Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where you can look at chemigrams this winter

Turnbull, numerical structure 2, 2012

The Hosmer Gallery is located at the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts, about a 2-hour drive west from Boston.  Very soon you'll be able to see some of Richard Turnbull's work from 2010-2012 there, in a much anticipated show running February 1 to February 28, 2013.  Am I giving it all away by saying that my favorite is the surprising, apocalyptic 'glyph studies 1'?

Turnbull, glyph studies 1, 2012
Meanwhile, down in Pennsylvania Norm Sarachek is having a show at Santa Bannon Fine Art in Bethlehem from December 7 to December 30, 2012, featuring his new 'Steel Works' series.

Sarachek, Steel Works 1, 2012

Sarachek, Steel Works 2, 2012

He follows that up with another show at the Perkins Center for the Arts in southern New Jersey which runs from February 9 to March 23, 2013, because you'll need to see more of this fine artist.

The inventor of the so-called chromoskedasic variation in chemigrams, Dominic Man-Kit Lam, recently concluded a huge show with over 100 works at the Shanghai Art Museum (China) this past October 2012 entitled 'Vision of Harmony'.  He also spoke at the event, and an inspirational video of it has been posted on YouTube.

Man-Kit Lam, from Vision of Harmony, 2012

Man-Kit Lam, from Vision of Harmony, 2012
Man-Kit Lam, installation view, Vision of Harmony, 2012

Back in New York, Eva Nikolova is exhibiting chemigrams from her new series 'Ordinary Disappearances', which offer imaginary but quite emotional Balkan landscapes from and about memory, triggered by a trip to her homeland after many years' absence.  The show is at the Grady Alexis Gallery in El Taller Latinoamericano in upper Manhattan and runs from November 26, 2012 to January 9, 2013.

Nikolova, untitled IV, 2012

Nikolova, untitled VI, 2012

A blog regular, Nolan Preece, is presenting both chemigrams and glassprints at the PUB Gallery, Wildflower Village, Reno, Nevada from November 29, 2012 to January 15, 2013.

Chemigramist Douglas Collins exhibited in the recent Alternative Processes Competition at Soho Photo in lower Manhattan from November 7 to December 1, 2012.  He will also be in the annual group show at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California, from January 12 to March 1, 2013.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The classic reach of some recent chemigrams

Preece, Ag Conglomerate, 2012

Nolan Preece is a chemigramist, which is to say he makes pictures on photographic paper using, basically, the simplest of means, developer and fixer.  No camera, no darkroom, no enlarger.  Since he has spoken with us often about his artistic methods, I thought I’d leave him alone in the Nevada desert for a while with his projects, no need to bother him.  That is, until one day recently when he sent in a picture of his latest work, Ag Conglomerate, shown above.

The scale and aspiration of Ag Conglomerate shot an immediate rush of recognition through me.  Where had I seen this device before?  

I remember now: that heap of pictorial elements rising toward an apex in a kind of emotional crescendo somehow caused me to think of Tintoretto’s Ascent to Calvary (1567) or Rubens’ altarpiece for the abbey of Afflighem, Christ Carrying the Cross (1637), the best version of which may be an oil sketch completed a few years earlier and now hanging in a museum in Berkeley, California.  The size certainly helps too.

Rubens, Christ Carrying the Cross, U. of California Berkeley, 1632

But there is also the basic structural gambit, that pyramid of multitudes of interchangeable parts that grow into a great, rankless disturbance, each part in the act of rising, tossing, or falling.  The hierarchy in each artist’s imagery is fluid and impermanent; there’s an uncanny resemblance in the way each is organized, even though one was created on commission from a powerful, wealthy institutional client many centuries ago and the other essentially on a notion and a shoestring just yesterday.  The two pictures are conjoined in my mind like blood relatives.

Preece, Ag Conglomerate, detail, 2012

I had to ask him how he did it, not the conception but the details.  Here’s what he tells me.  He starts his chemigram by applying an acrylic resist to a standard piece of 8x10” photo paper.  Before the resist dries, he impresses substances into it, the way one uses a soft ground in etching.  He then proceeds to the chemigramic fix-develop-fix routine, and once that’s done to his satisfaction he washes and dries the print.  Next, he then takes it over to his Epson 4990 scanner and scans it, using Silverfast as the scanning software.  He sets the output to the largest he thinks he’ll need, 48x72” at 300 ppi.  From there the image is pulled into Photoshop Camera RAW to work over the color balance, density and contrast of the image plus give pre-sharpening.  The laborious part is coming up: using the clone-stamp tool in Photoshop to rid the scan of dust spots, a process that can take hours, switching magnifications back and forth depending on the size of the desired print.  He calls this ‘dust farming’ the image.  Nolan has a nice little short-cut here – he sets the Photoshop noise filter to ‘dust and scratches’, radius 2, threshold 20, which cleans up most of the small stuff.  When he’s finally done, he does a ‘crop test’, cropping a small representative area of the print as a sample to print out and get an idea of what the whole print will look like.

