These photograms were produced using traditional darkroom techniques on fiber based photographic paper. The image making procedure involved making photograms on orthochromatic film by contact. The photographic prints were then made using an enlarger and printed manually adjusting for contrast and exposure at the time. The process took the camera and representation out of the photographic process but freed photography as means of expression.
The images and making were inspired by “Kiss” ( 1961) by Bridget Riley. Riley ( b 1931) is one of the pioneers of abstract art in Britain and her Optical Art work is well know. The art works have a strong graphic quality that emerged from earlier more straightforward compositions. In the early 1960’s Riley had been developing ideas of representation inspired by Seurat. In her evocative 1960 painting “Pink Landscape” the searing heat of Seina is represented in pointillist Seurat style patterns in reds and oranges. Towards the end of the 1960 Riley stated that the neo-impressionist model was a creative dead-end. This artistic crisis coincided with a personal crisis with the end of her relationship with Maurice Desausmarez .
Riley then produced a series of black painting as a response to the crises. Her conclusion was that that the black paintings said nothing. She drew inspiration Seurat at this point and introduced contrasting elements in her work. “Kiss” marks the start of many of her early works. It is characteristic in that is monotone and uses strong geometric form to show tension and dynamic movement.
The basis of my painting is this: that in each of them a particular situation is stated. Certain elements with that situation remain constant, others precipitate the destruction of themselves by themselves. Recurrently, as a result of the cyclic movement of repose, disturbance and repose, the original situation is restated.
The photograms emerged from some of the ideas in Briget Rileys work. Those concepts are translated into photographic form, I had been thinking about photography and representation and how photography used form, space, tone, light to convey emotion. This lead to looking at scientific photography, x-rays, crystallography, ultrasound and the like. It was interesting to think about x-rays and how unseen energy could reveal the inter workings of the body. As a metaphor, this is a nice idea, could photography show the unseen workings in a living person.
A persistent cliche in portrait photography is that the photographer has some power that enables them to manifest the “spirit” of the person into the photograph. The surface features of the person come to represent their intangible elements. That is part of the appeal of photography, the photograph becomes a totem. Out of these ideas I wondered how could photography be made to convey the intangible.
Looking at some of the Bernice Abbott images of soap bubbles and diffraction patterns provided insight into the possibilities. Abbott’s images of lasers, prism, light, movement were produced between 1939 and 1960. The images have a very strong graphic style and by coincidence are somewhat similar to the early Bridget Riley images. The scientific images are compelling, imaginative and visually simulating. From those images it was clear that compelling images could be made from an abstract process.
Photograms are images made without a lens. They are made with light and some analogue or digital process to make the image permanent. They create images in a similar why to a shadow. The history of the photogram runs in parallel with photography. When a permanent means of fixing an image was discovered, the photogram and photographic process developed hand in hand. Some practitioners included Anna Atkins, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy , May Ray amongst many others. The images have a very strong graphic quality which is unlike typical photographic images. They tend to have layered types of composition because the images are typically produced by have objects in contact with the light sensitive material. An X-Ray is a good example of a photogram. It is produced by having an object ( a hand for example) in contact with a photographic plate that is sensitive to x-ray light. When the light ( x-rays) is shone on the object a negative is produced.
For the project orthochromatic film that was not sensitive to red light was used to create the images. The images were created on to negatives using pieces of glass to reflect and defract light to create patterns. These negatives were then printed up using a traditional techniques . This involved printing 20″x24″ prints on fiber based photographic paper and grading the images to achieve good contrast and clarity in the images.
The final result was a set of images that mapped nebulous notions into fixed tones on paper.