Showing posts with label chemigrams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chemigrams. Show all posts

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pierre Cordier sends his New Year's greetings

Cordier, Chemigram 1/9/11 II "Squares in Love"

Douglas Collins, inventor of this nonfigurative blog, has offered me the opportunity to wish his readers a Happy New Year.  Happily I accept: this blog is heaven-sent for all of us who practice or appreciate alternative or extraphotographic experimentation.  The texts are clear, carefully documented, the illustrations well chosen.  To my knowledge, in the world of such things, it stands alone.

For my participation in this first post of 2012, I've gone into my recent chemigrams and picked out three pairs of squares, each measuring just a centimeter on a side.  They have had intimate relations, a rare event among squares.  Presenting geometric forms with humor is the specialty of a French artist I much admire, François Morellet.

These "Squares in Love" are not as sharp and clean as the ones I used to make.  Let me explain.  On my website some of you may have seen the Chemigram 12/1/82 "Zigzagram".  It's a completely controlled work, except for three tiny imperfections cause by spots of dust in the 'magical varnish' I employ as a resist.  Some people tease me by saying, "But those are my favorite shapes!"

Cordier, Chemigram 12/1/82 "Zigzagram", detail

The other chemigram I'd take to a desert island (but what good would they do me there?) is the Photo-Chemigram 4/4/79 "Hexagram".  The fine lines you see in it are disturbed by numerous bubbles, dust and defects in the varnish, like a stream crashing among rocks.  Without these imperfections this image could have been made on a computer, which would have had no interest for me.  So I welcome the random effects of matter and materials, but one has to know whether to accept or reject them.

Cordier, Photo-Chemigram 4/4/79 "Hexagram", detail

At the same time, I now accept that certain shapes be blurrier or more hazy than in my previous work.  That suggests depth.

And if even squares can fall in love, why not imitate them during the new year?  So I make a further wish: that all of you create new images with every alternative technique, both possible and imaginable.

Cordierly yours,


Monday, June 20, 2011

Chemigrams in the IPCNY summer print show

There's something special, or especially elusive, about chemigrams that makes them one of the hardest of art objects to pin down, for those who like to classify things.  Are they paintings?  Mapplethorpe's new show suggests they are: in gesture, scale, ambition.  Or photographs?  Well, they're created on photographic paper by manipulating silver gelatin emulsion with fixer and developer, so they have the parentage.  Or are they prints, with affinities to lithographs and etchings?  The summer New Prints 2011 show at the International Print Center of New York, curated by Trenton Doyle Hancock and running from June 9 to July 29, 2011, proposes the latter.  Prints are about process, where the methods and restrictions in creating a plate often determine what the image pulled from it will look like.  The layers of work that go into it, the hours and days of drawing and scraping on a plate, are part of this process too, so when we consider a print we must think about time, a time of creation, very legible in the finished product in front of us.  In his remarkable curatorial essay, available on the IPCNY website, Hancock speaks not only of this time but also of timelessness, the infinite continuum in which the print resides: 'I am humbled by its disregard for the now,' he writes.  Where prints come from is a sacred place, and their very existence can lead us beyond our limiting temporality.

Collins, Things to come and the ways of coming, 2010

The chemigramist, of course, understands this intuitively. He has observed the mysterious kinetics of what happens in his trays, the physico-chemical reactions.  He watches shapes emerge, morph, and vanish, only to reappear elsewhere or in other guises.  His hand is respectful as he lifts off resist; as an artist he is a minor player.  He influences, but someone else is at his shoulder, some spirit.  He knows this.  So it was perhaps no surprise that two chemigrams by Douglas Collins were selected for this show, and yet these are the first chemigrams ever displayed at IPCNY, a capital in the world of printmaking.  The old order is giving way to the new.

Collins, Gentle bodies, 2010

A technical word: these pieces used Golden MSA varnish and were printed on Hahnemuehle German Etch paper with an Epson Stylus Pro 11880 printer.

