It was a class of complete mystery to me as I’d never heard of them before nor had I ever set foot in a dark room. However, the learning curve was pretty quick and all became clear...actually the photographic paper was pretty clear of images too until I fathomed out the light/time exposure thing a little better so say nothing of using the paper the correct way round shiny side up! Still, we all have to start somewhere!
I was so interested in this process from the first session that I have tried to do some using sunlight but to date, have failed to produce an image on both occasions. One lot because I put them into the developer which I shouldn’t have done (lesson No.1 for the day!), these all turned out completely black and the others because I didn’t leave them long enough, these all turned out completely white. One extreme to the other! I’ve done a bit of reading since and armed with a third lot of photographic paper (thank you kind and patient Tutor Richard…), I will be trying again.
Whilst reading, I found the Widewalls website which had lots of information on more contemporary photogram artists. Following on from this site to the individual artists’ websites was fascinating!
One of these artists is Susan Derges who placed photographic paper on the bed of the River Bovey allowing it to be exposed to the light of the moon (aided by a flashlight) and the results are simply stunning (see left).
This image hovers on the border of ethereal fantasy to me (as per example to the left) and seems to almost exude tranquillity and calm.
Another artist whose images I was particularly drawn to was Dan Peyton who produces cyanotypes which is a similar process to photograms but uses an iron salt process. Admittedly, I had to look up what cyanotypes were but quickly realised that this is how the old blue prints were produced.
This is a completely different "blue" to the one created by Derges. This is the "blue-print" I remember handling before the days of the big printers and plotters came along which are now commonplace in Engineers and Architects design design studios.
As technology improved, costs of equipment reduced and self printing became far more economical and convenient to achieve. As a result, the commercial application of this chemical process fell away, relegated now to an art form it seems. This has got to be the basic fundamentals of supply & demand economics accompanied by ease and convenience working at its best! It’s difficult to imagine that this was a process originally invented in 1841 by Sir John Herschel yet I can clearly recall it being used in my professional lifetime. Technology really has come on leaps and bounds or have I just got older and have a long memory?!
The Tate has an article entitled “Out of the light, into the shadows” which was issued in Spring 2015 (Issue 33). It covers a fairly detailed history on the photogram and interestingly there’s a comment in there about a darkening effect that sunlight had on a jar of silver nitrate solution in 1727 noticed by Schulze who used the solution to soak a piece of gypsum and then create a word on it by placing letter stencils on it. 1727 origins…wow.
I’m not so keen on the work of Thomas Ruff and the really large scale pieces he’s done using 3D modelling software. It all seems very contrived and a bit lacking to me…not sure exactly in which way it lacks but it doesn’t make me feel interested and enthused as the prior two examples.
Maybe the lack of “something” is to do with the fact that he said he wanted to break the world record for the largest photogram…if that’s the driver behind the large scale work then it’s not exactly going to be a project that’s artistic priority by definition, may be that’s what I don’t “get”.