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!

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