Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chemigrams in Tuscany

chemigram (as photogravure)

A guest post by Franco Marinai

Chemigrams are images produced on photosensitive material by light and photographic chemicals.  They require no camera, no negative, no enlarger or darkroom.  In fact, you make a chemigram in daylight.  You can make it outdoors in the sun if you like, or in the shade of olive trees.

In Serrazzano, a hilltop village in Tuscany not far from Volterra, I make them in an old stable that we have restored to accommodate a printmaking workshop and a photographic darkroom.  In good weather - and it is often quite good - I work outside, in the courtyard of Villa Beltrami, the manor house, or in the piazza inside the medieval walls.


the courtyard

the piazza

If we speak of the chemigram as a process, we might say that it is all about the action of photographic chemicals, fixer and developer, on the emulsion of photographic paper - or on photographic film, which I favor in my own work.  It results in a unique artifact that, if successful, yields mesmerizing and otherworldly imagery like no other photographic or alternative photographic process.  You have no doubt had occasion to study chemigrams throughout this blog; if you care to see a few examples of my own work transforming chemigrams to photogravure, click here or here.

The ancient hills around Serrazzano are rich in minerals, and in earlier times provided the semi-precious stones that embellished the furniture of the lavish villas of the Medicis.  Nowadays mining is no longer pursued, but the geological wealth of the region still can be seen in the stones used in all varieties of local construction.  The patterns in them inspire me, and are often reflected in my chemigram images.

local stones

chemigram (as photogravure)

the darkroom

While some have compared a chemigramist to a poet taking risks, tinkering with lines (the dark are developed lines, the light are fixed lines), I like to think that making a chemigram is a performance.  It is a lively performance that features invention and discovery, surprises and screw-ups.  The performer must plan, and also be ready to improvise and deal with chance.  She needs a good dose of luck, a cool head, and the presence of mind to make decisions such as when or if to move the emergent chemigram from one bath to another, or whether to use hot water, or change the temperature of the chemicals or their concentration.

When the performance is over - after a few minutes (rarely), several hours, or even a whole night - the result is a unique object, a chemigram, which is a detailed record of that very same performance.  That's because at close examination a chemigram reveals how it came about.  In fact, with some experience, one can tell which outline came before another or which shape preceded another.  So a chemigram is complete picture of its own history, a remarkable two-dimensional representation of the motion of time.

chemigram (as photogravure)

Time is felt everywhere in Serrazzano, and not only in chemigrams: its quiet, steady passing is present in the very earth, the walls, and the ancient buildings.  Serrazzano is first mentioned in a document from the eleventh century, but its origins go back to Etruscan times more than a thousand years earlier.  After a day spent making chemigrams, I like to relax with a drink on the terrace and idly muse on things, or I may choose to get out and explore the bounty of the region, the profusion of grapes, olives, and mushrooms, in the same way Julius Caesar must have done when his legions marched through here in the first century before Christ, heading towards Gaul.  Did they prepare the way for chemigrams?

the terrace
the olive trees

the sheep

an abandoned olive oil mill

TwoCentsPress - Printmaking in Serrazzano is a project to give fellow artists the opportunity to work and live in an extraordinary setting at a very reasonable price.  The project includes accommodations within the historic castle of Serrazzano and 24/7 access to a workshop fully equipped for all intaglio techniques and a darkroom for B&W and alternative photographic processes.  Set in an unspoiled corner of Tuscany, surrounded by pristine and protected forests, it is the perfect place for an artist to concentrate and recharge.  It will provide you with an exceptional experience that you will treasure and wish to return to time and time again.

Visit us online at www.twocentspress.com or on instagram at twocentspress.  You can reach me directly at info@twocentspress.com.  Ciao!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Why is Chargesheimer so overlooked?

Chargesheimer, ca. 1948

He clandestinely cut out one of his lungs to avoid having to serve in Hitler's Wehrmacht.  The father, who we know little of, was either a card-carrying Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer, so the young man dumped his given name (Karl-Heinz Hargesheimer), called himself simply Chargesheimer, and left home for good.