His friend Dave Staley operates a digital photo lab nearby in Reno called Outdoor Plus.  Nolan takes him the file and they consult on any further adjustments needed.  Once they’re ready, the file is routed to Dave's Light Jet, a continuous-tone, digital C type printer, and the final print is made on Fuji Crystal Archive, a silver-based photo paper that Nolan loves for its rich color saturation.  Now he’s ready to go for mounting and framing and that’s it.  Ag Conglomerate will be the first of a new series.  Keep an eye on his website for more.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Remembering Lotte Jacobi


Jacobi c. 1946
She got off the ship in New York harbor in 1935 with her Leica and a few names, not many.  Her circle in Berlin had started to fragment, the artists, dancers and actors she so loved to photograph that had been her life, and it was time to leave.  She also left behind some 10,000 negatives, now lost, and a business that had been in her family for four generations: her great-grandfather Samuel had learned the art directly from Louis Daguerre in Paris in 1840.

Her sister Ruth, also a photographer, had preceded her to NY by a few years, spending time documenting Manhattan’s Lower East Side and doing portraits while Lotte was off photographing Jewish graves in Soviet Uzbekistan.  Reunited they set up a photo studio around 1938, perhaps near Times Square, perhaps not, and did portraits to pay the rent.  Lotte though was an uncompromising photographer and not every client liked her work.  Too close-up, too informal they said.  She was ahead of her time.  Years later this would become the style but not now.
Jacobi c. 1946

Jacobi c. 1946

Jacobi c. 1946

The close-knit émigré community became sustenance for Lotte.  She photographed Kurt Weill, Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall.  She began hanging out with artists; she met Leo Katz who would become her mentor, she met Berenice Abbott who persuaded her to take courses at the New School for Social Research, a bastion of intellectual refugees from Europe.  There she learned printmaking with Stanley Hayter who had founded Atelier 17 and had printed with Picasso and Kandinsky.  She shared studio space with other student artists under Hayter’s eye, names like Pollock, Motherwell, Rothko, Miró. (Her etchings from 1947-48, like theirs, appear occasionally at auction).

Encouraged by Katz, she went back to the darkroom and began playing with light and shadows.  She could make them move and shift.  It reminded her of dancing as a young girl.  She tried candles and flashlights, and sometimes covered them with fabric.  For ten years she did this, very quietly, while the abstract expressionist movement in a big noisy way was exploding around her.  She saved the results to photo paper, eventually amassing a considerable body of work.  Katz gave them the name ‘photogenics’ and understood just what part these peaceful, amazing pictures could play in the evolution of photography as an art form, besides being really beautiful in themselves. 
Jacobi c. 1946

When I walk today through the corridors at AIPAD, the huge congress for dealers in photographic art held annually at the Park Avenue Armory, there are thousands of great photographs.  I move on, I’ve seen them.  Then, in the corner of someone’s booth, I’ll spot a small lovely thing mounted on soiled cardboard, projecting authority like nothing else around.  I stop in my tracks: a Jacobi.  I know this is why I’ve come and why I do what I do. 

Jacobi c. 1946

After 1951 she never made any more of them, although she lived another forty years.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The stars stop moving, but the earth still turns

Marinai, 2012
Franco Marinai continues his epic program of deconstructing our ideas of time and its portrayal that he first showed us in March of this year with his groundbreaking work in color chrono-photographyHe is closing in on his goal of isolating the fixed point of time, its fulcrum.  By scaling back to a black-and-white representation, his current strategy, he is able to abstract motion and therefore time yet further, reducing it to what amounts to a spare, defining beauty of pure marks and markers.  It doesn’t help to know that underlying these are trivial or prosaic acts like walking, climbing steps, eating, biking.  Forget that he uses a medium format camera modified with the addition of a variable speed motor.  Forget even that he uses a camera at all.  These marks are gestures for both the unraveling of time, and for its concentration.  They are black holes, and like all black holes they command our acute attention.   

