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.


  1. Will look for Cordier's work at AIPAD, thanks for the heads up, and look forward to more info on his technique here in your excellent blog!

    1. Thanks for reading us - but be careful, this post was from 2011. There may be some Cordiers at the upcoming AIPAD in April 2014, I just don't know. Three galleries are handling Cordier in one fashion or another: HackelBury, Von Lintel, and Haines. You could email them to find out if they'll be showing any Cordiers.


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