By 1942 or 1943 he was studying photography, painting, graphic arts, even set design, at different schools in Cologne, and later in Munich.  Returning to Cologne, he began working the streets, photographing workers in bars, schoolkids kicking a football, lovers in doorways, mothers searching for food, and all the dispossessed and the lost who were trying to regain a foothold in life: it was the end of WW II and Cologne was in ruins.

Chargesheimer, Unter Krahnenbäumen, 1958

Chargesheimer, Im Ruhrgebiet, 1957

Chargesheimer, Kissing Couple, ca. 1950

With his camera it was as if he had uncovered a resilience in his people, and he found a deep joy in documenting it.  This would become the theme of a series of books, reviled at first by the city's elders as 'disrespectful' but later celebrated, that he published in the 1950s: Cologne intime, Unter Krahnenbäumen, Im Ruhrgebiet.  To support himself meanwhile he sold photos to newspapers and ad agencies, took assignments in theater as set designer, and eventually - the curve of his early years is steep - directed productions of Eugene O'Neill, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Max Frisch.

To many people today, Chargesheimer is best remembered for another of his sidelines, portrait photography (didn't he already have enough to do?)   He developed a personal style using low angles, tight close-ups and stark contrast, which had the cumulative effect of transforming his living subjects into icons or masks whose power, sometimes hinted at by just the trace of a smile, was undeniable; by the late 1960s they graced the covers of magazines across Europe.  His portraits of Konrad Adenauer, Romy Schneider, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Louis Armstrong and others remain in the popular mind among his most singular achievements.  Here's one though that will be new to many:

Chargesheimer, Josephine Baker, 1956

He developed another reputation in Cologne as well, this one darker, more destructive: as the irascible rebel, the original bad boy.  With glee he would spit in the face of donors and benefactors as the mood suited him; he loved to shake things up.  His 1956 exposition of portraits of the city's leaders in finance and politics caused an outrage: he purposely neglected to fix the photos and in the course of the show they yellowed and deteriorated.  Another time, at a certain point in the premiere of Luigi Nono's Intolleranza at the Cologne Opera, he suddenly projected giant swastikas and concentration camp pictures onto the backdrop and set off a near riot in the audience.

But in fact, it is his disregard for correctness that leads us to why we're talking about him today.  To back up a bit, as soon as he learned how to take photographs and develop them, the much younger Chargesheimer also began experimenting with breaking the very rules he had learned.  He began making photographs without a camera.  What??  Yes, and he mixed materials of different viscosities with fixer or developer, smeared them on paper or glass, then developed the result.  OMG.  He dripped his chemistry or spun it around or raked it with improvised tools, in a freewheeling manner that owed nothing to anyone.  Stop right here.  Isn't this, in a way, an extension of a very old tradition going back to Talbot in 1835, passing through cliché-verres and glassprints?  Well, you could argue that it is but that's beside the point: he just did what felt natural to him, and he kept pushing it in a direction where one picture led to another and another.  The imagery that emerged was airy, lyrical, full of curves and swirls and streakiness, and it seemed without effort.  It still remains breathtaking.  We could go further: this body of work, made off and on from 1946 to 1950, comprising a few dozen pictures at most, is unique in the history of photography and stands apart from everything else he did before or after.  Let's look at some examples.

Chargesheimer, White, 1948

Chargesheimer, ca. 1948

Chargesheimer, ca. 1948

Chargesheimer, ca. 1948

Chargesheimer, Figurative Composition, 1950

By the end of 1940s the rebirth of German photography was well underway.  Emerging photographers were revisiting the lessons of the Bauhaus, suppressed by Hitler, and studied the teachings of Moholy-Nagy with his doctrine of the primacy of the emulsion ('the essential tool of the photographic process is not the camera, but the photosensitive layer').  Otto Steinert and Heinz Hajek-Halke in 1949 launched a movement that embraced this thinking called Fotoform, which later splintered into groups like Subjective Photography and Concrete Photography (Europeans are good with balkanization), all the while maintaining a nearly absolute commitment to abstract or non-figurative work.  Chargesheimer, keeping to himself, chose his own trajectory but was not immune to the creative currents around him: he participated in the big Photokina show in Cologne in 1950 and again for several years thereafter.  When Steinert invited his young student Pierre Cordier to show what Cordier had dubbed 'chemigrams' at Photokina in 1958, it's safe to assume that Chargesheimer saw them.