Collins on left, Hancock on right at opening

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Glassprints and chemigrams from the 2011 workshop

During the month of May, Manhattan Graphics is hosting an exhibit that celebrates student work from the most recent workshop in glassprints and chemigrams.  You should see it - much of it is very inspired, even unanticipated.  Each year the emphasis shifts a bit in the workshop, reflecting the makeup of the new student group as well as fresh approaches to the teaching of the material, including reworked views of

Kathleen Adams, chemigram

David Thomas, glassprint

what that material should be. This year saw, on the glassprint side, a loosening of old restrictions as to what a glassprint represents.  Gone are the fusty rules about carefully mimicking, in brushed ink or smudged marker, a genre scene on acetate.  No landscapes are found here, no vases of flowers on tables with hunting horns.  I used to think that was good strong medicine but it seems the patient is cured.  Instead, we found greater freedom than expected with gobos (Andrea Matura) and scrims (David Thomas), sandwich compositions (Thomas again) and paper negatives (Matura again).  In chemigrams we did some of the usual dip n' dunk, spritzing on the hydroxide and the solvent, but we also got serious about hard resists, and many students went into their toolbox for intricate iconography.  The results show.  Paul Kleinman's resist-filled composition is outstanding; Kathleen Adams' flirt with dichroic dangers is a lot of fun too.  Here's more pictures from the show.

Eva Nikolova, chemigram

Paul Kleinman, chemigram

Andrea Matura, glassprint

David Thomas, glassprint

Paul Kleinman, chemigram

David Thomas, glassprint

Andrea Matura, glassprint

Kathleen Adams, chemigram

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Pierre Cordier year

HackelBury, the prestigious London gallery, has mounted a major and very timely exhibit of Pierre Cordier's work, overlapping with but not eclipsing the still-running V&A show, and not to be confused with the HackelBury booths at the AIPAD and Armory shows in New York at which we are promised still more Cordiers.

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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jeff Robinson does it his way

Last March I did a demo of the chemigram process for an alt-photo class of Martha Casanave's at Monterey Peninsula College in California.  It was a big, enthusiastic class that day - Martha knew how to pump up the excitement level - and one of the students, although I didn't know it then, was a talented young artist named Jeff Robinson, an adept of cyanotypes and Van Dyck Browns and most things alternative.  I returned to NY and heard no more.  Then last month Martha phoned me and said, "You've gotta see what one of the students, Jeff, has done with the process.  I think you'll like it."  I asked her to have him send me some pictures.  He fired up his scanner and sent me these:

Robinson, untitled, 2010
Robinson, untitled, 2010
I was definitely impressed.  I called to ask him about his methods.  He told me first of all that he washes for 45 minutes to an hour, and uses no fixer bath.  OK - I was listening now.  What else?

Robinson, untitled, 2010
"I use 11x14" or larger - I've got these big trays - and always FB paper, some of it discontinued stuff like Ilford G3 and G4."  The G3 and 4 are noted for what some believe is an antifogging emulsion, which contributes to the extreme whiteness of the base paper.  "I use Dektol straight, no dilution, but I don't use a developer tray either - I just swab on Dektol where I want it dark and fixer where I want it light.  Then I throw on some stabilizer and activator, both at 1:3, and take it outside to let it cook a few minutes in the sun."  He doesn't spell this out, but the photolytic events that take place there may be enhanced by the solar spectrum, encompassing the full range of electromagenetic radiation: the effects could be quite different from those produced by the reduced spectra of actinic light.  In any case, the paper next gets that long wash, during which additional color changes may occur.  But once dry, Jeff has observed no color instability.

