphne contact print

Daphne contact print

I have just dug out my negatives of Daphne who was born in 1995. She results from a collaboration between myself and sculptor Giorgio Bevignani with whom I’d already collaborated on other photographs in the Metamorphoses series the year before. The laurel bush was constructed by Giorgio from soft steel wire and clip-on metal leaves.Daphne contact sheet

I developed my old warhorse, the Tri X film myself, and I remember that when I first saw the contacts I was disappointed and didn’t know how to print her.The problem was partly that the pose didn’t really work in any of the shots. This I eventually resolved by chopping her in half.
 I felt too that the negative was underdeveloped  – a bit thin, and that Daphne had too little shadow detail, she was too much of a silhouette. Or perhaps I just hadn’t lit her properly. In the event this rendered the image more stylised, more graphic.
The third problem was the join between the model’s hair and the branch. This was pre-Photoshop days and I had to resort to clumsily retouching the negative. I wasn’t much good at bleaching and scratching away at the neg (you can see my crude efforts on the contact above), so printing Daphne was a really hard task, it was also fiendishly difficult to conceal the wires. However, with time I got better at it and sold several quite large prints – up to 30x60cm – before scanning the negative in 1997, correcting all the defects and printing it digitally thereafter.Daphne contact sheet
The first use of Daphne was as a letter head – so she couldn’t really have been much smaller. However, since Daphne went digital I have pulled the image around rendering it both long and thin to conform with the format of the Metamorphoses and also square, changed the colour into blue and even gold, but most of all have printed her big – much bigger than I ever would have been able to in my darkroom days. Recently she was printed on glass 2.5 metres high. She has grown over the years.
Daphne Rietveld showroom
Looking at these contacts nearly 20 years after I’m surprised I shot so few images. Just 12 shots – not even two complete films with a Mamiya 6×7 which has 10 shots to a roll. I suppose it was difficult for the model to hold the pose with her head attached to a steel tree suspended over her head. I must have stopped on compassionate grounds.
I entered the bromide print into the prestigious Association of Photographers Awards in London in 1996 but the winner that year in the black and white category I entered was won by a photo of Royal Marine commando training – rather ironic given that I’d abandoned the Royal Marines myself in 1970 aged 18 to go to art school.
The wire structure still hangs, rusting, from a beam in Giorgio’s sculpture studio in Bologna.
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