While all this was happening, at some point in the mid to late 1950s Chargesheimer's cameraless work changed markedly.  Gone were the bold swoops, the confident strokes, the muscular attitude of the earlier period.  Instead of shouting, they seemed to whisper.  They were small, tentative even.  He gathered this work in a one-off book entitled Lichtgrafik - Monoskripturen, then stopped producing altogether. This image is typical:

Chargesheimer, Lichtgrafik, 1961

To be generous you could call them delicate, and some of you may really like them which is okay, but you don't go to Chargesheimer for delicate and anyway it's not that, it's less.  It's not known what precisely caused this change, whether it was seeing too much Hajek-Halke or whether it was something in his personal life, for he was known to suffer bouts of depression.  Perhaps too, as certain critics have speculated, he could have had a foreboding of his own irrelevance with a younger generation advancing on him.   His street photography changed as well, turner colder, unemotional.  His last book, Köln 5 Uhr 30, with its complete absence of human presence, was received with incomprehension.  For unknown reasons he went to the Berner Oberland in Switzerland and took photographs of basaltic rocks on the Eiger, entranced by their crystalline fractures.  These were the last photographs he made.  On New Year's Eve 1971 he committed suicide.

His grave in the Melaten Cemetery in Cologne was lost for years to overgrowth and neglect and was only rediscovered in the nineties.  Today, a small band of followers gather each May 19, his birthday, to pay tribute.

If you have read this far and want to see more of this essential artist, by all means go the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, holders of the major chunk of his work.  In America, the MoMA, the Getty, the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, and the Harvard Museums all have bits and pieces.  But beware: whether through laziness, inattention, or confusion, many of Chargesheimer's great nonfigurative pictures of the 1940s, the ones we're featuring here and are excited about, are labeled 'chemigram' - a crime perpetuated unfortunately by dealers, auctioneers, curators and museums on both sides of the Atlantic, who don't know what to do with them.  Of course these pictures are not chemigrams at all, as any chemigramist can see.  Perhaps you have to make a chemigram to know what one is.  Besides, the word 'chemigram' didn't exist back then, nor even the idea, the model, of how to do one, go ask Cordier its inventor.  If you want to get all technical you could call them cliché-verres or glassprints and we'd be fine with that.  Personally I prefer to call them cameraless photographs - or just plain pictures on photo emulsion.  You choose.

In any event send your indignation to the appropriate museum, starting with the Getty, as of this writing.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cinzia Naticchioni Rojas has an epiphany

Naticchioni-Rojas, Skins series, 2015
Naticchioni-Rojas, Skins series, 2015

Three years ago, in her Milan studio, Cinzia Naticchioni Rojas was working with photographic prints on ceramic tiles.  She had a problem - the images started detaching and floating off their support into the water.  'It was beautiful', she says, as she observed the images floating away.  She was impressed with the tough material nature of analog images, whose substance, she felt, is really the silver gelatin itself and not the paper it is bound to, a distinction often misunderstood.  'I realized suddenly that the image floating was the true and unique essence of photography.  Obviously it messed up my tile work, but for me it was like an epiphany.'

Her head now a jumble of new ideas, she switched away from ceramics and embarked on a careful course of research to see how she could develop this insight.  Accustomed as she was to various substrates in her photographic image-making, she continued along these lines, using the black & white liquid emulsion by Rollei (similar products are available from Rockland Colloid and from Foma).  She would apply the emulsion, let it dry, put it under the enlarger, and expose images onto it of her favorite subject, clouds (Cinzia's in love with clouds, maybe it's something about their stately movement, the way their slightest displacement seems thrilling - or then maybe not, we'll have to ask her).   In any event, by early 2015 she had figured out a way to peel off the emulsion, intact, from the substrate, but then what?  Where to go with it?