Robinson, untitled, 2010

As my colleague Rich Turnbull said on first seeing these chemigrams, Jeff's work is seriously beautiful.  Almost uncannily so.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

glassprint & chemigram workshop in NYC starts soon

Collins, Creation of the World, Part 1, 2010

The annual workshop in glassprints and chemigrams will be held earlier than usual this year, on two successive Sundays, January 30 and February 6, 2011 - so this is your chance to reserve a spot.  Contact Manhattan Graphics Center right away if you're interested, by email or phone.  Because part of the instruction takes place in the darkroom, space is quite limited.

chemistry room, MGC

There aren't many places where you can learn these unusual techniques, which lie at the boundary of photography and painting (with a little alchemy thrown in), but one place certainly is MGC in the Soho area of lower Manhattan.  If you're from out of town or abroad and have always dreamed of coming here, let us know and we'll help you find accomodations that suit you.

By the end of the workshop, you'll feel yourself beginning to develop a personal visual language that will lead to a deepened expressiveness, and you'll be given tools to continue your explorations on your own.  Meanwhile, your best work will be featured in a project-space exhibition in April at the center.  So join us next month to embark on this special adventure.

chemigram workspace, MGC

Friday, October 8, 2010

Alison Rossiter

Rossiter, Nepera Velox, expired August 1906, processed in 2010

Rossiter, Fuji, expiration date unknown ca. 1930s, processed in 2010

Rossiter, Eastman Kodak Royal Bromide, expired March 1919, processed in 2010

If you've ever had the good fortune of seeing Alison Rossiter's work in Canadian galleries like the Stephen Bulger in Toronto or Art45 in Montreal, her one-of-a-kind pictures are hard to forget. It's not that she's been known merely for cameraless work - she is an extremely pure exemplar of that word - but rather for pictures without any conscious imagery whatever: from a background in photographic conservation and an obvious love for the history of photography, she collects vintage photographic paper at auctions or rummage sales and develops it, to see what strange marks time and chance may have left. Dings, abrasions, smudges, spills rich in old chemistry - these become remarkable and somehow moving in her hands, and can be seen on her site and elsewhere.

More recently she's been invoking the spirit of these rare papers by inoculating them with a bit of developer, creating simple but haunting photograms or chemigrams. In her new show at Yossi Milo in New York City, it's shocking at first to realize that these darkly elegant shapes, created only this year, are executed on papers which may be nearly a century old. Velox, Ansco, Kodabromide, there is a roll-call here of legendary names most of us have forgotten or never known; the drama of their return to center-stage is staggering. The edges of the papers, as you dare get closer, are sometimes discolored, and why wouldn't they be. The whites display a gamut of tints, from bone white to thin yellows to faint mauves, representing, one might say, the dreams of bygone epochs in which they were conceived. And then the blacks. The regions where her hand has passed or where she slowly tilted the paper charged with developer, the blacks are pushed to maximum density, unmodulated; they possess a massive authority and seem to engage in a mute, secret dialog with the whites. In some pictures Alison gives us the added surprise of a second layer of black, this one not allowed to proceed to full development. Its dusklike tones dance at the edges of still darker areas, suggesting movement, twisting, indecision, and life.

Some have called Alison's work minimalist, and at first glance it's easy to see why. Her methods, her commitment to a process, a spare, arbitrary imagery - in conversation she said someone even compared her to Barnett Newman. But the more you stand in the presence of these works, the more you feel the operation of an intense personal engagement and emotion that rises above minimalism, and puts it far behind. You must see this show.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mackie himself was never sure..

Collins, Florence H., 2010

Photoelastic fringe pattern

Obama solarized

Alexander Mackie arose at a meeting of the London and Provincial Photographic Association in 1885, as colleagues advanced theories about lines that sometimes appear around a figure or shape in a photograph, a bit like halos. "No, no, sir!" he cried. "That simply won't do. That doesn't fully explain it at all." For each theory brought forward to explain the mysterious lines, Mackie disproved it with a counter example. He showed pictures, he demonstrated his theses with objects, vases and tables. Optical illusions, effects of radiation, disparity between central and marginal rays of a lens, exhausted developer, nothing withstood his intellectual rigor. When the matter was revisited in subsequent meetings Mackie was again there. He haunted these meetings. He garnered a reputation: the guy with the lines nobody can explain. After thirty years of this - thirty years! - he could take no more, and wrote a letter to the august British Journal of Photography (64, 11-12, 1917) saying (in effect), "Hey, everyone associates these lines with my name as if the matter were settled, but that's far from the truth. We still haven't a clue."

