Thursday, 4 November 2010

Catching Shadows: Camera-less Photography at the V&A

Friday 29th October 2010
more like.

‘Camera-less photography’ is a marvellous juxtaposition of a phrase. Since the quintessence of photography depends so much on photosensitive surfaces being fixed with shadows on light-sensitive paper, we’d expect this to be done with a camera.
So how would you go about producing photography, without the use of a camera?
This show stages the alternatives of photography from five contemporary artists: Floris Neusüss, Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller and Adam Fuss. They bring to the table two wonderful techniques: the Chemigram and the Photogram.
The Photogram:
This is done by placing an object in contact with a photosensitive surface and in the dark, exposing both to light. Where the object blocks the light, either partially or fully, its shadow is recorded on paper.
The photogram introduces a new perspective in the world of photography in the sense that it can represent something that has not been invented or seen before, as opposed to images made with a camera, which imply a documentary role. All elements that make up a photograph – colour, light, detail – is stripped away; the result is a raw essence of the composition, a sort of dominating serenity and a striking movement to a still image. The viewer is encouraged to consider the spirit of form.

All this is seen in Floris Neusüss’ Körperfotogramm series from the 60s. In ‘Untitled’ from 1962, the image suggests a rapid motion frozen in time. The figure appears to float or leap as though caught in space which could imply dreams of flight or nightmares of falling. The best thing about this piece is that you gain a spectacular sense that a photogram is ‘not a reproduced print, it is a contact picture’, in the words of Floris Neusüss himself.

'Untitled' (Korperfotogramm), 1962

We have Pierre Cordier to thank for the ‘Chemigram’ technique he invented in 1956. He has explored the potential of the chemigram over the years with the discipline of an experimental scientist – and it shows through his work: one notes Cordier’s fondness for labyrinth patterns, textures and such.

The Chemigram:
Such a unique style merits an equally unique method: a chemigram is made directly by manipulating the surface of the paper with varnishes, oils and photographic chemicals which is produced in full light. Further changes to shape and pattern are made by ‘localising’ products such as wax, glue, egg and syrup which protect the surface of the photographic emulsion. Slightly unorthodox, but what isn’t these days.

Pierre Cordier, 'Chemigram 20/3/92 "from La Suma of Jorge Luis Borges", 1992. Museum no. E.859-2010, © Courtesy of Pierre Cordier.
'Chemigram 20/3/92 "from La Suma of Jorge Luis Borges"
 This method allows Cordier to create images difficult to realise by any other means. The viewer is drawn in by the level of detail, the new forms, and the strangeness of the unseen which covers all the content by the other artists.
Particularly like Adam Fuss’ ‘Invocation’ from 1992, part of his array of illustrative motifs. The image is described as a baptism, but the title, suggests an earnest prayer – seen through the vulnerable gesticulation. Looking at it from first glance and you really feel the energetic vibes given off by the vibrant yellow, centred by the urgency of the baby.
Adam Fuss, 'Invocation', 1992. Museum no. E.693-1993, © Courtesy of Adam Fuss/V&A Images
Hats off to the curators, the show was originally laid out with simple black walls and white lights in which the foot path meandered geometrically like a maze. The Jazz trio was a treat to hear and aid to easygoing mood of the evening.
I loved the show, it’s an evening well spent. Take a friend, a parent, someone, anyone.
This is the era of the faux-tographers.

Kitty rating of: *****

1 comment:

  1. The layout was carefully designed. Nice choice of picture – its colours and majestic detail blend well with the calm/simple pastel background. Very well written and your fluid explanation of the technique lays out the concept with such clarity – one wants to go again!