An architect by training, Cinzia tends to think in three dimensions.  She looks down at the globs of wet emulsion before her and sees a potential for creating space, for this is what architects do.  Dry it, make it rigid, stand it up, wrap things in it.  Call them 'skins'.  She could set the emulsion free, free to dance, fall, slump, or rest nonchalantly, the way the rest of us do at our most unmindful, waiting for time to unfold.  She found the emulsion had a mind of its own; she accepted this.  The best part was that it was autonomous and that it seemed to revel in its own surprising existence, if we can anthropomorphize it without going too far.  Representation at this stage now becomes something quite arbitrary, something we didn't need, an appurtenance, even a hindrance, something quaint and beside the point.  A faint trace of her beloved clouds does remain if you look hard, staining the crumpled emulsion, roiled and tarnished and eviscerated.  But no matter.

Naticchioni-Rojas, Skins series, 2015

Naticchioni-Rojas, Skins series, 2015

And what a great distance the sky has come, from heaven's abode to the mud of the darkroom.  We watch her skin-objects with fascination and awe; they are like skin-castles that we want to approach and inhabit, we want to live in them, never mind where they came from.  From this moment we feel she is holding out to us something of a life without obligation, without ties and complications, like a gambol in the woods in the company of shadows.

It is on such occasions that she appears to close in on the rich tradition of cameraless photography, while advancing on it from a unique and undeveloped direction: instead of carving into the emulsion, she lets it fly, instead of creating images from gelatin and silver salts she builds structures out of them.  Happily for us, she is not 'taking a picture' any more than a chemigramist or a bleach-etcher does, though some might argue, against popular sentiment, that this is the purest form of photography because is doesn't pretend in the least to represent: it is self-reflexive, it limits itself to ponder and wonder and celebrate the physicality of its own materials.  We will not yet speak of beauty.

Naticchioni-Rojas, Skins series, 2015

Her work is now at a crossroads between so-called photography and real photography and it's too early to tell what she will do next (she may do all of it).  The 'skins' series has given us good reasons to be tantalized.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Those painted photographs

Woman in overcoat, photobooth snapshot, anonymous hand-coloring, ca 1950, private collection

It's irresistible, the desire to touch the surface of a photo with brush or pen and thereby change it into something more expressive.  Often this involves color, whether adding color to a color photo (which is not the same as bringing coals to Newcastle) or adding it to a black and white photo, but it doesn't have to.  You may remember a rather delirious post from a few years ago on zombie prints and Lazarus prints (yes, they exist), on bringing prints back to life when you thought they were hopelessly dead.  Most of the artistic interventions shown there involved using marker pens to scribble a few lines to highlight or obliterate a figure, or to make a comment, ironic or slyly humorous.  Many of those lines were black or white as though in homage to the chemistry, but color works just as well - if not better.  Today we're going to look at a few ways color has been exploited to further enhance photos in a variety of artistic practices in recent years, and from this it is hoped the reader may discover ideas that he or she can use in their own work.

Martha Casanave, Girl with device, albumen print, hand-colored, 2009-2016

Not everyone is aware that coloring a photograph, or hand-coloring as it is commonly called (or hand-tinting), is as old as photography itself.  To render the earliest portraits more realistic (always thought to be a good thing) hand-coloring appeared in the 1830s practically with the invention of photography, and soon wealthy clients had their private colorist on call, a matter in their milieu of some prestige.  Methods employed by the colorists varied according to substrate, as photographic technology passed in rather short order from metal plates (daguerrotypes, tintypes) to glass plates (wet plate collodion) and finally to paper - I'm sure I'm skipping a step or two. Often a varnish or other medium was applied to the surface beforehand to insure an even adhesion, and water colors, oils, dyes, pastels each had their devotees as the main colorant vehicle.  The many manuals written on these efforts are still worth the while to peruse for the serious student of hand-coloring and can be found on the internet.

