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, August 10, 2010

Koutroulis, Glassprinter

Koutroulis, Caroline's Garden II, 1968

One of the prominent names in the contemporary section of Symmes and Glassman's Cliché-verre: Hand-Drawn, Light-Printed (1980) is Aris Koutroulis, dean of the Detroit school of glassprint experimenters in the 60s and 70s. I admit my ignorance: I had no idea who he was. But over the years I've been drawn back to the few images of his work I can find, whether glassprints, lithos, or paintings, the glassprints most especially. He had learned the dye transfer process from his early teacher, Caroline Durieux, and began producing glassprints in color, but in a reductive style. I sensed that here was an artist, working within and sensitive to the conceptualist and minimalist paradigms of the art-world at the time, who inevitably, because of who he was, pushed against those limits to strive for a more personal statement. He doesn't seem satisfied with stopping short of that, or ending a picture where another artist might have. Or could it have been the other way around, that he felt he had to dress his expressionistic urges in a cloak of minimalism? We'll leave that for the critics.

The example shown here, Caroline's Garden II (1968), was done using Kodak matrix film and transfer dyes; the entire process is now an historical footnote since Kodak discontinued manufacture of all such materials in 1994. The cluster of veils of film emulsion at the top, the soft ribbons of it descending, the gentle color - that's the picture. Today, Koutroulis might have used the gelatin relief method known by some as mordançage to achieve similar results. Jean-Pierre Sudre, its modern advocate, didn't even give it a name until later.

He received training in lithography (why did so many nonfigurative photographers begin as printmakers?) at Tamarind when Tamarind was just a bare-bone start-up in Los Angeles, with two presses; in time he became one of their first master printers. He printed editions for many leading figures of the 60s. His edition of Josef Albers' Hommage to the Square (1963), printed with Ken Tyler and John Dowell, hangs in museums worldwide. His original work is scattered today and generally unavailable, occasionally showing up at estate auctions in small Michigan communities. A true shame.