Saturday, May 23, 2009

Photograms - Photos without Cameras

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of attending an exhibit at the Frankel Gallery in San Francisco that featured photograms. Photograms are photographic images made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a photo-sensitive material such as photographic paper and then exposing them to light. The result is a negative shadow image . Man Ray is most often attributed with bringing this method into the art world, although he called his works, “rayographs”.
Man Ray Rayograh

You may have experimented with a relative of photograms if you have made "sun prints" using blue architect's paper which, when exposed to the sun, turns white. Perhaps you laid leaves across it, put down your hand, or created a composition with kitchen objects before exposing it to the sun and developing it in the kitchen sink using running water. These are photograms. The forms block the light, leaving white or gray imprints, like shadows, on the paper or film when it is developed. Opaque objects leave white areas because no light gets through them; translucent objects leave shades of gray.

River Taw 19
Susan Derges is an internationally recognized photographic artist, also uses this technique in her work . She focuses primarily on landscapes. River Taw 19 is one of her more notable images.

The German painter, graphic artist and poet, Max Ernst is considered to be one of the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism. He, too, experimented with photograms. Photograms became a signature trademark with many of the Dada artists.

Mr. Knife Miss Fork

Photograms are a good way to teach composition, shape, and value. They can be made with a sheet of photographic paper with objects put on top. The sheet and objects are arranged under the enlarger and exposed for about 30 seconds with a wide aperture (e.g. f 5.6 or wider). The paper is then developed according to normal procedures. Photograms are one-of-a-kind prints, because once the objects are removed from the paper, that particular arrangement is gone. Photograms invite experimentation with different objects and techniques. Using a flashlight, for example, would give very different lighting than the enlarger. Liquids on glass (cliché verre), cellophane, coal pitch, chemical salts on glass ("crystallography"), and moving beams of light have all be experimented with to create different effects.

László Moholy-Nagy
László Moholy-Nagy was a Hungarian painter and photographer as well as professor in the Bauhaus school. He was highly influenced by constructivism and a strong advocate of the integration of technology and industry into the arts. Moholy-Nagy's cameraless images bore the name that we most often use now with this class of images, "Photograms." He was interested in photography as a medium of light and form, not sentiments or personal feelings that are the concerns of other art forms.

Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenk was a Russian artist, sculptor, photographer and graphic designer. He was one of the founders of constructivism and Russian design is also a notable creator of photograms. His images suggest someone who is no longer there, the absence of body, yet the resonance of history.

This piece, entitled, Shadographia, was created by Christian Schad in Stuttgart. Schad was a German painter associated with Dada and the New Objectivity movement.

Free Radicals
Len Lye, born Leonard Charles Huia Lye was a New Zealand-born artist known primarily for his experimental films and kinetic sculpture. "Free Radicals" was among a number of his more notable photograms.

Adam Fuss’ images have depicted babies, water droplets, christening dresses, moving light, snakes, sunflowers, rabbit entrails, and human skulls. His work was on display at the Frankel the day I went.

If you have access to a darkroom, you might want to check out these instructions on how to make your own photogram.

1 comment:

Artist Victoria O'Neill said...

interesting.....sorta kinda makes me think of pin hole cameras too.

Stacy Alexander