Language Acquisition: Early Experiments

<< Small Hiccup <<

spacer

Gone are the days when photographs were collected in shoeboxes. Photos are no longer objects. Even within an art context, many artists and viewers alike do not consider the physicality of the photograph – most only view it as the substrate that presents a documentary image of an event that occurred somewhere in the world. The actual material from which it is composed: the tone of the paper, the ink or the light-sensitive chemistry, how it feels to the hand, how it shifts in various types of lighting; these are not widespread concerns. Even less examined is photography as a sculptural medium.

The fact that I make images in a darkroom in the 21st century has only heightened my awareness of the potential physicality within the realm of photography. There is no nostalgia in my use of the darkroom, it’s simply the venue in which I choose to make my explorations, as the painter and printmaker do in their respective environments. Neither of them are expected to give up their tools and surrender to Photoshop, simply because it would be a quicker means to an end. Rather, the process of creating imagery is what draws me to make these images; the back and forth conversation I have with the material that isn’t the same dialog I have with a computer screen.

These images are chemigrams, which are made with no negatives, no enlargers, pulling color out of black and white gelatin silver paper by applying an oil resist and then alternating the paper between developer and fixer, and back again. They employ cooking oil, tape, glass, brushes, and numerous other tools. The process is all executed with the lights on. They don’t replicate an image of something else that was captured in the outside world, and they are impossible to replicate themselves. They break just about every analog photography rule I ever learned – I imagine Ansel would be most displeased.

I rely on the potential inherent to a piece of gelatin silver paper, and my own hand, to make these images. I have always been drawn to mark-making, repetition, calligraphy, ritual, but less drawn to allowing an art medium to take the wheel. I have traditionally made art by calculation, with plan, heavy with objects to photograph that reside in my studio and psyche for months, or years. Given the ever-present “right answers” available on the device in my pocket, it has become rare and beautiful to temporarily exist in a space of unknowing, of curiosity — to take pause and explore a medium in which I am not exerting full control. Similarly, the marks I make are not pre-meditated, but spontaneous, displaying a secret language and timeframe that I can read by each line, color, value and shape that results from the chemigram process.

When people state that darkrooms are dying, I find nothing could be further from the truth. Artists of the 1840′s believed painting’s death was imminent due to the invention of photography, yet that discovery paved the way for painting to be freed from the shackles of naturalistic representation it had endured for centuries. Darkroom photography is free in much the same way now – no longer a technology relied upon by commercial photographers, it is ripe for embracing experimentation, merging into other art media, breaking its own definitions, igniting curiosity, celebrating chance: all the motivations that make art worth pursuing.

FacebookTwitterPinterestTumblrShare