The photogram, a cameraless photograph made by placing objects on sensitized paper and exposing the sheet to light, is about as old as photography itself; some of the very earliest photographers, like the Brit William Henry Fox Talbot, explored this method of picture-making. Lately, however, it's been revived by young artists who are looking for a hands-on, analog process and a reason to venture back into the darkroom. Some of them are using photograms as an extension of collage or drawing; others are turning the act of making them into a performance. Below are three exciting examples Artspace spotted at NADA New York 2015.
The inventive New York-based artist Katherine Bauer connects the photogram process with film and performance, alluding to the medium's richly experimental Surrealist phase. For her Georges Bataille-inspired series "The Seduction of the Eye," she staged a kind of happening in which four women made photograms in front of an audience by dousing themselves and large sheets of photo-sensitive paper with substances including egg, milk, and champagne while the light from a 16mm film projectector exposed the paper. At NADA, Microscope Gallery has a a film from the event and several of the lush red-and-violet photograms Bauer makes with scatterings of crystals.
The photograms of the Berlin-based Canadian Shannon Bool look a lot like photo-collages, but they're made with multiple exposures of printed transparencies. The sources of Bool's imagery are as significant as her process, and reveal a clever conceptual agenda as well as a commendably broad interest in the history of decorative arts. Bool starts with fashion photographs from the Pavilion of Elegance at the Paris Exhibition of 1925, and then fills in the silhouettes of the mannequins with patterns from men's ceremonial houses in New Guinea. The resulting images give us ambiguous spaces and bodies that are simultaneously masculine and feminine, sacred and commercial.
Spooky yet exuberant, Tatiana Kronberg's large-scale photograms look like oversized versions of the Surrealist drawings known as "Exquisite Corpses." They emerge from a similar process, too; as the Surrealists did in their parlor game, Kronberg folds the paper before exposing it so as to create eerily disjointed images. She also presses her own limbs against the paper, along with scissors, flowers, mannequin parts, sex toys, and the timer she uses to keep track of the developing process. The final images suggest some uncanny fusion of Man Ray's "Rayograms" and a late-night game of Twister.