Artist Robert Pereira Hind describes the process of making a gold-leaf photograph as rather convoluted and delicate. Prepping a 100cm x 80cm board, gold leafing it, priming it with shellac and having it ready to use can take between 15 - 20 hours. Once Robert has the various tree photographs ready to transfer, he often gets that trembly hand feeling, if he makes a mistake at this stage there’s a lot of hard work and time riding on it. Robert talks us through the process of creating his regal pieces and tell us why this process appeals to him.
1. How do you select and photograph the trees?
Finding the right tree is no easy feat! The best ones are free standing and mature with character. As I travel between Edinburgh and London for work I've become aware, while looking out of the window, that the best area for solitary trees is North Yorkshire. I'm not sure why this area is so abundantly full of independent standing trees, but I’m very happy to have discovered it. Having found the right tree, I then wait for the right day, overcast but bright and not too windy. Having located the tree, I set up a white backdrop behind it to eliminate the background, right up to the horizon where the white clouds begin. This technique allows me to cleanly remove the tree from it original environment and have it ready to lay out onto a prepared gold leaf board.
2. Which piece is your favourite and why?
There must be a masochist in me somewhere I guess! The process of making each piece is pretty convoluted and delicate. It’s so easy to cock up at almost any stage. Anyway, to answer your question, the most recent ones with complicated multiple overlays are my favourites, such as Arboretum. Probably because they challenge me the most in the making of them, but also because of the sense of satisfaction at completing a piece without ruining it.
3. These photographs are very different from your commercial photographs. What inspired this series?
There’s a lot of fun to be had photographing celebrities, the sense of anticipation before meeting them, the thought of doing something wrong and somehow embarrassing myself usually keeps me on my toes! The moment when any celeb is standing in a pose ready for me to start pressing the shutter is always a rather tense moment. I become aware that my hands are trembling and I run around panicking quite a lot. Then thankfully once I start photographing I forget all the worries and just get on with it.
I studied fine art photography at the London College of Printing, what’s now the London College of Communication. While there I discovered a great interested in montage, decontextualising subject matter, exploring different backgrounds, sequencing and various other visual devices. The interesting thing for me is that by creating these gold leaf pictures it brings together everything my personal photography has been exploring over the years. In that sense they’re twenty years in the making, I couldn't have made them without going on the journey I’ve been on all these years.
When I’m not photographing I like to get out into the wilds climbing mountains, occasionally free diving or doing pretty much anything that’s scary. It’s not too hard a leap to see the connection between trembly mountain knees walking along a knife edge mountain ridge and trembly hands trying not to make an error. It might be all about adrenaline?!
4. Tell us a bit about the varnishing and shellac process?
Prepping a 100cm x 80cm board, gold leafing it, priming it with shellac and having it ready to use can take between 15 - 20 hours. Once I’ve got the various tree photographs ready to transfer, I often get that trembly hand feeling, my heart starts beating faster and run around making sure I’ve got everything ready, if I make a mistake at this stage there’s a lot of hard work and time riding on it. Having transferred the ink pigments, it's very easy to smudge them or scratch the gold leaf, this stage can get quite stressful. All going well, I then apply the varnish layer by layer, sanding in-between each layer to get a smooth finish.
5. What's the story behind the Latin names?
Part of the inspiration for making the tree pieces was from spending time out in the open country, in botanical gardens and looking at how incredibly beautiful the world is. Gardens have many fantastic tree examples to photograph and I noticed botanical gardens they always give the latin name so I thought I’d do that too.
6. How long does it take you to create an image?
From start to finish each piece takes at least a week to make. Taking the photographs can take at least a day, depending on the weather it can take several days. Creating the boards, cutting them to size, priming them, gold leafing, prepping them for transferring the ink pigments and then multi layer vanishing takes most of a week. They’re not quick to make but hopefully they’ll last a while!
7. What appeals to you about creating them?
I love the idea that when I’ve finished creating a piece and hand it over to be put on a wall somewhere, the journey of the work is far from over. The gold will, over the years slowly tarnish and take on a more moody atmospheric character which really suits the trees, the gold eventually becomes like a cloudy sky. This element is deliberately built into each piece and will over time make each piece completely unique as not two pieces will tarnish in the same way.