My Experimentation With Making a Papier-mâché Ball

Grid of Deptford Changing in a Papier-mâché Ball in Fading Light

I eventually decided to try out making a papier-mâché ball out of photographs printed on plain paper and other articles on Deptford. I was inspired to do carry out such a task by this post I had entered into Contextual Studies. I found the process time-consuming but rewarding and it did make me think about how photographs are used and their context, rather than solely the final photograph.

One View of Deptford Changing in a Papier-mâché Ball
One View of Deptford Changing in a Papier-mâché Ball

To make the papier-mâché ball I followed the old method of using a balloon as a base for the ball and then layering newspaper on top of the balloon. The newspaper was glued to the balloon and itself with a glue paste made up of equal measures plain flour and water. Also I oiled the balloon first so it was easier to remove from the papier-mâché structure when it was completed. I covered the balloon in 3 layers of strips of normal newspaper, letting the newspaper dry before applying the next layer. Then for the final layer I switched from using newspaper strips to my own photographs printed onto plain paper along with 4 articles on the regeneration of Deptford I’d found on the internet.

Self-portrait of Myself Beside Papier-mâché Ball
Self-portrait of Myself Beside Papier-mâché Ball

I purposefully laid the photographs I’d taken on first to the paper-mâché. They were all square photographs I’d taken on my film camera showing different aspects of the regeneration or otherwise ‘old’ Deptford. I then laid the strips from the articles so that they filled the gaps and also slightly overlaid the photographs. This was to create the effect that the photographs weren’t perfectly square and perhaps even connoted the articles influenced the photographs somewhat. With this final layer I tried to be as neat with the papier-mâché paste as possible but inevitably some of it stuck to this layer making it a bit messy. This was something I could perhaps learn from if I were to make another papier-mâché ball: to use a brush to apply the strips instead of my fingers. I popped the balloon inside the ball and held onto it as it deflated so I could then pull it out of the structure. Finally I applied a layer of PVA glue to the papier-mâché structure to give it a slightly shiny sheen and make it look more finished.

With the papier-mâché ball completed I had no idea what to do with it! After a day or two deliberation I decided the inevitable which was to photograph it. In my initial post from which I’d drawn the inspiration to make the papier-mâché ball, I had imagined asking somebody to hold it by a thread and then photograph them holding it. I soon realised this wouldn’t work too well because to get their whole body in the frame they would have to be some distance from the camera and so the papier-mâché ball wouldn’t be resolved well. In the end I just put the structure on a table and photographed it from one side. I also made a self-portrait with me slightly behind the structure.

As I experimented photographing the papier-mâché I realised I wanted to show the ball from different sides because I liked the different photographs and articles present on the outside of it. I began photographing one side then rotating the ball on its horizontal axis and photographing a slightly different side. I had my camera on a tripod and repeated this step multiple times, trying to keep the ball still on the table so I didn’t have to move the tripod. It was from this slow rotation that I made the realisation that I was creating a kind of slideshow on my digital camera when I reviewed the images back! The slideshow consisted of the ball rotating and was especially convincing when played at high speed.

I can’t figure out a way of displaying the video slideshow on WordPress so I’ve reduced the slideshow to five pictures to give an idea of the fading light and the papier-mâché ball being rotated:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By this time the daylight was beginning to fade but I was slightly struggling to get the ball to stay in one place while rotating it. I suddenly had a good idea that I could set my camera to manual (I was currently using aperture priority) and photograph the papier-mâché ball rotating on the same camera settings until the daylight had faded completely (and too the images got darker and darker). I sorted out the ball not staying in one place by pushing it with a bit of force into the table top so that it got a flatter base. Then I set about patiently photographing, rotating and rephotographing the ball at roughly 15 second intervals while the light gradually faded. When I could barely see anything and the image when reviewed on the camera back was basically black I decided to stop.

Grid of Deptford Changing in a Papier-mâché Ball in Fading Light
Grid of Deptford Changing in a Papier-mâché Ball in Fading Light

I had envisaged compiling the images into a movie, creating a slideshow of the images of the rotating papier-mâché ball fading to black. I did this and it worked well but as I imported the images onto my computer I realised they also worked as a grid of images starting in order and moving in columns along before dropping down to the next row until all the images were used up. I made a grid of 117 images split into 13 columns and 9 rows which I felt complemented the slideshow really well.

© John Hilliard (1971) 'Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors)'
© John Hilliard (1971) ‘Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors)’

The grid reminded me of the conceptual art of the 1970s. I remembered seeing a certain photograph and after a bit of searching I remembered it was made by John Hilliard and called Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) (1971) which had used a similar technique best represented in a grid.

I found experimenting with something new ultimately gave me interesting results. Without trying it out and going through the process of making and then photographing the papier-mâché ball, I wouldn’t have achieved these results. For me the images of Deptford changing in a papier-mâché ball, rotating and fading to black had connotations of the change being perhaps detrimental to ‘old’ Deptford. This is of course the case because ‘old’ Deptford is quickly being replaced by a newer regenerated Deptford. The manner some of the developments are implemented into the existing community are questionable which perhaps reveals my own subjective opinion about regeneration in Deptford. On the other hand a lot of the development is necessary in order to build new homes and generally improve the area.

How the grid of images fading to black and the slideshow fit into my current Body of Work remains to be seen but I could see my work taking on a more multi-disciplinary approach.

References:

Hilliard, J. (1971) Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) [Photograph] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hilliard-camera-recording-its-own-condition-7-apertures-10-speeds-2-mirrors-t03116 (Accessed 21.08.2019)

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