Marinai, 2012
Marinai, 2012
Marinai, 2012

Marinai, 2012
Franco is in the process of collecting these images, numbering almost 100, into a limited-edition book of photogravures for which he will undertake the monumental task of printing himself from copper plates in his Manhattan studio. It will be entitled The Motion of the Wheel and Other Spins.  Those interested may contact him directly at www.marinai.com for further details.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cameraless at Cabrillo

Sieglinde Van Damme, 2012
Is there a resurgence of cameraless photography these days, or is that just my imagination?  If I didn't know better I'd say there was.  You saw it during the recent f295-sponsored alt-photography conference in Pittsburgh, where Norm Sarachek's spirited keynote address, to a packed audience in the august halls of the Carnegie Museum of Art, was on chemigrams.  Who can remember when chemigrams last received so much attention?  Later, in several of the more popular workshops such as Elizabeth Opalenick's on mordançage, the camera was defined to be optional.  Leave it at the door and come in and make photographs, they said.
Beverly Rayner, 2012

Across the country, Martha Casanave’s workshop on cameraless photography at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, California, July 16-27, continued the trend by demonstrating some of the many methods available, at the same time emphasizing their rich potential for mixing and hybridizing to produce new, unexpected results.  Processes included silver photograms, lumen prints, light-drawing (using flashlights), clichés-verre (aka glassprints), cyanotype photograms, reversed cyanotype photograms, dry plate tintype photograms, chemigrams, and combinations of all the above.  So much to play with in such a short time, but Martha proved a stimulating and tireless guide.
Susan Haisington, 2012
Robin Robinson, 2012
Here we present a few of the works created at Cabrillo by the students, who by and large were completely new to cameraless methods.  In looking at them you get the feeling a curtain has been pulled away, that something uncharted and maybe beautiful awaits these promising artists if only they will take it further, in their own way.  Uncertainty, wonder, discovery, it’s all here.  We wish them the best. 
Aaron Peters, 2012

Michelle Paulus, 2012

Michael Gant, 2012

If you missed Martha at Cabrillo, she'll be offering a public lecture entitled “Letting Go of the Camera: The Joy of Cameraless Photography” on Friday, November 2, 2012 at the Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, California.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New books on methods

This has been a solid year for books and manuals aimed at the analog, experimental darkroom crowd (we'll call it that) and even though it's only August now might be a good time to sort through some of them - who knows, by year end we may see others.  Let's work through the pile.

For an English-speaking audience the most important and useful is Christina Z. Anderson's The Experimental Photography Workbook, 6th ed., 2012.  This is a complete revamping and expansion of her earlier editions, with an especially happy mix of contemporary topics: photograms, lumens, glassprints, pinhole, chemigrams, mordançage.  Sure, you have modern tintypes, bromoil, lith printing and so on, but the slant definitely favors what gets students and practitioners most excited these days, and Chris manages to convey that excitement with a step-by-step text and inspired examples by artists in the field, many of them former students. She gives lots of tips, hands-on insights on variants, a bit of history, and all the formulas you could want.  With Chris, you feel she not only has done all these techniques herself but that she actually loves each of them.  She has sacrificed for this book: her beloved gum bichromates are nowhere to be seen, but have been relegated to another book altogether due out next spring.  This is just as well.  In classrooms we used to use Christopher James' massive (1.8 kilos, 660 pp) Alternative Photographic Processes, 2nd ed., 2008, but no more.  The Experimental Photographic Workbook is snazzier, more to the point - and I think more to be trusted.  If you're crawling under the hood of modern analog methods this is the book to take with you.  Available from www.freestylephoto.biz.

In a different vein, we have Jalo Porkkala's sumptuously produced Köyhä Dagerrotyyppi, 2012, subtitled 'Alternative Photographic Processes' and available only in Finnish at the moment although a translation is planned.  Jalo says the best rendering of the title is 'A Poor Man's Daguerrotype' which refers to a silver plating or silvering-out process, but the book's contents are much more comprehensive than this would make you believe, with chapters on lith prints, lumens, toning, and a host of historic techniques like bromoils, anthotypes, ziatypes, cyanotypes, Vandyke browns, gumoils and gum bichromates as well as informative pages on chemicals, darkroom equipment, and safety precautions.  Anyone acquainted with Jalo's wonderful alt-photo blog Vedos knows how scrupulous he is about method, carefully recording results under different conditions before reaching conclusions and making recommendations; the same care is found here, and should set the bar for writing on photographic method.  If you can't wait for the English version, the book can be bought in Finnish at http://www.booky.fi.

