Horse Manure Paper

Home made dung, or manure paper
A couple of sheets of manure paper left out to dry in the sun

This is the second version of my homemade paper, which has been much more successful since I changed the process. Originally I was using a wooden frame with an old t-shirt pulled taught and stapled around the edges, which I then tried my best to dip into my fibre and water mix in order to get an even spread. The first tries came out very thick, uneven and holey, but the main problem came when trying to remove them from their cloth backing as they would stick and come to pieces. The first thing I did to try to combat this was to paint a layer of glue on the outer surface in order to keep everything together once it dried, however, the problem then became the glue sticking to the frame and destroying the cloth in the patches that allowed it to seep through.

The pieces pictured are made using a simpler, although longer process, in which I just applied the wet fibers to a sheet of acetate and then spread them using a paintbrush. Using this technique I can hold the sheet up to the light in order to find any holes, the thickness of the paper in now down to around 3-5mm and is much more uniform, and best of all I can easily peel off the acetate backing once the paper is dry, or leave it on to provide extra rigidity during transport or while applying ink etc.

The paper remains very fragile, but I see this as simply a characteristic of these particular materials and this process, rather than being something negative. In fact, there is a certain preciousness to its obvious impermanence.

What is most interesting about this paper is something not evident through simple visual examination, and that is it is made entirely from horse manure. I had been thinking about the photographic process while experimenting with making my own cameras, and had in the past designed a ‘natural’ camera obscura using mud and other basic elements including a stone with a hole to serve as a lens. I had also searched the internet for evidence that natural ‘cameras’ might exist, but most of what I found were instances of unintentional camera obscuras in man-made architecture. I eventually came across a document titled “Natural Pinhole Cameras” by Frank Boring Fitzgerald in which he talks about finding rocks that are themselves pinhole cameras that have the paths of the sun’s rays internally engraved in them – a naturally-formed solargraph.

So my investigation really began with my thoughts about natural forms of copying – mud imprints etc, which lead me to natural cameras, which has in turn led me to not a primitive photography, and not necessarily a minimalist one either, but as is often the case, I am looking for increased autonomy through acquiring new knowledge and skills, and the enjoyment that comes through such physical and mental exploration. I also see my work as an antidote to industrial and mass-production processes.

It was during a long exposure with one of my pinhole cameras, that as I sat patiently in a field and looked down at the grass, I noticed the texture of some dried cow dung.  In that moment, I realised that I didn’t need to collect, cut and form a pulp from fresh grass, as there were animals who spent most of their waking lives doing so, which not only meant that a lot of the work was already being done for me, but also that the process and the materials had already proved themselves to be viable! So in a sense, I haven’t made this paper, but I have given it a flatter, more uniform shape, while re-purposing it. This is a recurring idea about how humans interact with the world.

Thanks to Don Juan and Cassy, because without their digestive efforts this paper wouldn’t have been possible.

Elderberry pigment on horse manure paper
Elderberry pigment painted onto A4 horse manure paper