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.


  1. Thanks Christina (and Doug) for this post!

    Absolutely beautiful work! Makes me want to head for the darkroom.

    1. Christina's dedication to alt-photography is legendary and impossibly fierce, there's no one like her. We're lucky to have her among us.


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