Monday, May 25, 2015

Photo frame with plumb bob

I have long wanted to hang one of my father's most frequently-handled tools, a brass plumb bob he used to accurately position his surveyor's transit. The transit itself has long been on display in our home, but not its counterpart.

It occurred to me to combine a photoprint, perhaps on the new aluminum media now widely available from photo labs, with a wall-mounted supporting frame for the bob.

This was my first try at printing on aluminum. I ordered it from Whitewall, a German online firm that has a number of specialized printing services. I’ve seen photos printed on a single 16 or 12 gauge sheet, but this came as a kind of sandwich with a sheet of plastic as the filling. This print, which I adapted from an old family image, has a matte finish and just the sheerest metallic bounce when viewed from a very steep angle. The “ink” is an anodized product, bonded to the metal. It is supposedly UV-safe and waterproof and should last a good long time.

My initial thought was to combine the restored picture with a housing for the old plumbob in a sort of deep, extended box-- Joseph Cornell-meets-grandfather-clock-case. I made a few prototypes, but short of rigging up some kind of internal lighting, the brass bob was going to sit in shadow. It occurred to me to build an open frame instead of a box. I cut the framing from ½ x ½inch poplar and used my pin nailer and glue to assemble them. I painted it flat black first, then decided on white to match the other photo frames. After I’d added the cross-bracings, a reference to my Dad’s years of laying out transmission towers for a public utility, just sort of popped into mind. One might see the bob, nicked from years of use, pointing straight to the center of the earth, as a metaphor for his groundedness and devotion to doing honest, accurate work.

This took an insane amount of time, but it has been deeply satisfying to add Dad’s presence to the little ancestral shrine our hallway is becoming. What started as a minor decorating problem has become a reflection on him and all the ways he still works within me (and on all of us).