Sunday, September 13, 2015

Luminograms from Wales

Jackson, Luminogram study #98, 2015

Jackson, Luminogram study #216, 2015

Jackson, Luminogram study #115, 2015

Michael Jackson is a photographer from Pembrokeshire, Wales (UK).  He lives in a darkish valley just a short distance from the ocean, a proximity that has had a major influence on his work.  He hikes along the cliffs, stares out at the rocky stacks off the coast, or he descends to the tidal coves and spends hours and days alone with his camera, studying eddies in the sand, patterns of flux and reflux.  He listens, watches, and feels.  He meditates.

the artist on the sea-cliffs

Back in the studio, he seeks ways of transmuting this heightened experience into images on paper that will remain a source of continual challenge and excitement for him - to the point where, in fact, it is these that become the main event.  He calls it 'creative play'.  Years of working in the darkroom have honed his method to a fine pitch and reduced it to its essence, which is the study of light itself: what light can do to fool or enchant our perceptions when it's bounced off the silver compounds in the paper, what magic-lantern effects it leaves us bedazzled with.  If this sounds just a little familiar it should be, for these things, these prints, have been known as luminograms since Moholy-Nagy in the 1920s.  Mike had no idea until Gottfried Jäger pointed it out to him - he thought he'd invented it by himself, the same story many an alt-photographer tells about his or her corner of the craft.  

He uses no camera  - doesn't need it - and no film.  As to the light, it may shine squarely down, from an enlarger, or shine rakishly, beaming in from the side; he may have erected scrims or gobos in the light's path or maybe not, depending on inspiration; we do know, or strongly suspect (he's justified in his reticence), that he moves structures around during the exposure, uses torn or folded papers, small constructed models, objects at hand in the darkroom, and maybe even waves his hands back and forth in there too, in a sort of shadow performance.  He calls his work 'gestural' if anything, and that's a clue, but even then he's not finished.  Think of everything you can do in a darkroom and Mike has done it: double exposures, paper negatives, solarization, more.  His technique is evolving with a rapidity only matched by his production - more than one completed print per day over the last six months.  Someday, when he's not so busy, Mike will tell us all.

Jackson, Luminogram study #167, 2015

Jackson, Luminogram study #243, 2015
Readers will want to know some darkroom details and here's what I can share with you.  When he began he used expired RC paper because it was given to him and it'd be crazy not to use it, but he's moved on to fresh material, typically Ilford Multigrade Glossy.  Both work about the same.  Fiber based paper on the other hand doesn't work well at all in Mike's version of the process, he's not sure why.  His experience with some of the great vintage papers referenced here on the blog is slim; he's fine for now with what he's doing.  He uses standard Ilford developer and fixer, nothing tricky there, but he has done a lot of trials varying both their temperature and their mode of application: dripping, spraying, etc.  His solarization methods are what most command my attention - they appear extremely refined and successful, with an almost mezzotint-like delicacy of soft-focus edges and limpid greys; he admits this had been a major area of trial-and-error for him.  He should be very happy with the results.

Jackson, Luminogram study #102, 2015
Somewhat the exception to much current practice, he treats each print as unique and has no interest in editioning them.  'I want to do a print, learn from it and then for it to be in the past - rather than reprinting it over and over... I like the idea of it being similar to how painters work and move forward.'  The advance of time is relentless, just as the oceans continue to slowly grind away at the cliffs of Wales.  There's no looking back.

Jackson, Luminogram study #288, 2015
For those needing to know Mike Jackson better - and you should, there's much more than I've told you here - go to his site at and explore with open eyes.  I don't think I'm alone in finding his work profoundly amazing.


  1. Thank you for including me in your blog Doug. But even more so, thank you for introducing me to so many people on here that deserve more attention. The work is inspiring.

    1. Keep up the great work Mike, but watch your feet on those cliffs!

  2. These are fun Mike!! It looks like you just started working on this idea and let it lead you along. They have a feeling of spontaneity but are very elegant. I like other directions you pursue on your website as well.

    1. Thank you Nolan! Yes, it expands and goes in all sorts of directions - most of which are dead ends - so I pick and choose the results that I like and add them to the process steps. It is still growing, as I am sure you know all about with your own wonderful work.

  3. I love these luminograms. (Can someone tell me the difference between a photogram and a luminogram?) Sometimes I feel there is nothing more to be invented with the simplest of materials and techniques, but this work proves me wrong. Thanks, Doug, for sharing this work.

    1. Hello Martha, glad that you like the luminograms. As far as I understand it, Luminograms are made with just light directed onto paper, whereas photograms involve an object actually on the paper. I think that sometimes they all get lumped under the general heading of photograms.

      I love the fact that it is simple too - but working with the process is like easing out a pearl - you know that it is there somewhere and you just have to find it. I expect that it is similar to other non figurative processes that way?


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