Saturday, 19 February 2011

SHADOW CATCHERS Camera-less Photography

mmmmmmmmm I've just unwrapped the cellophane! New book. Don't you just love books, and it's a new photography book to boot! Last weekend of the exhibition is the only reason I can think of that when I decided to treat myself I had a pleasant surprise at the till that it was only £35 not the £39.95 cover price. I do believe you can get it even cheaper from Amazon...but me being me wanted it NOW! (Barnes M. Shadow Catchers Camera-less Photography Merrel Publishers London.New York 2010)

I was supposed to go to an OCA meet in December to visit Shadow Catchers, but the snow snowed and the trains didn't run. Fortunately for me I decided to check last night the times for a possible visit next week, during half-term, to discover that tomorrow (Sunday) is the last day. Quick decision made to go today.

At the very dawn of photography the first photographic images were formed without cameras, Adam Fuss, one of the exhibitors is quoted in the V&A leaflet as saying " We're so conditioned to the syntax of the camera. We don't realise we're running on only half the visual alphabet. It's so boring this way of seeing. It's killing us. In their simplicity, photograms give the alphabet unfamiliar letters. What is seen has never been in a camera. Life itself is the image. Viewers sense it. They feel the difference".

I can understand what he is saying but not everyone has the opportunity or even wants to pursue their art/photography in the same way and just as I would not be critical of a different genre, I don't think I would be critical of another's way of producing their chosen imagery; there is room for both, just as some choose large format camera's that deliberately slow them down, some chose to stick with 35mm film and others embrace the digital world.

This exhibition shows what can be achieved with a little experimentation and simple (?) exposure techniques and does remind us all of what went before and what can be part of the future.

There were 5 artists on display, Floris Neususs, Pierre Cordier, Garry Fabian Miller, Susan Derges and Adam Fuss. Interestingly 3 are British. Whilst I appreciated them all, some images stuck with me while others left no real memory. I wish I had had someone tagging along with me that I could now discuss the images with , and more so the plaques beside them. Do the artists advise what should be written or does the curator decide what they "think" the creators want to say? Am guessing it is a mixture of both. I so wanted to laugh out loud at some of them and was wondering if anyone else felt the same? I can be terribly irreverent when faced with the overtly serious......Whatever my take on "blurb" the images are fine examples of handcrafted photographs (using techniques such as Chemigram, Digital C-print, Dye destruction print, gelatin-silver print, luminogram and photogram Processes and Techniques) that are visually striking. Overheard comment, on Susan Derges, which again made me laugh "Oh I wonder how these were made? I bet they were digitally altered......"

Information for teh following was taken from the museum leaflet and the Shadowcatchers book (Barnes M. Shadow Catchers Camera-less Photography Merrel Publishers London.New York 2010)
Floris Neususs Metamorphoses

Neususs' earliest camera-less pictures date back to the 1950's and were influenced by the Bauhaus, Surrealism and performance art and he has dedicated his whole career to extending the practice, study and teaching of the photogram, some of his most stunning images were of whole body photograms. Quoting again from the V&A leaflet he states "In the photogram, Man is not depicted, but the picture of him comes into being by the act of imagination." This is so true. Parts of the body in contact with the paper are sharp and of a darker hue, the more distant the more faded and soft. Some he has treated and fixed only in places so that over time they will deliberately alter. Definitely a living piece of art. Another fascinating concept is the installation piece where theatrically a chair stands on the photographic paper, which retains the shadow of a person now absent from the seat. The title "Be right Back" can be described as poignant because as time passes, the person may never return, or if they do they shall be older and changed. I really liked his images.

Floris Neusüss 

Pierre Cordier Labyrinths

Pierre Cordier also emerged from the post-Second World War art-photography movement and has been described as bridging "the gap between the European avant garde of the 1920's and 1930's and the present." (Barnes M. Shadow Catchers Camera-less Photography Merrel Publishers London.New York 2010 p8) He discovered the chemigram in November 1956 and has pioneered it's use ever since. He experiments with many types of substances from sandwich spreads to nail varnish! Working as a painter or printmaker more than a photographer he replaces the canvas with photographic paper. Due to the difficulty in classifying this technique the process  is largely absent from the history of art and photography. Many of his images are based on pieces of work by other artists such as Paul Klee or the labyrinth pattern at the Abbey of St Bertin,St Omer, France. Although I enjoyed the intricate patterns of his images these were not among my favourites, with his "Minimal Photography 1970" leaving me thinking 'ok...we've all seen squares before.....' that is probably the Neanderthal in me ;o) Another one of those difficulties where do you have to appreciate the process of achieving the image before you can appreciate the image itself? It is all interlinked really,but we have all seen squares before :oP

