Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Unbalancing the grid at Amherst

Turnbull, from the Gates series, 2016
Rich Turnbull, in his annual excursion into chemigrams, has given us new images to digest, explicate, and fawn over, as though we were just so many eager students in one of his lecture courses at the Met or F.I.T. and this were a class assignment.  He does this every year.  He's a tough teacher.  The one shown here, part of his Gates series, is on display in a group show at Gallery A3 in Amherst, Massachusetts until July 31.  Let's see what he's up to with it and see whether, after reaching an understanding, we might move to the head of the class.

To tackle obvious matters first, his paper is Bergger and the resist is Liquetex Soluvar.  Many of you will say, aha! Bergger means a high silver content and therefore really dense blacks.  Well, not so fast my friends.  Here at the blog we view that attitude as urban legend - not the silver content per se but the blackness of the blacks, which is not at all correlated with silver content according to Richard Henry in his Controls in Black and White Photography, 2nd edition, 1987, who has done the experiments.  Once you get to Dmax, the maximum black, additional silver does nothing, and you can get to Dmax quite easily with a broad range of papers.  We feel Rich used it because he simply had it available and wanted to finish off the box.

Soluvar varnish is another matter altogether.  In the old days, our experience with Soluvar as a chemigram resist was that it was indistinguishable from Golden MSA varnish and was very good indeed.  Then, unannounced, the Liquetex folks must have added a polymer for brittleness to the formulation, who knows what they were thinking, for Soluvar suddenly assumed a very different character and became a niche product with quirks only a specialist could love.  Cracks, fissures, crazed rifts went everywhere, branching from one another down to the smallest of scales.  For the basic chemigram it was not something you'd want to use.  But Rich is not just anyone.

Let's go to the man himself.  'I made the outer and center vertical incisions with an X-acto knife to define the working space,' he says, 'then drew the grids freehand with a pin tool, commonly used in bookbinding [Rich also makes artist's books].  I didn't tape the paper down when coating it with Soluvar, and since paper curls toward the emulsion, the rather soupy varnish pooled a bit in the center so that my incisions didn't quite penetrate through the thicker areas of varnish, resulting in the large open area at bottom center.'

But this was a sought-after effect, indeed the entire pivot of the image.  He goes on while addressing one the the classic difficulties of the chemigram, the tyranny of the grid:  'I've done my share of carefully ruled grids on chemigrams of course, but of late I've worked with hand-drawn grids to unbalance the balanced nature of the grid, which is all about superimposed order anyway.'

detail
The struggle with materials is apparent in all his work, where each aesthetic decision comes about from a meditation on the limits of his tools.  This in turn gives it an integrity, a density, that is exemplary: an unforeseen payoff.

For Turnbull, who in the summer months lives on the edge of a forest in the far western part of Massachusetts and survives, according to some, on a diet of bear-meat and gin, the received impression from the Gates series can be - take your pick - melted nylon, ripped flesh, an old fence where something large and terrifying has bitten its way through and is now roaming ever nearer, and so on.  This is not easy work, but a punishing reward for the mind.  Best perhaps to stay indoors and enjoy it from there.






Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cameraless at Atelier pH7, Brussels

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 11-6-13 I "Resurgence", 2013
In the quiet, leafy neighborhood of Uccle in Brussels, the quiet gentleman (and maestro) of alternative photography, Roger Kockaerts, has put up a show at Atelier pH7 of alternative work that runs until well into the summer.  If it were only for the van dyck browns, the palladiums, the carbon prints, the bromoils and orotypes and of course the gums, it would be worth seeing, but there is a double reason: a significant part of the show is devoted to cameraless work, in this case the chemigram, and some fascinating and instructive work it is.

