Intervention: Micrographia Samples

In March, I attended a weekend event organised by CitiZan (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network). It began on the beach at Pett Levels, East Sussex.

I joined the group working with Lara, Scott and Stephanie of CitiZan investigating and recording the wooden structures in the intertidal zone. We uncovered pieces of woody material which we measured, bagged and labelled.

The next day samples of the collected materials were sliced thinly and precisely and viewed under the microscope. The observed organic patterns identified the specific wood type from which the sample was taken.

Using similar technologies to those of the English scientist Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703). He coined the term cell for describing biological organisms. His book `Micrographia’ in 1665 described his observations using microscopes. Many people challenged his drawings as they could not believe what they saw. I was looking again at a familiar material (wood) but I saw a greater level of pattern and intricacy than is possible without a microscope.

The following week …

Woven Groyne near Herbrand Walk

Taking my new-learned skills, I revisited a structure that I had previously photographed on Cooden beach near Herbrand Walk.

There is a set of posts that are unusual when compared to the more `traditional’ groyne sets that I photograph. This set runs parallel to the shoreline and consist of stumps of worn wood – faggots – put together to form a barrier of sorts in the intertidal zone. They stand towards the sea side of the beach and appear at a point where the current groyne field ends.

Woven Groyne on Herbrand Walk

“Low-cost beach stabilisation, using faggoting, i.e. installing lines of brushwood stakes “dug” into
the beach was in wide usage on the south-east coast of the UK some forty to fifty years ago….
Plate 1, taken in 1983, shows how faggoting was used to stabilise a shingle “storm beach” at Cooden, East Sussex, on a semi-urban coastline that was vulnerable to flooding, but where major coast protection works could not be justified. Here, the faggotting had been installed to prevent a breach forming at an erosion “hot spot” in the centre of an embayment. Here, the faggoting consisted of bundles of timber pilings driven into the beach substratum inshore parallel and shore perpendicular rows. The palings were of a restricted height above general beach level and designed to prevent beach levels from falling, by preventing shingle from washing out seawards. It has been observed that while this type of construction did indeed trap shingle, the increased turbulence tended to prevent sandy sediments from settling out.”

Herbrand Walk 1983

Faggoting at Cooden shingle beach, Pevensey Bay, 1983


From `Understanding the lowering of beaches in front of coastal defence structures, Phase 2 Mitigation methods’, Defra, TN CBS0726/08 6 Rev 4.0 pp5-7






Samples from the wooden faggots …

With my new-found knowledge of sampling and preparing slides, I surveyed the wooden posts measuring and recording the length and width and then taking six samples. Each sample was a one-centimetre cube which I bagged and labelled.

Back in the studio I carefully sliced and prepared slides from three of the six samples collected:
Transversal sample – a cross section 90 degrees to the grain
Tangential sample – runs parallel to the grain but at a tangent to the growth rings
Radial sample – runs in a line from the centre point of the growth rings to the bark edge.

I backlit the samples and photographed them using a mobile phone with a macro lens (24x) attachment: `21st Century Micrographia’


Samples with ink added

Amazing images. I used transversal slides from Samples 2 and 6 and added ink to increase the visibility of the structural elements of the visible cells. The coloured elements in the ink adhered readily to selective parts of the structures and I then used cotton wool and paper to draw away the excess ink so that I could photograph the resulting image.

It is intriguing to look at the pattern and structure of the samples that are unseen without a microscope or macro-photography. Organic patterns, structures forming patterns and the beauty of the natural world that goes unseen.

Discovering the origin of the wooden faggots by looking closely at the characteristics of the tree that is now lost in the waves raised more questions. I am interested in the networks built between people and their environment – where did the wood come from? Who built the structure? When was it built? I am looking at links between the intertidal zone and the local woodland, natural and imposed processes and viewing the functional against the aesthetic.

