Sunday, 29 January 2012

Still Photography? Discuss...

Photogram Number 1 - the Mirror
 László  Moholy-Nagy  American, negative 1922 - 1923; print about 1928 
                                  © Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As a result of my brief involvement on a panel discussing the 'Photo50' exhibition I was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the audience. One person spoke about her experience making cameraless images such as photogram's as a result of not owning a camera when she began her BA in Photography. This limitation  became a salvation not only for her experience of photography, but also artistically. Photogram's have been famously used by many great artists since the medium began. However, rather than an illustrated history of the photogram I thought I would share a few recent works & favourite photogram's. This is by no means an extensive selection, but a lovely start to lead into 'The Hand of the Artist' which will be the title of my next post.

Feather that went to the Top of Everest
h: 40 x w: 30.5 cm / h: 15.7 x w: 12 in
(for full details on Artnet see link)

This post was prompted by a visit to the Whitechapel Art Gallery today, where I saw a work I hadn't seen in the flesh before by an artist I have admired for many years, Cornelia Parker. (Her earlier sculpture Thirty Pieces of Silver  1988-9 is a firm favourite.) Of course with my proclivity for all things associated with flight I was thrilled to see this in the Government Art Collection room, selected by Simon Schama. Although I was not fully convinced by the curation as a whole I was delighted to see this series, titled (importantly as with all the works in the series) 'Up Down Charm Strange'. 

Feather from Freud's Pillow
Cornelia Parker

Each feather has a story to tell, but without the artist to tell it we would be blissfully unaware of it's significance, both metaphorically & literally to the people & places that it was connected to. Just as the feather has been in contact with someone &/or something that is part of history, we are invited to connect also in a more intimate way than usual. Museums do just this also of course, displaying objects for us to observe. Often it is the domestic items which attract my attention as the grandeur of some collections are indeed fascinating, they do not always tell a story in such an evocative way. By taking something as small & seemingly insignificant as a feather from Freud's pillow; Parker has beautifully illustrated the heights reached by these remarkable individuals. They are exquisitely rendered as they make 'contact' with the photo paper. 

From the series My Ghosts (1999) by Adam Fuss

The ephemeral nature of a photogram is what still fascinates me. The untouchable made tantalisingly real upon the photo-sensitive surface. The wisp of smoke registering as it fleetingly brushes the paper, give rise to meditative musings, a closer contact with the source of the image with the omission of the camera...

Getting closer to the original source of the image, brings us one step closer to the artist themselves, who's interaction with their subject is acutely 'present' when approaching the work. Photography's association with the technical & mechanical is often a hinderance when persuading the masses to see photography as a true art form. Perhaps in times of austerity, the growing interest in 'craft' reflects our need for human contact in the midst of cold hard unfeeling times. It is this connection which will be the subject of my next post.  


  1. Hi Laura,
    I too have been fascinated by photograms. I have made many over the years including some of sheer underwear, clothing and some large scale full length ones of people. I love their unpredictability. I managed to capture the detail of an ear when I thought I would end up with a flat silhouette, just by the light bouncing off the paper. Also the quality is amazing as they are effectively large scale originals.Great post.

    1. Hi Kirsty,
      Thanks for your comments. Photograms are magical. Happy accidents are the best I agree. Hope you like the new post as much as this one.