The above piece, by the Brussels-based team of Pierre Cordier and Gundi Falk, demonstrates the devotion to exacting conceptions for which they are famous.  Here they compound that practice by using one of their frequent ploys, the hidden puzzle, an audience favorite since time immemorial.  If you stand back and squint real hard you can just make out the letters of the title, R-e-s-u-r-g-e-n-c-e, written left to right and then, as in a boustrophedon, a device popular in ancient Greece, from right to left in the line below and zigzagging back and forth down the picture.  As I say, you have to squint.  Who said boustrophedons were easy!  Yet is the supposed boustrephodon here actually a red herring, a trail leading to a misreading?  It's for you to decide.  Here's a blow-up of the lower left corner, which is elegant fun but unfortunately may not help at all:

detail, Resurgence

In a work like this, planning in advance is essential - everything must be scrupulously mapped out, the incisions, the larger boundaries, the form to be taken by the hidden letters of text, the areas to be masked from chemical assault.  'More Mondrian, less Pollock,' as Pierre has said - a lot more.  The good part is that once set in motion the process more or less proceeds to term on its own, and all the artist has to do is shift the paper from one tray to another.  Imperfections, blips, and other small visitations from the gods of photochemistry, when they happen, are accepted into the picture, indeed they are blessed as emblematic.  But I exaggerate somewhat.

To monitor progress (the new reader should review earlier how-to posts on chemigrams, such as this), the artist may use the thickness of dark and light lines as a measure or trace of ongoing activity, a chronometric record not unlike the growth rings of a tree - an idea which, the more we think of it, may connect chemigrams to the larger saga of natural history and to the seasons of the earth.  If you think this connection far-fetched, we've discussed themes allied to it before in other contexts, for instance in the rate of movement of mackie lines around the equator.  Critics and pundits in the future, if there is a future and there are critics, will want to expound on this.

Another work on view by the same team is 'Musigram', a remarkable piece depicting a fantasy musical score that features a staccato of bips, or congealed clumps of musical notes, against an opulent black.  Don't even think of playing it, it's only for viewing.  One attendee at the opening tried to hum it but failed, complaining he needed a bass line to keep time - or perhaps just a refreshed glass.

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 11-6-13 I "Musigram", 2013
Here's a closer glimpse into this distinctive work.  The unfathomable, indescribable wonder of the chemigram is on full display.  You can scrapbook this one for study later.

detail, Musigram

Douglas Collins has several chemigrams in the show as well, quite different in design and a far cry from the impeccable work of Cordier & Falk.  All were done earlier this year, mainly in the western Mexican state of Guerrero working under, let's say, simple conditions.  Using Foma FB paper outdoors under a tree, he produced this

Collins, Guerrero series #4, 2016

and this


Collins, Guerrero series #5, 2016
and this

Collins, Guerrero series #11, 2016

The quality of the light and of the water in rural Mexico can be expected to have had an effect, from subtle to determinative: the water was from an ancient well, and bore minerals from deep in the mountainside.  Here's some detail:

detail, Guerrero series #4

and again

detail, Guerrero series #11,
A poet once said that knowledge is like water, 'dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free.'  These pictures, relaxed and open, suffused with sun, unplanned and unforeseen, seem to partake in the joy of discovering profound secrets when one is least expecting them, or when, rather, one suspects they are already present all along.  

Or, according to Collins, they could express something else entirely, and that's okay with him too.

* * * *

Pierre Cordier and Gundi Falk will be seen at Galerie Volker Diehl (Berlin) in August and at Paris Photo/Scheublein + Bak (Paris/Zurich) in November.  Gundi Falk has a solo show underway at Barbado Gallery (Lisbon).  Collins has work currently on view at IPCNY (New York) and at the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, California).








Monday, June 6, 2016

Preece at Wickiser Gallery


Preece, Woodland, 2014

Nolan Preece continues the sequence of interpretive landscapes that we first saw in his piece at Soho Photo last fall, this time at the Wickiser Gallery on 11th Avenue in New York where he comfortably shares the spotlight with four other photographers, each bending the rules of photographic art in their own way.