Pierre Cordier 

Susan Derges Elements

Susan Derges is best known for her images of water, an entrancing theme and constant metaphor in her work. I loved her early exploration into sound. German physicist Ernst Chladni, found that if he scattered fine sand onto a square metal plate and made it vibrate by drawing a violin bow across its edge the sand shifted into geometric patterns. Derges recreated this by applying electronic waves of differing frequency to an aluminium plate covered with photographic paper. The patterns on the paper were formed by a fine coating of Carborundum powder (a mineral often used in printmaking). One of my favourite series of hers on display is 'Vessel No. 3' in which a jar of toad spawn was placed above an enlarging lens and a flashlight was used to make the exposures on the paper below. The series follows the spawn, to mini toads, to an empty jar. I loved them :o) Many of her simple exposures of ice and water were also stunning and the four works depicting dreamlike landscapes representing the four seasons, that made up Arch (2007-8) were simply breathtaking.

Susan Derges

 Garry Fabian Miller Illuminations

Many of Miller's works explore the cycle of time and his clever use of a photographic enlarger and glass vessels filled with water has led to some stunning images of plants. He investigates the properties of light and time. Moving away from plants he began to create luminograms using glass vessels and cut-paper shapes with a dye-destruction paper.

While I really liked his simple patterns and the colours I really can't get my head around the emotive language used to describe his motivations and images. I can be spiritual and have a sense of the natural world, can identify with connection of oneness with the world that artists feel or strive to feel but when I read some statements all I hear in my mind is the clip from Educating Rita when her housemate declares "don't you just ADORE Mahler?"

Sadly I didn't think to write them down so I could be shot down and told 'of course that is what is there' and again who am I to doubt the intentions or interpretations of an image. an example from the book however describes one from the Petworth series on Night Towers (2001) ....".. the windows of the latter have become clusters of imagined tower blocks (ok I see that) ...The gridiron shapes also suggest the mapping out of streets from above (yep can see that too) also bear an uncanny resemblance to images of DNA sequences....It is as if in Night Towers a blueprint for human existence." hmmmmmm........ Sometimes I feel like the child in the Emperor's new clothes. Not feeling comfortable with the blurb has not stopped me from enjoying works such as "Breathing in the Beech Wood...." and "Delphinium". His minimalist approach lends a powerful gravitas to the results.

Garry Fabian Miller

Adam Fuss Emblems

Fuss started out as a commercial photographer and shortly after taking photographs of Old Master prints moved into making his own work, photographing the insides of abandoned New York Warehouses (note to self to see if I can find any examples as it may help with images of my place of work) He appeared to already be looking for marginal spaces that became a theme in his later work. An accident while using a pin-hole camera then led him to experiment with camera-less imagery.

Another artist whose work I enjoyed looking at more than reading about. Take for example, the flock of birds taking off in flight.. "in one image a bird is singled out, surrounded by a halo of others, as if being protected and guided on its ascent". (p152) In his images I can see symbolism and emblems that are being spoken of, the influence of the Shaker community in the simplicity of his untitled ladder for example but what it doesn't do, for me at least, as inferred by the text is "implicates the viewer in a journey towards an out-of-body experience, a kind of revelation." (p153) I see a ladder, I can see the symbolism it is meant to represent....but I see a ladder? Is it just me?

Adam Fuss

Reflecting on the exhibition as a whole it is clear that whilst each of these artists  have created a distinctive and unique body of work they are linked by the camera-less image and revel in the freedom of not being trapped by the confines made all too evident with use of a camera. Is it photography? Is it art? Is it a hybrid? Who knows, but if the images are pleasing and inspirational does it matter what process was used and what eventually experts decide to classify it? Also contrary to my own complaint of verbose descriptions accompanying some of the images, does it matter what the artist wants you to read into their work if you like to look at it and it makes you feel or think or experience? I guess you could look deeper and start to go into Roland Barthes and "The Death of the Author" but not having delved that deeply into him or this essay as yet I don't feel overly qualified to draw that analogy just yet :o)

I enjoyed the exhibition and not only did I walk away having viewed interesting work I have come away asking lots of questions which can only be a good thing :o)

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