Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christina Z Anderson's etched chemigrams

Anderson, Angel, etched chemigram, 10x8", edition 1/1, 2014

Christina Z Anderson has been an influential artist, educator, and author in the alternative photography arena for more than a decade.  You will recognize her name: it is woven into the very fabric of this blog in uncountable ways.  During most of this time her own creative work has centered on gum bichromates where her efforts have come to redefine the prevailing standards of technique in that exacting process, while permitting her at the same time to develop in her images very personal takes on home, family, memory and loss.  A sense of this substantial achievement can be seen on her website.

The news I have to report - and it is big - is that Chris is not just producing a lot of chemigrams these days, which up to now have been a sort of sideline with her, but etched chemigrams.  This method was first introduced in August 2014 at the end of our post on Leonor-Leigrano papers and in the accompanying comments.  To make an etched chemigram, you first have to make a chemigram itself.  In a way this is the larger challenge, to make something that has an intrinsic value worth destroying.  Not only does this require mental concentration, it also takes time, often a lot of it: Chris reports that some of her chemigrams take up to 6 hours to complete, a believable figure although we each work differently.  So after 6 hours is she ready to rip it apart in copper chloride, acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide?  It seems so, and we're indebted for her courage in this. 

In her series called 'Remnants' Chris applies the method to the emotions she felt on revisiting New Orleans recently, ten years after Katrina.  Stairways leading to ravaged houses, stoops smashed and scattered among the weeds, vacancy, despair, it's all here.  The starkness of the etched chemigram, with destruction of the image as premise, seems the perfect way to convey this.  And with her deep experience in mordançage after years of teaching it, Chris is finding this to be a natural fit.

Anderson, Wave, etched chemigram, 10x8", edition 1/1, 2014

Anderson, Stoop 3, etched chemigram, 8x10", edition 1/1, 2014
At times she dispenses with the chemigram form altogether (since how much good stuff can anyone want to destroy) and jumps right into the mysterious, pitiless world of bleach-etch without preamble.

Anderson, Stoop 5, mordançage, 8x8", edition 1/1, 2014
She brings to the enterprise considerable chops from a chemigram journey that shows no sign of ending.  The compulsive note-taking, the careful observations of paper reactions and toner compatibilities, sets a high bar for anyone wishing to enter the field and a model for those of us in it already.  One day we'd hope to publish a summary of her experiments.  Here's an example from a group of chemigram exercises on Adox Fineprint, using Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray as resist.  (Ventilate properly and wash hands after use; the MSDS can be found here.)

Anderson, Novel 1, chemigram, 8x10", edition 1/1, 2014
Incidentally, she finds selenium on Adox a wonderful toning choice, using it at the lower end of Fotospeed's dilution recommendations of 1+3.

But let us go back to the etched chemigrams of 'Remnants' for a moment.  In thinking about the power of these pictures - I do find them powerful, most of all Angel - I suspect it may derive from the gap the artist creates between an underlying reality (photograph of the scene, the house) which we know must have been there, somewhere, and the imagination of it as filtered through the mechanics of the chemigram prism, which in turn gets further deconstructed and scoured by a few exquisitely controlled strokes of bleach-etch.  The ruined house migrates and becomes part of our dream-world (the 'angel'), yet paradoxically - dreams are rife with paradox - a very tangible one, almost brutal.  It is this immediacy that elevates what had been a simple photograph far beyond what any photograph could do.

Thank you, Christina.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gottfried Jäger at Photo Edition Berlin

Jäger, Fotopapierarbeit 1986-VI-1-3, 1986

In photography, the 1960s was a period of considerable excitement, uncertainty, and turmoil.  The achievements of the great experimental work of the Bauhaus, both German and its later incarnation in Chicago, were behind us, even if its aesthetic and methods were not fully absorbed by a wider public.  Scientific uses of photography began to tantalize with big steps forward in photomicroscopy and electron microscopy.  The advent of digital was on the horizon, nascent but inexorable.  Color photography was emerging and becoming an attractive, and soon a required, addition to black-and-white.  In painting and sculpture, abstraction of one kind or another was the ruling mode.  For certain photographers, there was a growing dissatisfaction with the dominant ethos of representational photography, of pictures that sought simply to capture and reproduce what was seen by the lens.  They had the radical vision of a photography that was about nothing but itself, not the messiness and the contingency of the external world.  They called for Fox Talbot's 'photogenic drawing' but for a new age.  They wanted to create, not re-create.  They debated what it even meant to be a photograph, that stubborn physical object composed of animal protein, silver salts, and light.

Jäger, 111104.4, 2011

Into this mix came a young artist and theoretician named Gottfried Jäger who, in a series of group shows beginning in 1968, crystallized and formalized this restlessness into an agenda, or more accurately several agendas, with robust-sounding names like Concrete Photography and Generative Photography.
Jäger, Fotopapierarbeit 2011-III-1-2, 2011

In reaching back to the antecedants of concrete photography, Jäger found a forerunner in Alvin Langdon Coburn, the early British abstractionist and disciple of Ezra Pound; another touchstone was Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who had preached the primacy of the emulsion as the ultimate locus of photographic expressivity.
Coburn, 1917

The name for his movement though not the doctrine as a whole came from Theo van Doesburg's 1929 manifesto on Concrete Art, which followed the De Stijl movement and the thinking of Mondrian.  Mondrian liked straight parallel lines and primary colors and more than anything, precision.  (For a while van Doesburg and Mondrian clashed over diagonals and broke off relations for several years).

Time has been kind to us and Jäger's turn of the concept was more tolerant: it embraced a broad spectrum of non-objective photography from computer-driven images (the term Generative Photography stems largely from this) to entirely cameraless work using chemical action operating at the emulsion surface; even strange apparatus had a place in his system, from oscilloscopes (Franke) to light-filtering contraptions (Humbert) to pinhole cameras (Jäger himself, early on).
Moholy-Nagy, 1922
What was important - what remains important - is the idea that you can create or discover a new reality of space and time just by rethinking the most minimal elements of photography, the physics and physicality of it and its optics.  It is this search for a crossing-over, a transmigration mediated by process and technique, that shapes the Jäger aesthetic in order to finally become one with it: ostensible 'beauty' is not a critical category here at all.  In this it is consummately postmodern.

Photo Edition Berlin has embarked on the staging of a two-part exhibition entitled 'Concrete and Generative Photography 1960-2014' which is meant both as an homage to what Gottfried Jäger was instrumental in launching as well, perhaps, as an announcement of future work to be done.  Part One - The Pioneers, runs until December 20, 2014, and includes many of the original posse: Heinz Hajek-Halke, Herbert W. Franke, Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Roger Humbert, Hein Gravenhorst, Karl-Martin Holzhäuser, René Mächler, Gottfried Jäger.  Part Two, with a contemporary and possibly more international cast, will arrive in the fall of 2015.

at the opening, October 18
You can download a pdf file of the informative 46-page catalog at the Photo Edition Berlin site.  For a thorough account of the history, concepts and methods of a large roster of experimental and non-objective artists, consult Jäger's Bildgebende Fotografie (Köln 1988).  The Folkwang Museum online is an excellent source of images.