If Mackie himself was never sure what a Mackie line was, no one else was quite sure either. But certain ideas have stuck, and have spread out in the world. In the field of photoelastic stress analysis, for example, they use the edge effect of pseudo-solarization (also known as Sabatier) to construct models of the stress distribution in materials; the lines of stress are called Mackie lines. You want to know where an I-beam will break, you find its Mackie lines.

In his Theory of Photographic Process (1942), C.E. Kenneth Mees was already able to describe Mackie lines as "the commonest adjacency effect" and said it was a white line formed at an abrupt enhancement of density at a border. Later, in his landmark monograph on photographic solarization (1997), William Jolly discussed a half-dozen border effects including Beck lines, Mach bands, Sabatier border lines and Mackie lines. He put Mackie lines in a special class very near to Sabatier border lines and (with a little arm waving) described a back-and-forth flow over the border of developer and reaction products and their excitatory or inhibitory effect on silver grains.

I've always thought highly of this explanation, but when I'm standing over my trays, poking at my paper, I can't help but feel otherwise for the case of chemigrams, which have had a somewhat closeted history since Cordier's discovery of them in 1956. The erosive appearance of border lines seen in chemigrams looks to be due to straightforward chemical attack, in developer and then in fixer, during the gradual, progressive removal of overlying resist. The developer darkens, the fixer lightens, each does its normal job, and the border recedes. At least this is the simplest explanation; the gentleman from Ockham taught us to always choose the simplest.

You could construct, or imagine, other scenarios. Trans-border diffusion of bromide, counter diffusion of developer, electromagnetic radiation collected in the exposed areas causing an inhibitory heating effect in adjacent areas, etc etc. Yet to me the evidence is merely suggestive at best, and the border appearance in chemigrams may not warrant such involuted theories anyway. This is because what we want to account for in chemigrams doesn't have the same origin as what we want to understand in other border situations, in Sabatier or in solarization - the phenomena arise differently.

I must confess though, at the end of the day the border effects in all these can be seductively similar. For that reason, for that similarity, we choose to retain the name Mackie line for the characteristic erosive line in chemigrams. Mackie wrote to the Journal about everyone using his name for these lines and said, "the connection has not arisen from any choice on my part, but was adopted merely as a convenient expression for avoiding an inconvenient descriptive formula of words." If he were alive Mackie would grumble a complaint to our blog, and we would know he's right, but it would change nothing.

The chemigram at top, Florence H., is pure Mackie lines.

Monday, August 30, 2010

2 routes to color

Collins, Aachen window #5, 2010

Collins, Problematic, 2009

Both pictures here are made without a camera but they are in fact quite different, one from the other. The upper one is a chromogenic C-print, made in total darkness in the color darkroom. As a process, it could be termed a color photogram or more accurately a color luminogram, since no objects were interposed between light source and paper. It is printed on color paper, Fuji or Kodak Endura. The colors arise from what is called the chromogenic reaction. Silver halide in the photo emulsion is reduced by developer to silver particles, while the newly oxidized developer reacts with a 'dye coupler' found in each of three layers of the photopaper. These developer-coupler reactions produce dyes of the three 'subtractive' colors of white light, namely cyan, magenta and yellow or CMY. The silver gets bleached out and the dyes give the color.