Finally, Tom Persinger at f295 has come out with a slim volume called The f295 Historic Process Workbook, an easy-to-follow journey (if harder to do) through building a camera, preparing lenses, and everything you need to know about four historic processes: cyanotypes, salted paper, gum bichromates, and Vandyke browns.  Useful too are the sections on preparing a portfolio and writing a statement.  You can get it at www.freestylephoto.biz.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The chronophotographs of Franco Marinai

Marinai, 2011
When the cascades of color fall away - soon they will - these tendrils of red, blue, silver, ochre - you say to yourself: this is all about movement, but it is deafeningly still, there is no movement, it has ended or is about to begin but it is not here - and yet here it is, everywhere.

Marinai, 2011
In the luminous pictures of Franco Marinai, we have stepped across a boundary of perception.  Instants of motion are deconstructed, splintered, laid out under the delta-t of our calculus.  These runners from the NYC Marathon of 2011 offer their bodies to a surrealist vision of malleable flesh, against freeze-frame streaks of background.  From these nightmare slices, it is for the viewer to intuit and recompose a human reality.  In an earlier period this would be a task for the gods, but times have changed.  There are newer truths.

Marinai, 2011
Franco's inspiration may be in his blood.  His city of Florence has produced others who have wrestled with making depictions of the kinetics of real life - Leonardo da Vinci is one who comes to mind.  Toward the end of the 19th century Etienne-Jules Marey invented the chronophotograph and coined the word for it; borrowing from him, Muybridge contributed his famous images of horses and runners.

Marey, Pelican, ca. 1882
But it was in Italy, home of Fiat and Ferrari, that ideas of speed and motion found their most fertile reception.  The futurist movement in art developed there, in the urgent, stacatto-filled works of Boccioni, Marinetti, Balla and others, drawing connections between perception and the new world of machinery.

Balla, 1913 
Berkeley had said esse est percipi, everything is sense; the Italians taught us to practice it.  The confounding thing about time however - and this is the great paradox implicit in Franco's photography, made possible by his own technical prowess - is that when you chop it up into smaller and smaller bits, it seems to stand still.  Thus there is an immense quietude in his work, a beautiful calm that resides at the heart of motion.  He has discovered this.  It is not too much to think that Da Vinci would understand.

Technical note:  Franco works with a modified medium format Bronica SQ-A camera shooting Velvia Fujichrome film.  His website is www.marinai.com.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nolan Preece talks about his work - part III

(Part I appeared in December 2011, Part II appeared this January, and here is the latest sequel.  Will there be more?  We'll ask him when he comes out of the darkroom.)

Preece, The Popular War, chemigram hybrid, 2003

The first time I heard the word hybrid in relation to my work was about 3 years ago.  A colleague who liked my work told me that the way I was experimenting, some of my work were hybrids.  I'm a photographer and a printmaker so combining these two pretty much is automatic.  I suppose my definition of a hybrid would go something like this: the combining of two or more media including digital imaging and transformation, to create a final work of art.  To be sure, there are gray areas, for example I'm not so sure that combining a printed negative and some chemical coloration on the same sheet of paper qualifies as a hybrid but rather just as a chemigram.  However, if it is then reproduced digitally, I would be inclined to call it a hybrid.

Preece, A Clean Slate, chemigram hybrid, 2011
If I am working with a printed image from a negative and I want to color parts of the photograph chemically, I first of all make the print on photographic paper using an enlarger.  I place the negative in a carrier and focus under roomlight conditions.  I then go dark, working under safelight conditions.  I run control strips, first adjusting for density (the lightness and darkness of the image).  I then run control strips to adjust the contrast (the difference between light and dark) using variable contrast filters.  I process the control strips all the way through developer, stop bath and fixer under safelight conditions.  The lights come on once the control strips are processed in order to evaluate and make adjustments.  Once I am locked in on what I want, I print and process the image under safelight in the developer tray, then I place it in the stop bath to halt all development.  I then take a brush and paint the areas I want to preserve with fixer from the fixer tray to remove the unused silver halide, creating a kind of chemical mask.  I flush the print with water and, still under safelight, I sprinkle thiourea and then lye into the unfixed areas I want to chemically color.  I flush it off with water when the desired effect has been reached, again still under safelight.  I then place the image in the fixer tray and after about a minute, on come the lights.  I can then evaluate the results, wash it, or discard it (however I now save everything for possible scanning).  If the print is going to be gold toned, it must be well washed for about 20 minutes.  For gold toning I use a GP1 solution I mix myself from scratch.  Gold toners should be used with caution, they are a heavy metal and will penetrate the skin.  Always use rubber gloves and tongs when working with any wet chemistry.  The print can be soaked in the gold solution overnight to obtain a range of colors.  Gold toning takes place under roomlight.  Pull the print when the desired toning effect is reached, wash and hang to dry.  Prints may then be flattened in a dry mount press.

