|Cordier, egggram 1/6/65 I, 1965|
This is the year for Pierre Cordier - and for chemigrams. It's been a long time coming.
|Cordier, chemigram 29/11/76 Mineral vegetable animal, detail, 1976|
In a moment now legendary, Cordier hit upon the chemigram method one day in 1956. Well - that's his story and it makes good copy. But just as Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, so did Cordier have his antecedents, Teske, Kesting, Tabard, Chargesheimer, others. Fox Talbot, in the opening pages of The Pencil of Nature, recalls his startling experience of stumbling upon color in silver salts in the year 1838 ("I discovered a remarkable fact of quite a new kind"). Cordier's insight, however, was to see what no one else saw: that photography is not just about looking and recording - he had done a bit of this himself in his early twenties, so he knew - but about evoking and extracting imagery that is essentially trapped, as a capacity inherent in material, within the physical and chemical confines of the very stuff of his art, the silver halide emulsion. For him the artistic enterprise is always a dialog with the bruteness of matter. That's where it starts and ends.
|Cordier, chemigram 22/6/87, detail, 1987|
He has spent a lifetime thinking about how to make a photograph from the inside out.
|Cordier, chemigram 6/11/62, 1962|
|Cordier, chemigram 15/8/63 I, 1963|
In the HackelBury Gallery, we are fortunate to have gallerists sensitive to the stunning beauty of these works. I withhold my preferences: there is altogether too much wealth here. Let it simply be said that the inspired, grueling labor that went into 'Mineral vegetable animal' (1976) will likely never be repeated.
|Cordier, 15/8/59 III, 1959|
How can we begin to learn from his work, his methods? One way is through his writings. His great monograph, Le chimigramme/the chemigram is the place to start; because of the 'Shadow Catchers' show, it's available at the V&A Museum shop in London and they'll ship anywhere in the world. There's also Martin Barnes' catalog for the V&A, with an important chapter on Cordier, and finally, for those still needful, the in-depth interview with Cordier in the upcoming March-April issue of Photo Technique magazine.
In future posts we intend to examine aspects of the Cordier oeuvre, with some of the grit and the how-to, for the benefit of practitioners. The lesson plan says to start by seeing this show. It runs till March 31.