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Teesside University lecturer recreates famous John Walker match

16 June 2015 @TeesUniNews


A revolutionary invention, made in Stockton in the 1800’s, has been recreated by a Teesside University lecturer nearly 200 years later.

Dr Joe McGinnis, Senior Lecturer, has skilfully reproduced the chemical formula of the John Walker ‘Congreve’ match head using the original recipe recorded in manuscripts at the Preston Park Museum in Stockton

McGinnis was contacted by artist Sarah Pickering after she was commissioned to produce a piece for the REFOCUS, biennial Castlegate mima Photography Prize.

She wanted to produce something that acknowledged Stockton’s fascinating history and approached the University to support her in developing the match, a significant invention that marks a turning point in history.

By recreating and lighting a John Walker ‘Congreve’ match, Pickering and McGinnis were able to capture the same quality of light that would have been seen almost 200 years ago. The convenient production of fire and light in the form of a matchstick and the fixing of light in a photograph is brought together in the final piece.

Celebrating its second commission, REFOCUS is brought together by mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art), Ellandi, the owners of Castlegate Shopping Centre, and Stockton Borough Council.

Sarah’s large-scale photograph, Match, 2015, which is over 38 metres wide, will be officially unveiled on 25 June, sited on the prominent riverside location of Stockton-On-Tees’ Castlegate shopping centre.

An esteemed panel of judges were key in selecting Sarah to commission the piece; Alistair Hudson, , mima Director; Aaron Schuman independent curator and editor of online photography magazine Seesaw; Charlotte Mullins, writer and broadcaster; Anna Dannemann, curator The Photographer’s Gallery, London; Reuben Kench, Head of Culture & Leisure, Stockton Borough Council and Tim Cornford, Asset Management Director, Ellandi Limited.

Commenting on her win Pickering said: 'The match is a perfect subject matter for the long narrow format, and the vast size has been a unique opportunity to be playful and ambitious with scale by enlarging a very small object to an enormous scale.'

The invention of the first ever friction match in 1827 in Stockton by John Walker coincided with the production of the first ever photograph by Niépce in 1827 - this became inspiration for Pickering’s commission.

The REFOCUS commission, and the ongoing Prize, aims to re-position photography as a medium which is able to work on multiple levels – as transitory, but also long-term, as something that is a democratic tool, but also an artform.

The artwork, which will be on display over a two-year period, is intended to connect with Stockton residents, schools and visitors through visual art, engaging people’s curiosity by creating a talking point across generations, cultures and demographics.

In the News

Flame of inspiration still burns bright in Stockton
Northern Echo online, 26/06/2015; Northern Echo, 26/06/2015; Evening Gazette, 26/06/2015
The match was recreated by Dr Joe McGinnis of the chemistry department at Teesside University using Walker's original method.