At the last minute, Rich Turnbull, my usual co-conspirator and fellow chemigram artist, couldn't make it - they needed him at the Metropolitan Museum to lecture on some bizarre topic that he's expert on, or soon would be if you gave him an hour or so with Wikipedia. Rich is their back-up academic star and they know it, which, if I were less diplomatic, I would call star abuse. So I had no choice but to turn to Eva Nikolova to fill in for him and what an unexpected surprise that turned out to be, though I'd had inklings of what was going to happen: I'd seen her work in shows around town for several years, her scarred depictions of ruined dream cities made of the most chaste of materials, and had become a big fan. What I hadn't counted on was how ready she was to communicate her secret processes to the New York public, for that was to come.
In our little chemigram community, Eva is known for introducing strange new products into the process such as guava paste, marshmellow fluff, peanut butter, lipstick - the list goes crazily on. If you divide chemigram resists into hard and soft depending on the length of time it takes them to loosen their hold on the photographic paper, the items in Eva's toolbox are all soft resists, which can be used separately or together with 'traditional' soft resists like PVA glue (Elmer's glue) or Karo syrup. Some are displayed in figure 2, waiting for students to overcome their uncertainty and try them. Most definitely, Eva is not a purist.
Here's one that's as rich in depth as you could want, done with what appears to be a combination of guava paste and peanut butter - correct me, readers, if I've got this wrong. Any lipstick?
There's more. Figure 6 (fig. 1 and 3 as well) shows the rich dark reds obtainable from certain vintage papers, dating from those golden days before papers got their cadmium reformulated away (see our post on this here), not to speak of other mystery substances. Taking a page from Alison's notebook, Eva thoughtfully provided us with a bounty of gifts: Kodabromide E4 SW expired 1941, Kodabromide F-1 Glossy DW expired 1967 ("dreamy blues, lavenders, silvery greys" says Eva), Dupont Defender Grade 3 DW expired 1951, and Ilford MG 26K FB Velvet Stipple DW expired 1962. It makes my eyes misty to think about it. My contribution was the comparatively prosaic Adorama FB Glossy and Fomatone FB Matt, with odd leftovers of Ilford thrown in.
In figure 7, note the canny use of the remaining hard resist (Golden MSA varnish) as design element on a piece of Ilford FB paper. Most would have continued until all the resist had lifted - I might have too - but not this artist. A nice call indeed.
Figure 8, below, shows what can be done with PVA glue if the snatch point is carefully calculated - by intuition of course. If snatch point isn't already a keyword in this blog, let's make it one. That's the moment, usually quite early in the tray dance if you're using soft resists, when you snatch the paper out of one chemical very quickly and thrust it into another, in order to suddenly arrest the action. A matter of seconds can make all the difference. In the lower part of the picture observe the white skid marks from the hydrodynamics of a sudden thrust into developer from a fixer launch.
We can learn something from each image we present - each has a tale to tell. For now, pay particular attention to figure 9, where two thickly slathered arrays of Eva's resists have received the same chemical attacks.
In one peanut-butter is the main actor, in the other it's lipstick. Here's a detail of the upper part:
|figure 9, detail|
Let's look at more work, picking them almost at random. Here's a soft-resist I like.
And another, with hybrid marks drawn from different traditions.
Sometimes, the softest marks are those that stay with you the longest.
Participants included Mary Alestra, Michelle Bratsafolis, Carol Chu, Sarah Davis, Mira Dayal, Nadezhda Neusypina, and Kiera Wood. Hats off to all!
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For those interested, Rich Turnbull is doing a chemigram workshop on November 21 at the Penumbra Foundation, just 8 blocks south of here in midtown Manhattan.
International Center of Photography