Preece however goes beyond the facile jockeying of pictorial motifs so often encountered in abstract photography, and indeed such as even seen in some of his own early works from the 80s and 90s.  With these pictures, evidently his mature style, he has found a way to turn his chemigramic language around and redirect it to concrete issues of ecology.  Somehow - you have to stare at these pictures for while for the sensation to grip you, but it will - he manages to draw the viewer into a ragged, moon-struck environment at a level that is close to the ground; we feel the way a small breathing creature must feel, a bird darting in the brush, a small snake, a muskrat, though none are seen; it is a world under our eye but totally alien to our species, devoid of humans.  In this way it becomes uncanny, and this in turn is responsible for its strangely compelling hold on us.  We should get used to it he seems to be saying.

Preece, Valley, 2016
How does he do this?  By his choice of colors for one thing: inverting what we expect in a representation of nature he puts, in the foreground, earth colors, bearers of life and hope (or a chance of hope and maybe life), and dark colors above, the realm of death.  There are no angels here.  It is a primeval scene that could go either way.  Nothing stirs.  It awaits our signal, our consent, perhaps our involvement.  Here's another picture by Nolan:

Preece, In the Grove, 2014
It is only from the fractured, dessicated bramble in the lower part of the image that providence may come, while the cursed black orb watches from above.  Again, in an apparent homage to Ansel Adams, where 'Chemigram' may be located on the outskirts of Hernandez:

Preece, Moonrise Over Chemigram, 2015
Bright moon of our dreams rising over a stricken earthscape - a remarkable image.  In the years I've been following his work it has only been with this show that his twin passions, darkroom tinkering and recognizing our stewardship of the earth, have come together in an unapologetic fusion that is of the most potent art.  It should be seen.  It runs until June 21 at the Wickiser Gallery.

The prints are enlargements from scanned original plates, i.e. the primary chemigrams on paper, and are available in two different sizes according to taste.  Prices framed range from $1300 to $2500.  The prints are on Epson Exhibition Fiber or Epson Premier Lustre, depending on size and the printer used.  Original plates were either Kodak Polycontrast or Ektalure G.

Nolan's site is www.nolanpreece.com.







Saturday, April 30, 2016

Using Kodak HC-110 for that grand gesture

Higgins, Ilfosol study #1, 2013

Matt Higgins' new book-length exposition on chemigrams - their history, their workings, and perhaps where they're heading in a not so distant future - is finished at last, although as yet unpublished.  You'll remember that we teased you with it back in 2013 as a glimpse of things to come, when we had no idea it would be this good.  It's called Chemical Potential: The Darkroom Upside Down and delivers on the promise of its title, leaving little that hasn't been tried in the chemigram-friendly darkroom.

Higgins, Ilfosol study #2, 2013

I've been browsing it lately and thought we might want to take a few pages from it for further discussion, so today, to pick a topic, we'll try to figure out what it is he's doing with Kodak HC-110, or Ilfosol-3, the more-or-less Ilford equivalent - we'll get to the differences in a moment - and show you some examples and some how-to.  For Higgins fans, a cautionary note: this matter is not major stuff for him, and he treats it almost in passing.  So while on the evidence he has had great fun exploring it, it would not be warranted to grant it much of a central role in his work to date.  Once you learn from him how to handle it however, and can pirouette boldly down the paper with it, it may easily seduce you and find a home in your own darkroom work.

HC-110 and Ilfosol-3 are both advertised as film developers, which doesn't mean you can't use them for paper as well - you can.  They have a surprisingly long history: their patents, in both America and the UK, go back to the 1960s and HC-110 was brought onto the market in 1962.  They are concentrated developers, designed to be used in dilutions which can be extensive if not homeopathic, 1:32, 1:63, even 1:100, which is a boon for the budget-minded photographer.  In appearance HC-110 is straw-colored, very viscous and syrupy, Ifosol-3 clear and somewhat less viscous.  Their applications in film development will not concern us here, but let us just say, in the shorter dilutions or even undiluted, as we would most often use them, their developing action is vigorous, not to say precipitous.