Luis Vasquez, postcard, hand-colored, ca 1940, private collection

Yet these developments were not without their detractors in the serious photographic community: many artists saw in hand-coloring a corruption of the pure photographic tones of the emulsion, regarded as sacrosanct - although hypocritically they didn't seem to mind retouching a photo here and there with drops of inks and dyes where necessary.  In any event, their fears receded when Kodak introduced the first widely available color film, Kodachrome, in 1935, and demand for hand-coloring slid into gradual decline, becoming no longer commercially viable by 1950 except within certain traditions, like the flamboyant hand-painted postcards from the workshop of Luis Vasquez in Mexico.  Traditional hand-coloring, meaning a practice perpetuating the aims, concerns and methods of the earlier era, and often but not exclusively based on the use of Marshall's Photo Oils, a staple of the trade, has today become a niche artisanal activity with its own distinct rewards and pleasures, though perhaps limited in reach.  An excellent example of what can be achieved is seen in some of Martha Casanave's work.

So from the sixties onward artistic intentions in the use of color shifted, with acrylics and gouache beginning to assume a more prominent role; this is especially seen in work where overpainting to the edge of opacity is more crucial than simple tinting.  The painted photographs that Saul Leiter executed for his private amusement in the closing decades of the twentieth century, after making a name for himself both in fashion and in street photography, are a case in point.  In their lyricism and utter abandon, Leiter has taken the notion of painted photographs to a culmination, so much so that the underlying photograph just nominally provides the support and occasion but otherwise is hardly visible.

Saul Leiter, ca. 1990

Saul Leiter, ca 1990

Saul Leiter, ca 1990

This leads us to think about other strategies for hand-coloring, if we can be bold enough to group widely disparate approaches under a common heading.  We must step back for a moment.  At the beginning there was the classic mode of an informed realism, filling in for the poverty of monochrome photography and using materials meant not to cover up but to enliven that photography.  It is true that this later became exaggerated at times to the level of kitsch (see Woman in overcoat), but that is not to diminish its accomplishments, for out if it came a body of methods of extreme subtlety and finesse; some of this heritage is alive and well today and put to high artistic purpose - go back and review Casanave's picture Wave Machine where only the starfish gets hand-colored, the other details having glanced off into a suspicious tangle of background.

William Klein, ca 1960-1990

William Klein's aggressive daubs over contact sheets from the 1960s is a result of a different meditation, one that looks back into drawers of old prints after years and disavows or re-embraces their attitude across the gap in time with a sort of schoolboy graphism, one that prefigures Lazarus prints and confers a revivified existence while sidestepping responsibilities of ownership.

William Klein, ca 1960-1990

At another extreme is the work of Anselm Kiefer, especially that part of it set in a timeless ether of intellectual history and unfulfilled promise, where multiple shades of grey invoke a retreating but ever-present past.  Here graphite and gouachy layers over photographs of uncertain provenance serve up the general mood; in the best of his pictures the effect is disturbing.

Anselm Kiefer, Leonardo Pisano, liber quadratorum, 2008
Anselm Kiefer, Sefiroth, 2002

Though not limited to photo-based work, one of the benefits of working with photos is that you can reprint them endlessly in trying out different painted looks or ways to proceed before you have to commit.  Kim Weston in recent years has turned to overpainting his photos of models and dancers, where the method seems well suited to that theatricalized world.  Here, in a talk in Carmel, he demonstrates how he can dress and re-dress his models at will, from a given photograph, to gauge the effect.

Kim Weston, from a talk in Carmel June 30, 2012

So a photograph is more than a picture, it is an opportunity, an open invitation.  When poet and singer Todd Colby was gifted with a trove of photographer's calling-cards from the pre-WWI era, he did the natural thing, he painted them.  Here are two:

Todd Colby, hand-colored vintage calling-card, 2017

Todd Colby, hand-colored vintage calling-card, 2017
These are extraordinary in their simplicity, and show how the artist's hand can change the prosaic into something quite dramatic, bizarre, and (maybe) beautiful.  Go Todd!

To close this post let me point out what should be obvious: that hand-coloring is not limited to the subjects of the real world.  In my own work of cameraless photography, untethered as it is to anything we usually call real, I find moments when I have an overwhelming inclination to smear on some paint, just to see what it does.