I sent some samples to Dr Scott Timpany, Programme Leader of Undergraduate Archaeology at the University of the Highlands and Islands, who kindly offered to see if they could be identified. I await results and to see where this will take me … I think it could be moving towards some green wood sculpture …

If We Were Houses

‘If We Were Houses’ was held at 5th Base Gallery, London from 5th to 8th July 2018

Currently showing `Virtually Me’ as part of  Martyrs’ Gallery Summer Salon, Lewes, from 18 August to 2 September 2018. Check their website for dates and times.

Virtually Me
Cliff Crawford

Inside, looking out,
I collect, make, do, and see
My face is not me.

A glass box collection, aspects of me and brittle illusions of security. Inside, enfolded by reflection of who I must be; outside exposed, revealed for all to see.

If We Were Houses: The exhibition presents four digital prints (60 x 42 cm) showing frames from the animation. The full animation is accessed by scanning a QR code available at the exhibition.


Image 1 of 4

Virtually Me – an animation using digital photography and 3D modelling software to reveal layers of interpretation and so create a visual narrative.





If We Were Houses

Distortion, Transparency and Reflection

While sitting inside a glass house, with the lights turned on against the darkness outside, all you see in the glass are reflections of yourself and the objects that surround you. This bright, brittle presentation of yourself, to yourself, creates an illusionary sense of privacy.

Viewed from the outside, from the apparent anonymity of the dark, the occupier’s privacy is displayed for all to see. Layers of reflection and transparency interweave multiple aspects of individuality so allowing for a constantly moving range of interpretation.

As a house, I provide a portrait of myself living in a digital world, aware that I share aspects of myself both actually and virtually. Each object presents an aspect of me but based on my digital, virtual presence this collection could be created remotely by data mining. The images are transparent because they not only inter-relate with each other but they also interfere with one another. For me, this is a challenge to the reductionist approach that is inherent in the analysis undertaken by data systems. We are more complex than that.

If We Were Houses at 5th Base Gallery, London from 5th to 8th July 2018.


If We Were Houses

Security and Privacy

Houses have become increasingly transparent. Windows allow access to natural light and offer a view of the external world but those who are outside can also see into our internal world – our house.

Information technology, retail databases, government information, data mining, mobile technologies and social media offer a similar aspect. Our glass windows have become glass houses. What was once hidden and private is now on display and shared with others. This can suffer the distortions and reflections that can lead to the misinterpretation and manipulation that large quantities of data can expose.

The structure I developed, digitally, became a glass box within a glass box. Objects collected and contained within the structure can be readily identified as items bought and owned – all, I suspect, readily traceable through various retail databases.

Stored together in loose collections, each glass box shares an aspect of my personal interests and responsibilities, but each present to the digital information age a presence that forms a virtual, digital, self-portrait.

The brittle, drawn, doors represent the diminishing security of anonymity. Behind closed doors we may feel a sense of security with the collections of objects with which we have chosen to surround ourselves, however, access to the digital world takes many forms and shapes; some obvious and others more subtle. So ultimately security is represented in my work by little more than faint doors etched on the virtual glass walls.

Security and privacy is a fragile concept and we live in a period in which there is a movement away from any functional control. The security of a house is reduced by the sheer volume of data that flows in and out of the structure.

My house is a `virtual me’.


If We Were Houses

Interior and Exterior Existence

Recognising basic similarities between us as people with an interior and an exterior, there is a clear physical boundary between us and the external world – our skin. Houses also have an inside and an outside, an up and down. We often refer to the external walls as the skin of house.

I started to explore the metaphors associated with a house, a place in which we feel safe. The simplest structure is four walls and a roof with a controlled access point – a door. A house offers protection from the elements and from others who do not form part of our intimate social group.

However, we belong to part of a social group that behave and respond in similar ways – there are accepted patterns of behaviour. To what degree does the boundary between an individual and the surrounding community maintain the private self?

Doors on houses represent inward and outward communication that is controlled by the occupant of the house. Doors come in many forms, solid oak to curtains are all access control. Security comes from social convention rather than real, physical, security.

Interior and exterior 2 Doors in Glass Walls