Preece, In The Woods, chemigram hybrid, 2003

I like combining digital photo imagery with scanned chemigrams or mixing it with printmaking such as etching or engraving.  I've found the Epson Radiant White Watercolor Paper to be an excellent printmaking paper for etchings and engravings.  Imagery made with the Epson Ultrachrome K3 inkset does not bleed when soaked in water, enabling the artist to make digital prints and then overlay the image with etching ink.  This is one form of hybrid.  For years I would go through the trashcan in my darkroom and pull out the 'chemigrams by accident'.  I use this serendipity as an environment from which to start a hybrid, scanning it in and then adding digital photo imagery using Photoshop.  Just a word of advice though, if you decide to work this way - don't settle on the first combination that comes to mind.  Try thinking in terms of fifty different combinatios and then picking the one that works best.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chemigram workshops ahead

Turnbull, untitled chemigram, 2011

A number of readers of this blog have been asking good basic questions about chemigrams, such as how do I make mackie lines, or how do I bring a photo negative into a chemigram, or how do I make these colors with my b&w chemistry.  Each deserves a clear answer, because the last thing we want is to keep a secret from you, that's just not our philosophy.  Once you understand the process better, you'll see it's not difficult.  Mysterious maybe, but not difficult.  In the end, what we really want is for you to use these methods in your own work, to develop your work with a new intensity and chemigramic flair, which we think you'll find rewarding.  We're excited for you, frankly.  So where to begin?

One way is to take a workshop.  Here's a listing of several we and our colleagues are conducting over the next few months.

April 22 - April 29.  Manhattan Graphics Center, NYC.  Glassprints and Chemigrams, with Douglas Collins.  www.manhattangraphicscenter.org

June 16.  International Center of Photography, NYC.  Chemigrams, with Richard Turnbull and Douglas Collins.  www.icp.org

April 25 - May 6.  The Leonardo, Salt Lake City, Utah.  Residency with Nolan Preece and Jeanne Chambers.  Innovative collaboration between artist and scientist, using chemigrams and glassprints as a way to study desert ecosystems.  For information and brochure contact npreece@gbis.com

Nolan Preece takes questions from the public, in Nevada, on chemigrams, 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nolan Preece talks about his work - part II

(We published the first installment in December 2011.  His website is www.nolanpreece.com)

Preece, Chemical Nuptials (on Velox), 1987

After my MFA was finished, I started working for an environmental consulting company doing photography for the White River Oil Shale Corp in eastern Utah in 1981.  I had lots of time to play with chemistry between field excursions.  I wanted something that I could selectively control to alter the image, create color, and which was archival.  I found an old DuPont toning formula that called for thiourea and a strong base such as sodium carbonate and on b&w photo paper it could be toned in gold toner to achieve a range of colors.  My only problem was the application of the chemicals.  I experimented and finally came up with salt and pepper shakers as the tool to sprinkle thiourea and Red Devil lye into unfixed areas of the print. 

Preece, Contact Zone (on Velox), 1987

My next problem was the expense of the amount of gold that is in one of the old gold toning formulas.  I decided to try GP1 which is a gold protective solution without much gold in it.  At first it didn't look like it would change the ugly olive drab and brown color of the thiourea stain but then as I left it in longer, even overnight, bright colors began to appear.  I could also doctor it a bit with an eye dropper loaded with liquid gold chloride.  This process produced a two-fold effect: 1) I was getting a nice cool/warm contrast between any printed image or one created by using a weak solution of Dektol and the warm colors of the thiourea stain.  2) The image, as far as I can tell, is very archival, having been soaked in gold chloride.  By the way, the print should be fixed and washed to archival standards before gold treatment and well washed afterward.  Outdated b&w photo paper makes great chemigrams this way when working without a printed image under room light.  However, if an image is printed with an enlarger it should be painted with fixer before returning to room light.

Preece, Chemical Incubator - Homage to Pierre Cordier, 2011
More recently I've been experimenting with a version of the chemigram developed by Pierre Cordier.  We have been using acrylic substances for grounding copper plates for some time.  Future Floor Polish is one of them.  I decided to try this substance on outdated b&w photo paper.  The results were astounding!  Acrylics break down when placed in alkaline solutions, so as the Dektol or D72 (I mix my own from scratch) breaks down the Future on the surface of the print, it penetrates, creeps and dissolves the Future, leaving a variety of effects.  I have yet to fully explore this phenomenon.  I suspect there are many different types of acrylic applications that my work.

Preece, Chemical Dollops, 2011