The lower picture is a different beast entirely. It is a chemigram, made in daylight on black-and-white photopaper with a chemistry of black-and-white developer and fixer. Standard chemigramic methods were used: dipping and snatching. The element of luck, absent in the other picture, here was sought out and embraced; a number of attempts at achieving this image were discarded. The creation of a color picture from b & w materials cannot help but fascinate. What's going on? How does it happen? William Jolly spent many years at UC Berkeley trying to answer this and related questions. He attributes the color to the Mie effect, by which small particles - their size must be on the order of the wavelengths in the visible spectrum - reflect back incident light on a range of wavelengths from short to long, which our brain assigns the such names as 'blue' and 'red' (the references are in his monograph). These particles of course are grains of silver, reduced by developer from the silver halide in the paper's emulsion. There are not only grains of silver, there are silver-bromide complexes, silver atoms, and other short-lived forms of silver too, all of different sizes, all buffeted by an ever-changing environment of developer and fixer and the byproducts of their interactions. It is from this stew that we get our 'color'.

Chemigramists have noticed that colors may sometimes change even in the washing or drying phase of the process, when no obvious chemical assault is occurring. That is because within the emulsion, at a very local or nano level, the action between substances may continue, although at much slower rate, before equilibrating and finally damping out altogether.

There is more to be said on this, but we'll leave it for another time. It's enough to show that there's more than one way to get color with photographic materials.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Natalie Cheung

Cheung, S. with Child 1995, 2009

Cheung, Portrait-W 1916-1918, 2009

Natalie Cheung is an exciting young artist from the mid-Atlantic region who uses cameraless photography as her prime means of expression. The chemigrams presented here, from a series called Facsimiles, more of which can be seen on her website, represent for her an investigation into recurring forms and images throughout the history of art; clearly though, they stand up quite well on their own. A bit of method: they are created on Ilford glossy paper, which she cuts to 30x40" from long rolls. Her black-and-white chemistry is from Sprint, whose QuickSilver print developer is PQ-based (phenidone plus hydroquinone), which may have a slight tendency to decrease effective emulsion speed and thus graininess - this is perhaps a topic for research in a chemigram setting, where development times are intermittent and cumulative, and occur in a context of falling pH.

Whatever the case, Natalie's art is bold and arresting. She observes and works closely with random effects, using them freely to further her conception. Indeed, it could be said that what she has done is the most difficult type of chemigram to pull off, the one that relies not on a methodology of resists and schemes but on an intuitive feel for spraying, smearing, dunking and snatching. Natalie is quite skilled at this, and arrives at a wonderful expressiveness. Be sure to check out her other work as well, in photograms, gelatin reliefs (mordançages), and cyanotypes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Norman Sarachek in Philadelphia

Norm's beautiful work has hovered in my mind ever since I saw my first chemigrams several years ago. Its lyricism of spare gesture, radiant space, fleeting dark forms cutting cleanly across a diagonal have remained a model for the quiet elegance this art is capable of. Working with the simplest materials, water, developer, fixer, and black and white photo paper, he creates a world you want to believe in, where abstraction is pushed to a palpable limit and the feeling of a true humanist is never far off, an echo of his early dedication of documentary photography. You can now enjoy his work in a group show at the new LG Tripp Gallery, July 9 through August 21. Located in the Old City just a few blocks from Penns Landing and the Betsy Ross House, the LG Tripp Gallery is committed to bringing new abstract artists to the attention of the Philadelphia public. Here we present a couple of works which we hope will be in the show, Icarus-3 and Kokoro. For more information you should definitely check out Norm's website, which is full of history, methods and motivation.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Welcome to nonfigurative photo

This blog will talk about things, events, people, images, processes, and ideas connected in some way to the art of nonfigurative photography, especially as this art is being practiced today in its many forms, both in the US and around the world.

It will be inclusive rather than exclusive: we encourage news and discussion of approaches that might range from photograms to chemigrams to luminograms and points in-between or beyond. While many posts will likely relate to cameraless work, other kinds of abstract photography will find a place here too, if they seem to us concerned about inventing a reality rather than commenting on or representing one. This theme will be developed in time.

And when there's nothing left to say, I'll comment or muse on some of the technical problems I encounter in my own work.

Meanwhile, welcome to the nonfigurativephoto blog!

Douglas Collins