Chemically they are not particularly unusual products; it is the physical character that is exceptional.  Both are hydroquinone-phenidone based developers, with common accelerators, restrainers and the rest.  What distinguishes them is a heavy debt to glycols at the expense of water as the functional solvent, especially, in the case of HC-110, to diethylene glycol (DEG).  DEG is a large molecule and is perhaps most responsible for the high viscosity, the wonderful thickness of the product, and the reason we're even here talking about it. 

So let's start.  For equipment you'll need lots of paper.  Higgins says RC paper is best, and I would bet on expired paper as a check on the development speed of modern papers.  A syringe, plunger, or squeeze bottle is practically an essential applicator tool.  Also, bring to the task the quick reflexes and persistence you honed in your dip-and-dunk chemigram phase. Alright, here we go.  In daylight you wet the paper and you drip or squeeze a blob of HC-110 onto it.  Quickly the blob shifts into development mode, changes shape, possibly colors, oozes here or there, slides around - and turns everything black.  You blew it, be faster next time, start over.  You have to learn to squelch what you set in motion - not easy. 

Higgins, Ilfosol study #4, 2014
If you're successful and move quickly you'll get one like study #4, where Ilfosol was dripped, this time, from an extended arm position, allowing the droplets to shudder back and forth on impact to create a winsome effect.  In general, the basic setup for Higgins is a tray with just a few millimeters of water in it and the paper lying just below the surface, at which point you hit it with your chemistry.  If you increase water depth you obtain different effects, as the developer diffuses on its way down, which of course may be a short way down.

Higgins learned of the method on a trip to Nevada in 2013 to visit Nolan Preece, who had been using it since around 1999.  Here's a very early one by Nolan, done with HC-110 on Oriental paper:

Preece, Vessel, 1999

In perhaps a take on this, Higgins did the one below in 2013, using Ilfosol.  'I wet the paper and laid it on a flat surface, then dropped concentrate over it and finally let a sizeable amount of water run over it,' he says.  'You have to be careful to get all the concentrate off.'

Higgins, 198-3, 2013
Both Higgins and Preece report on methods within methods, for instance they may put Ilfosol in the refrigerator to make it more syrupy, or for the same purpose they may let it stand a couple of days in a tray to let the water part of its formulation evaporate.  In our nonfigurativephoto testing lab (NFPTL) we couldn't confirm the efficacy of this, in limited testing, but in theory it sounds good.  A further area of investigation is in toning, and in treating these imaging activities with booster chemicals like potassium hydroxide or ammonium thiocyanate.  Again, we haven't gone there yet.  Our first foray with HC-110 produced the one below, and the one below that.  Don't judge us too harshly, we're just testing.

NFPTL, HC-110 test, April 2016





NFPTL, HC-110 test, April 2016


This post wouldn't be complete without the powerful and disturbing image that kicked it off, from Higgins' book:

Higgins, 527-2, 2013
The Kodak HC-110 technical data can be found at www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/techPubs/j24/j24.pdf

The shelf life of both Ilfosol-3 and HC-110, while not infinite, is very long, much longer than with other developers, and this is another attraction in using them.  Their longevity is perhaps due to their very low water content, which tends to oxidize materials in the formulation.

For further information on any of the above contact Matt Higgins directly.



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Handcrafted: the book as fine art

Brittany Nelson, mordançage

Dan Estabrook - salted paper

There's a book on the market many of you have not had a chance to peruse, for reasons we'll get to, and that's really too bad because it's a beauty.  In China where it's published my sources tell me it has skyrocketed to become one of the best-selling photography books in the country, which is all the more surprising as its subject is alternative photography, that broad but laborious and demanding set of 19th century processes spiked, if you stretch its definition, by a clutch of contemporary craft methods, from bromoils, albumens and wet plate collodions to mordançages and chemigrams.  We in America don't often associate this niche activity with China, but the appetite for it, on the evidence, is overwhelming.  From this moment forward our preconceptions will need re-adjustment.