Douglas Collins, etched chemigram with hand-coloring, 2016

A philosopher once said a picture can be a picture of anything, if you expand the concept of picture sufficiently.  Or maybe Todd Colby said it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

'Photography in a narrow sense': Joachim Schulz

Schulz, Vase with flowers after Daniel Seghers, before 1637, 4/9, 2014-2016

There are different ways to get into the work of Joachim Schulz, some easy, some more demanding.  I took the easy route, poking through lush masses of flowers.  Who is heartless enough to resist that?  In my carefree summer mood the other day I didn't have a thought in the world for the past or future of photography and I was happy leaving its deconstruction to others.  Today what I wanted was fragrance, vibrancy, a delicacy of depth, a fervent softness.  By the merest chance some pictures by Schulz, then unknown to me, fell into my lap, the one above being one of them, and yes, that was it - I literally stopped breathing, I was gone.  

But with Schulz there is always a backstory, as I was to learn.  There is an object lesson, as if his pictures were moral tales, and often a tipping of the hat to another tradition, old or recent, or to a trail of perception almost lost because it had no champions to claim it until now, until Schulz came along.  'I do photography in a narrow sense,' he says.  More about that in a minute - back to the flowers.  

Here's what I know: he photographed, or scanned or downloaded, paintings of flowers by Flemish masters of the 17th century, which was the great period of the cartouche, the bouquet, and the garland, when wealthy burghers regarded no home complete without a painting abrim with flowers.  In Antwerp, Ghent, Utrecht and Brussels the production of such works employed hundreds of artists, if not thousands - it was on an industrial scale - not to speak of gardeners because without them you'd be nowhere.  While this was the time of Rubens and Breughel, most of the artists chosen by Schulz dedicated themselves exclusively to floral compositions and are not widely known today beyond a small circle of specialists and fans: de Fromantiou, Byss, de Heem.  But all were excellent with brush and pigment.

Next Schulz printed out the images, but not in the usual way.  He seems to have purposely jimmied the print nozzle, or perhaps he overrode the controller of the print mechanism - I haven't spoken with the artist so I'm inferring a lot here -  to allow abnormal splurges of ink to be discharged onto the print media, whether paper or acetate.  Some of you readers may have experienced the same thing but as a problem rather than a gift, when you had a mismatch of ink and media in your inkjet.  With Schulz, this surplus ink would pool and flow randomly, to create distorted forms in some areas while leaving other areas basically intact.  He didn't rest with this though but continued on, scanning the result back into his computer and printing it out again, again with the amplified print nozzle, to obtain a variation on the first print.  He repeated these steps nine times, generating what printmakers call a 'variable edition' of nine.  Alternatively you could call each print 'unique', which is what the Von Lintel Gallery of Los Angeles does in their current show of his work, Blumenstilleben, or Flower Still Lifes.  The prints there are presented as archival digital prints and measure 50 x 35 cm each.

To illustrate the changes a single image undergoes with this method, below are the first four prints (out of nine) Schulz made from a picture that Jacob van Hulsdonck painted back in 1608.  The evolution of the piece is fascinating; in its swerves and readjustments it recalls textbook diagrams of the development of an embryo, or of a city.  The concept of time is bound up within it.

Schulz, Flowers in a glass vase after Jacob van Hulsdonck, after 1608, 1/9, 2014-16

Schulz, Flowers in a glass vase after Jacob van Hulsdonck, after 1608, 2/9, 2014-16

Schulz, Flowers in a glass vase after Jacob van Hulsdonck, after 1608, 3/9, 2014-16

Schulz, Flowers in a glass vase after Jacob van Hulsdonck, after 1608, 4/9, 2014-16

Schulz brings to the task an incisive sense of modern themes and issues, from the seriality of the variable editions to his repetitive, almost industrialized method of production, in passing by the use of appropriation - taking earlier art and reworking it - a strategy as old as art itself but which in the right hands can still seem fresh and impudent.  He is foremost an experimentalist, and his work raises questions about what it is that we're looking at when we look at a photograph: are we the subjects after all, in the end, as we try to build an image from what the world has given us?  His earlier work could be viewed as a fairly odd set of photographic queries or conundrums that circle this, without ever arriving: from studies of the faint light emanating from the stage curtains of old movie houses to an essay on the patina coating decaying German bunkers as they slip into the sea.

