Alun Kirby will be at the School House Gallery, York, from 11am to 1pm on Saturday and Sunday (October 7 and 8) to offer visitors a chance to find out more about his cameraless photographic practice.

IF you don't believe photographs can be produced without cameras, think again.

Or better still, pay a visit to Alun Kirby's exhibition, All Small Things Must Evolve Slowly, on show at the New School House Gallery, off Peasholme Green, York, until the end of September.

"This first solo show by emerging York artist Alun Kirby shows off camera-less photographs made using an early-Victorian process called the cyanotype," says gallery co-director Robert Teed. "Alun’s work has mastered this process to address themes of memory and self in visual imagery."

The cyanotype was invented in 1842 at the inception of photography. The pictures are made without cameras, and there are no negatives and no copies, so each piece is unique. Whereas traditional photography requires fractions of a second, this process, involving sunlight, can take anything from a few minutes up to several months to capture the final image.

"I'd been making traditional black-and-white photographs with film and chemicals for about 30 years," says Alun. "But I'd heard of the cyanotype process, and, before we moved to York from London, I didn't have a dark room, so I was 'borrowing' one where and when but that wasn't very productive, and I just had this urge to make photographs using the cyanotype technique."

York Press:

Alun Kirby with two of his works. Picture: Robert Teed

He began to do so three years before the move north and has done so for 12 years since arriving in York, and last year he decided to leave behind his previous life as a research immunologist in the University of York biology department to commit fully to his art. Making all his work in his garden using Yorkshire sunshine, he has exhibited in London, Manchester and York and his works are held privately from Australia to Sweden and many places in between.

So, Alun, what do you need apart from rays of glorious Yorkshire sunshine to make a cyanotype photograph? "You need some tissue paper or watercolour paper or you can use fabric [to make bags etc]," he says. "The chemicals you need are easily available: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide..."

Ammonium and cyanide, Alun, that sounds dangerous?! "I've used them for 15 years without gloves. They're OK as long as you don't eat them – though if you pour a good strong acid on ferricyanide, you can make cyanide gas."

Anyway, back to the cyanotype process, Alun. "Once the chemicals are dried on the surface, then I place Acer leaves for example on there, put them under glass to keep everything in place, and then the only other thing I need is the sunshine," he says. "So it's simple, and that simplicity was the big attraction."

The brighter the sunlight, the better, but Alun is happy to wait for those conditions, like hanging washing out on the line between the showers. "What's kept me working with this process is the slowness," he says. "It's a very thoughtful process, and instead of just clicking a camera shutter, you have to think of the image you want to create before creating it – and it's taken 15 years to to get to the stage where I can create a piece to my satisfaction.

York Press:

Alun Kirby's origami works and "metamorphogram" cyanotype photographs at The New School House Gallery

"It's required all those years of experience to know when to stop; to take it out of the sunlight and wash it in water to finish it off. How long you leave it in the sun will affect the colour that comes from the chemical mix.

"Some will be in sunlight for only five minutes, but that's already hundreds and hundreds times longer than a camera exposure. Others will be exposed for longer, like the Acer leaf one, Golden Sky Blue Leaves, which was developed over a week, where I would take it down at night and take it out again when the sun returned."

After Alun moved to York, the Kirby house went from two to four with the addition of two children. "While they've played in the garden, I've got on with making my photographs," he says.

"I've worked mostly with natural forms, like the Acer leaves in the garden, whose form I found so beautiful, though I spent months and months looking at the tree before I could make the image I wanted."

Putting his scientific mind to artistic practice, Alun has now invented a new process called the "metamorphogram", which combines origami and cyanotype to create pieces that essentially make a photographic memory of themselves. "The School House Gallery is excited to be showing this new technique for the first time," says gallery co-director Robert Teed.

York Press:

Alun Kirby with his metamorphogram works on the wall behind him

Alun also creates heliograph works, where he puts a lens on the paper to focus the sun's rays. "This allows you to track the sun's path across the day and represent it on paper," he says. "Serendipity can play its part in the creative process too," he adds. "This comes out more in the origami pieces where I can let them control themselves."

Explaining how he introduced origami into his photographic portfolio, Alun reveals: "My children got origami kits for Christmas two years ago and they forced me to make them for them! I've always liked origami's geometric form and I had one of those 'What if?' moments, thinking how I could apply origami, folding the paper, and it's just kept going from there, and it's now become a bit conceptual, looking to represent photographic memories.

"There's a Japanese folk tale that says if you fold 1,000 origami cranes, you get to make a wish, so I've started on that path, but you learn very quickly that getting one wish will take a lot of hard work!"

Alun Kirby's exhibition, All Small Things Must Evolve Slowly, will run at The School House Gallery, Peasholme Green, York, until September 30; open 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Saturday.

Alun will run a cyanotype workshop on Saturday, September 9 from 9.30am to 3.30pm at a cost of £55, including lunch and materials. Places are still available and anyone interested should ring gallery co-director Robert Teed on 07766 656030 or send an email to