The book is Handcrafted: The Art and Practice of the Handmade Print by Sam Wang, Sandy King, Christina Z. Anderson and Zhong Jianming.  The authors, widely respected educators and photographers, saw an opportunity to satisfy a growing interest in American alternative photography after a lecture tour in 2006 to Chinese schools.  They met photographer Zhong Jianming at the Nanjing University of the Arts, who convinced the others that it was time to publish a book for the Chinese market, featuring real work by real artists, with emphasis on the word 'handcrafted' or shougong in Mandarin.  A proposal grew from that and was accepted; a first edition appeared in 2014 from Zhejiang Photographic Publishing Co. in Hangzhou (www.photo.zjcb.com, ISBN 978-7-5514-0957-5), celebrated by a string of exhibitions across China; a second edition came out in 2015 and a third is forthcoming in 2016.

exhibit in Pingyao, 2014
At almost 400 pages it's a big fat book, it takes up space, it weighs a lot.  Multiple works are shown by some 34 artists, many of whom have years of accomplishment behind them while others are hardly known beyond the community, all judiciously curated by the authors however to cover a range of specialties.  Though the accompanying text is in Mandarin, an English translation can be found at the end, along with bibliography, artist's statements, and notes on each process.

Yet it is not a textbook: you would never think of taking it into the darkroom with you - though some have.  Nor is it, in the kindest way of saying it, a manual of contemporary developments in esoteric realms of photography.  Rather, and this is where Handcrafted is unexpectedly a standout and a more general one than its authors could have wished, the book is, with its sumptuous textures, its fine paper coatings, its inks and their subtle application, a brooding and singular presence and object of fascination all by itself.  Imagine a coffee table book that is also sculpture, sculpture that can be touched, exposed, explored.  That is something of the feel of Handcrafted as it rests open before you.

Handcrafted

We begin to understand what's going on when we reflect on the culture that produced it.  Chinese civilization, largely unhindered by outside influences, has been advancing through history for four thousand years since neolithic times, accreting to itself along the way those sensibilities, those allegiances that define it still.  A taste for drawing, first on silk, then on paper, which it invented around the 1st century BC; a reverence for ink, its manufacture and nurture and use foremost in the holiest of pursuits, calligraphy, then in the portraiture of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), later the landscapes of the Tang (618-907).  There are texts from the 10th century that describe how inks are made from pine trees of a certain age, how to drain the resin and forge the lampblack and how, if desired, you can add gold powder or essence of musk to obtain certain coveted qualities. The 'ink meditation', a concept as far from our understanding as could be, became not just a monastic exercise, but a pathway to enlightenment and nirvana, embraced at the highest levels of society.

It should surprise no one that a culture that cares this deeply for paper and ink will make a book like this one.

 
Zhong Jianming, vandyke brown

Clay Harmon, polymer photogravure

Cynthia Huber, chemigram


Jill Skupin-Burkholder, bromoil

Douglas Collins, chemigram
Philip Schwartz, carbon


Shelby Koth, tricolor gum bichromate

You've come this far and you say, well then, how do I order it?  Good point.  It's not yet what you would call readily available in the West.  Online it can be purchased at www.amazon.cn (Amazon China) or www.taobao.com (owned by Alibaba), and while these huge Chinese sites do have an English tab to click on, the experience can be daunting - and you might not feel comfortable giving them your credit card, since most of the information is still in Mandarin.  An Australian site may be for you, at www.goldstreetstudios.com.au, and they do carry the book.  But we buy ours from Xinhua Bookstores, the Chinese government -owned book chain, which is starting to go international.  They have stores in New York, San Diego, London and elsewhere.  It's best wherever you go to identify the book by the ISBN number.  At the New York store the book arrives in 2 weeks and currently costs $71.50, which, all things considered (but don't say anything) is a steal.  And keep checking with amazon.com because sooner or later they too will want to carry it, if I'm Jeff Bezos.