Schulz, o.T. #3, framed behind glass, 72.5 x145.2 x 4.8 cm, 1999-2001

As to his flower still lifes, with their quirky shapes drifting lazily off the edge of the paper, their riotous color, it all makes for a highly engaging experience, rivaling what Bobby Bashir is doing more naively out in central California, and so unexpected too when considering his past efforts which make for somewhat dry viewing, truth be told.  But these flowers!  I wish he would tell me that it's OK to love them. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Push and chance in the work of Song and Yokota

Ajuan Song, Everything You Know About Love #5, Fuji Crystal C-print on acrylic and dibond, 11x14", 2016

There is a restlessness, a wayward energy, among young photographers today that we can no longer ignore here at the blog.  It is an energy which will take us forward to the next stage of photographic deployment, you can be sure of that; even if we don't always understand it, it is to be applauded.  It drowns all our efforts to be meticulous about pictures in the old ways.  It has been said that to invent the new you have to break all the rules.  But more and more, to our alarm and frozen fascination, it seems the young don't want to even learn the rules, they want to write their own.

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 39 1/4 x 31", archival pigment print, 2015

Take Ajuan "AJ" Song, a young Brooklyn-based artist.  She owns a Rolleiflex but she hardly uses it anymore: when she points it at a subject she complains that too much of her world, her dreamworld, is left out.  She likes the rolling chaos instead that is the chemigram, its unpredictability, its pushback, its surprise, and the thrill she gets when at a critical moment she finds ways to intervene and subdue it - or not subdue it, because that can be fine too, she'll live with that, it's like riding a wave, it's nervy. 

AJ belongs to a tradition that dates back to the origins of the modern ethos.  John Cage had said somewhere that clarity is an obstacle to understanding; we can invent our way out of it.  In a sense that's what we do with chemigrams and it's what AJ is joyfully grappling with, splashing chemistry with abandon, consorting with ghosts.  When you see some of her pictures in the current group show at the Arte Ponte Gallery on West 20th Street (arteponte.com) you realize something else too: she has elected to display her work in the very chic and contemporary mould of heavy acrylics and dibond, not in the shopworn, fusty scheme of 'unique original work' so clamored by a diminishing handful of galleries nostalgic for an outflanked model.  There is a split in the ranks and AJ has unabashedly chosen her side.

Ajuan Song, Everything You Know About Love #2, Fuji Crystal C-print on acrylic and dibond, 11x14", 2016

Daisuke Yokota is of the same generation as AJ but has been subverting and reinventing the norms for nearly a decade and he hasn't slowed down yet.  Performance art, installations, photography, and photobooks have all been radically reimagined by him; often for example he will create a photobook on the spot before an audience and sell out the limited edition before leaving the building.  In 2015 he created a large series of color abstract photographs called, appropriately, Color Photographs, using layers of large-format color film stock which he 'developed' cameralessly and abusively with heat, light, and perhaps acids (help me out here, readers!), then scanned, blew up, possibly re-photographed (a favorite strategy of his) and printed as archival pigment prints.  The best of them have a raw unworldly beauty unlike anything I have seen.  In interviews however Yokota skirts the word 'beauty'.  He speaks of exploring the materiality of film, much the way some of us do in the chemigram community when speaking of the stubborn thereness of the photographic emulsion.  An interviewer asked him whether his work channels emotions.  'I never trust the emotional feeling in making works,' he said.  'It's too vulnerable.  I don't make work to express my feelings; it's more like burning them.'

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 78 x 64", archival pigment print, 2015

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 78 x 64", archival pigment print, 2015

Daisuke Yokota, untitled, 39 1/4 x 31", archival pigment print, 2015

Yokota's work has been seen at Paris Photo, Photo London, Rencontres d'Arles and elsewhere, even at ICP in New York.  Most recently the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam (foam.org) sent a group show to the Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn (redhooklabs.com) featuring Yokota, among others of similar avant-garde bent.  He lives and works in Tokyo.  His gallery is the G/P Gallery of Tokyo.