Monday, August 8, 2011

The hand of Paul Bloomfield

Bloomfield, Dark Trees, 2008-10, drawing on photograph

Bloomfield, Heaven and Earth, 2011, oil on gelatin silver photogram

One of my more serendipitous encounters this summer was meeting artist/photographer and teacher Paul Bloomfield at a monotype workshop at Zea Mays Printmaking in western Massachusetts. I talked to Paul about chemigram techniques and in the course of a discussion about the overwhelming presence of digital photography in contemporary life, he revealed that he has long been making what we might call manipulated or enhanced photograms in the darkroom as a way of counteracting the ubiquity of the straight photographic image. Paul's methods are quite diverse: he sometimes "paints" with developer in the darkroom on unexposed photo paper, guided by the intuitive gestural motion of his hand since he can barely see the mark of the clear developer in the dim safelight aura. Sometimes he draws on an exposed and processed photographic image with oil pigments or markers. Sometimes he is content with a straightforward but still inherently mysterious photogram, which most readers of this blog will know is an image generated by placing objects or filters/screens/whatever on photographic paper and allowing light from the enlarger to pass through or not depending on the object's transparency or opacity.

Bloomfield, Mayan Visions II, 2010, photogram

Paul's work incorporates pattern and elements of seriality or repetition as well as marks/forms derived from nature, which he claims in the modest artist's statement on his website allow him to meditate on systems, manifestations and impermanence. Some of Paul's work appears painterly and photographic simultaneously, which of course is the point: by reworking the lines and forms of a conventional photographic image through applied pigments or markers, for example, Paul reclaims the space and "trajectories" in the image from the otherwise inherent flattening quality of a photograph. (This is indeed the case in "Dark Trees," seen above.) The resulting work is a hybrid form that while not necessarily new (photographers have drawn on their prints before) suggests above all a reimposition of the hand in the photograph...which I've suggested in an earlier post is one of the strategies we might use to survive photographically in an overwhelmingly digital world.

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