Monday, February 8, 2016

Birgit Blyth at Carrie Haddad

Blyth, Marathon Series 1, 2015
We've been waiting a good number of years to find a moment to write about Birgit Blyth and the fault is all ours.  Today we're correcting it.  Her pictures in the current group show at Carrie Haddad Gallery in the upstate hamlet of Hudson, New York, on display until February 14, are powerful, crisp, elegant pictorial statements that will make us want to reconsider all her previous work.  We should have seen this coming.

Blyth, Marathon Series 2, 2015
Blyth, Marathon Series 3, 2015

Some background: Birgit has been working quietly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, since the 1970s.  She began in printmaking, then conventional photography, gradually migrating to alternative photography, pinholes, cyanotypes, van dyck browns, doubtless to other niche methods as well.  Her interests may seem fractured but each was given time to develop and bear fruit before she moved on; in hindsight the trajectory made sense.  She was learning and did what many of us do: she visited museums, she absorbed Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Brice Marden, Terry Winters - it's good to be infatuated with the best - and each left a mark on her.  She did residencies in Johannesburg, South Africa, 9 years running, and met William Kentridge.  Then at some point a friend showed her the article by Dominic Man-Kit Lam and Bryant Rossiter in Scientific American (November 1991) entitled 'Chromoskedasic Painting' and her artistic life changed forever.

So what exactly is this chromoskedasic painting that Birgit is doing?  Rossiter had derived the term from classical Greek to mean 'color scattering', indicating the mechanism by which the black light of silver grains in photographic emulsion can, if these grains are handled properly, yield a spectrum of yellows, reds, purples, greens and blues that we see in works of the chemigram type.  We've discussed this mechanism, the Mie effect, in the blog here and here and elsewhere.  And make no mistake about it, chromoskedasic painting is a kind of chemigram; Christina Z. Anderson calls it the chromoskedasic extension of the chemigram.  As things have turned out, there is one part of the 'chromo' agenda (to shorten Rossiter's mouthful of a word) that distinguishes it from simple chemigrams, and that is the crucial application of stabilizer and activator to the process, two additional chemicals that act somewhat like a hyper aggressive fixer and developer and help boost both coloration and silvering-out.  In short, if you don't have stabilizer and activator you aren't doing chromo.  For the geeks - I am one but I'll spare you - details on how they are thought to function can be found in the last two chapters of the late William Jolly's book, which is linked in the right-hand sidebar. 

Blyth's pictures then are chromoskedasic paintings, the term she is most comfortable with.  You paint on photo paper with chemicals - a certain palette of chemicals - and you watch and guide what happens.  In the early days she poured the chemicals directly onto the paper, let them flow and drip as in her splendid Veil series; later she resorted to a brush, and finally, recalling her printmaking experience, she went with resists, mostly Elmers glue, rubber cement, and tape, or what we would today call 'soft resists.'  Still, she is far from the world of incisions and mackie lines, the Cordier universe, although she is fine with that and the results prove, for the things that matter most to her, how right she is.

Blyth, Veil No. 29, 2009



Blyth, Veil No. 30, 2009


Blyth, Chromo Grid No. 13A, 2014
Let us now get back to the Marathon series that we led off with.  This series came into being as she was listening on the radio to the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial in Boston.  She had, before her on the workbench, a stack of old prints she'd been thinking about, one quite large, with the gridlike scaffolding she often uses as structure, the dominant lines mostly vertical.  Suddenly, in rage and fury, she tore it up - into smaller pieces, each holding still a memory of the larger one.  She looked at what she'd done and had an idea: I'll paint the torn edges red.  Just a bit, just where the tear was, and I'll make it an orange-red that screams - and that is what she did.  It's at Carrie Haddad.

