Monday, June 28, 2010

New student work

Huebsch, untitled, 2010

We finished our annual class in Glassprints, Gum Bichromates and Chemigrams at Manhattan Graphics Center in a great splash of chemistry, as the popular chemigram section, held last, took off like a party. As soon as theory was dispensed with - so tiresome! - and notebooks stowed, the now unfettered students were free to plunge their photo paper into developer and fixer again and again, altering their movements at will, letting the forces of gravity, inertia and diffusion exercise their magic. Results were predictably ecstatic and the best ones saved.

This piece by Rand Huebsch, a book artist of note, displays an almost classical use of soft resists, in this case tape, interleaved with fixer applied by brush. It recalls in a perhaps more controlled and lyrical way the early work of Chargesheimer in the 1940s, now at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.

The next class is scheduled for Spring 2011.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two images made within the last 48 hours at the Manhattan Graphics Center in New York...the top image was made on Adorama fiber paper with the edges hand-torn (like there is any other kind of tear?) because I figured the chemigram process would stop at the edge of the emulsion (and sure enough it did). The bottom image was made on Adorama RC paper (a full sheet of 8x10) after coating with Soluvar varnish diluted 1:1 with mineral spirits and dipping the uncoated area of the paper into fixer first, then immersing in developer for the usual developer/fixer/water cycle. I have full notes on the technical procedures, which after three weeks of practice are starting to seem at least partially consistent, but these images are notable for being the first ones I've tried without coating the entire sheet of paper, i.e. selectively painting the exposed surface with diluted varnish before going on to further mark-making.

So far I just use numerical codes for images corresponding to the date and order in which they were made, but the tentative title for the bottom image is "Galactic Event." (A half-hour ago it was still "Galactic Apocalypse" but that sounds like a Justice League graphic novel so I modified it.)

The chemigram process still seems magical and infinite tonight, but it makes more sense by the day.

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.

the choice of photographic language

First of all, thanks to Doug for enabling this blog in the first place and providing a forum for the kind of photographic discussion that doesn't always have the highest level of visibility. I've succumbed to Doug's enthusiasm for glassprints and chemigrams and have begun my own experiments with both forms in recent weeks. What strikes me about cameraless photography is the relentless desire to remove the camera from the equation of photography, to both negate the historical progression of photography (to a point, anyway, that point usually being the invention of photograms in the post-WW I period) and simultaneously claim its technical (or optical/chemical) language. As someone who for years maintained a makeshift black-and-white darkroom in various bathrooms and basements and who derived more aesthetic satisfaction from, well, non-traditional darkroom techniques like tilting the composing easel, sandwiching negatives, making double and triple exposures and the like, I understood even then (the then here being the late 80s and 90s) that pursuing and achieving the perfectly crafted conventional print was just not going to happen in my photographic lifetime. I set aside my camera except as an occasional recording device for years and used digital photography mostly as a way to create imagery that could be reconfigured in the computer and subsequently transfered to prints and artists' books; in other words, I saw the digital camera as a photographic means to a non-photographic end.

In the history of photography classes I've taught at FIT, Columbia and the Museum of Modern Art, I love to engage students in discussions about the digital revolution and the fundamental change in the way we make and use photographs, and I suggest somewhat provocatively that we are now readying ourselves for post-digital photography and let the students attempt to guess what I'm talking about here. (This often fails tragically, by the way, but my classroom is an experiment and experiments sometimes fail, yes?) What I mean is this: photography has now so infiltrated popular culture and visual sensibilities that the instantaneous possibilities of the digital photograph have become an unanalyzed given. What was once revolutionary is now omnipresent and almost literally unthinkable. Or to restate yet again: where can photography possibly go from here?

Let's make a brief comparison to modern painting. Jasper Johns once explained his early flag paintings from the mid-1950s by stating that choosing such a ready-made and ubiquitous subject allowed him to work "on other levels" in his paintings. Maybe this is where we now are in photography: perhaps the absolute, inescapable crushing presence of the digital image as tangible record of almost everything tactile or event-based in everyone's daily life allows art photographers (for lack of a better term) to withdraw from representational duties and work on the "other level" of the abstract. What better way to rebel against your photographic parents, after all, than to eschew the camera itself?

A long opening salvo, I realize, but just that, an opening.

rich turnbull

Friday, June 18, 2010

Uta Barth's pictures

Barth, 1996

When you look at Uta Barth's photographs, the only thing more disconcerting than the 'subject' of the pictures - they have no subject - is the point of view of the observer, which is very hard to define. Am I here, or am I there? Am I moving, crouching, standing still, or dreaming? Your attention slides and gropes, lost in some middle ground, in undefined spaces of ignored nooks and edges. Barth wants to leave you in a soft-focus limbo, and by doing that seeks to draw you back to a consideration of perception itself. Her favorite quote is from Paul Valéry's Notebooks: 'to see is to forget the name of what one sees,' which is also, more or less, the title of the Lawrence Weschler biography of Robert Irwin, one of her heroes and a fellow LA-based artist. Her show at Tanya Bonakdar has just closed. The picture above is 'Field #19' (1996) from her Field series.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Upcoming Show at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Miller, 2006

A big, highly anticipated show of nonobjective photography entitled "Shadow Catchers" opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this fall. Curated by Martin Barnes, it includes work by some of the better-known lensless (or nearly lensless) figures of the past few decades: Pierre Cordier, Adam Fuss, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller, and Floris Neusüss. So if you're anywhere near London between October 13 and February 20, 2011, be sure to drop in. We don't know if this work will be in the show, but here's one we like, by Garry Fabian Miller, the British artist who has done a lot of work with dye destruction techniques. It's called "Year One - Samonlos 1", from 2006.

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