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.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The example of Morell's glassprints

Abelardo Morell works with the light falling through small holes.  His camera obscura pictures of architecture and Italian piazzas are well-known and deservedly so.  He has also explored photograms and other cameraless techniques, and more recently has done some impressive glassprints, or clichés-verre, in his Island of Rota suite.

Morell, Fern Nine, 2009
Seen as contemporary and shown in the best contemporary venues, like the Bonni Benrubi gallery and MoMA, his work none the less draws heavily on classical themes, Anna Atkins, 19th century botanical illustrations, pressings of flowers.  The use of the glassprint method is appropriate because historical, and also because it allows a great piling-up of imagery and flourish: by using multiple plates or by rearranging the plant and ink materials on one plate repeatedly, he transcends mere illustration to give us considerable depth and wonder.  Glassprint results over the past century have been quite divergent; few would see many similarities between the glassprints of Klee, Picasso, Man Ray, Gyorgy Kepes, or Aris Koutroulis, no more than one would find much in common among photographers or painters of the same period.  Morell's glassprints return us to the earlier state.

And yet a modern sensibility still rules.  He scans his prints, retaining the original as digital file, then prints them as much larger archival pigment prints, possibly on an Epson, in limited editions at 24x20" and 40x30", depending on your taste and pocketbook.