Blyth, Marathon 4, 2015
Birgit uses all sorts of paper, expired or not, RC or FB, single or double weight, every kind of finish, glossy, pearl, you name it.  The Marathon series was Ilford RC glossy and the individual pieces are 8 x 10" more or less, having been torn down from 20 x 24".  She buys her chromo chemicals from Freestyle.  None of her work is editioned, each piece is unique.  She displays them uncovered - no glass, no plexi.   Sometimes she mounts them on aluminum.  

You have one more week to see this terrific work in person.  The train ride from Penn Station in NYC is two hours. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Franco's chemigrams on ortho litho film: a new path?

Marinai, untitled, 2015

Franco Marinai creates photogravures on copper plates, an older, uncompromising process in which it can take weeks to pull an acceptable print.  That kind of dedication is at the heart of his artistic practice, which has been discussed here before.  Few have the discipline or the skill to do it anymore, and he is part of a very select community.

But it so happens that sometimes, instead of starting with a photograph (his photography is highly regarded), he will fashion a chemigram - from scratch and on the fly - and he does this on the same orthochromatic litho film he uses as a route to photogravures, subjecting it to the same cycle of fixer and developer baths.  He has to be in the mood for it, and it's infrequent, but it does occur.  I try to be nearby when he's tempted.

This past December he found himself in one of these moods.  Working in daylight, he cut two 7" x 11" sheets from a pack of Arista Ortho Litho Film that he buys from Freestyle (their link is on the right-hand sidebar).  

litho film from Freestyle, Los Angeles

He applied the same resist to each, in this case a pleasant, dabbed-on pattern of Elmer's glue, the standard polyvinyl acetate based glue used in schools and by hobbyists and children worldwide.  He let it dry overnight to get it good and hard.  (Chemigramists will recognize this as one of the commonest of soft resists, and many won't let it dry at all but plunge it promptly into chemistry in a matter of seconds.  Methods do vary.)

Next he took the two sheets of film, now resist-coated, and sent them off simultaneously in different directions, one in a fixer bath, the other in undiluted Dektol.  He calls this his 'separate at birth' routine and he often follows it as it leads to the strongly graphic results he favors, particularly when he amps up the contrast during the itinerary of each.  Here you have the two trays at the outset:

Each film starts in the opposite chemistry

The films were switched back and forth in normal chemigram fashion with occasional rinsing in between, over a period of several hours, for by then the resists had completely eroded away.  But what is surprising from such a meticulous worker as Franco, who I've known for years, is that the steps were just as often done without rinsing at all: the contamination of the two baths at times was sought, in a maneuver he has called, with a nod to Nietsche, 'Dionysian',  meaning wild, exultant, partaking of the mysteries.  Well, mysteries he got. 

Marinai, untitled, 2015

Marinai, untitled, 2015

This last one is worth lingering over.  You'll notice the left and right sides look different - in fact the right side looks as if it were dunked in developer from the start, while the left looks, hmm, a bit mixed.  This is true.  The left side was immersed only a few inches into fixer at the start, then quickly went into developer, then back into fixer a ways further, i.e. a few more inches, and so on, so that only by degrees did the entire left side come to share in the chemigram experience equally.

What is the fate then of these rich, gorgeous films?  They get turned into photogravures, that's what, printed in black ink on printmaking paper.  But all is not lost: no longer needed for their primary job, the films themselves are preserved and live on in Franco's archives; he has hundreds of them.  And with some he plays around further still, as in the one below where he has done a bleach-etch (note the veils) and on top of that has laid some hand coloring with gold varnish in a kind of go-for-broke flourish you can only do at the end of a long work week.

Marinai, The Golden Age, 2015

I'm going to tell you something else about Franco.  Every morning, weather permitting, he goes out jogging along the mighty East River just a few blocks from his lower Manhattan home.  Jogging is a grueling sport and for some it's a time to think about things, take your mind off your legs and lungs.  Franco thinks about the darkroom.  The day he made the chemigrams above he'd looked over his shoulder and snapped a picture of the river with his phone, just a record of his thoughts.  Here it is, in its bleakness, fog and power, a reminder.


Marinai, East River, 2015