Thursday, 7 April 2011

Victoria and Albert Museum: Shadow Catchers, Camera-less photography

Susan Derges, Vessel No. 3(1), 1995

The Shadow Catchers exhibition at the V&A showed work from five artists who share similar mediums. In terms of variety of technique, this is similar to me saying "they are all painters" or "they make sculpture", each of the artists approached the medium in very different ways. Processes included in this exhibition were: Photogram, Chemigram, Digital C-Print, Dye Construction print, Gelatin Silver Print, and Luminogram. My interest was mainly in the photograms, which are made by placing an object next to light sensitive paper in the dark, and then briefly exposing both the paper and the object to the light. Where the object and the paper touch, either a full or partial shadow is recorded. I found the photograms especially interesting because they involved physical contact with the object; the shadow left behind is like a memory of what was there.

Susan Derges, River Taw

Susan Derges captures nature. Images featured in this exhibition were of frog spawn and frozen rivers, waves, and more imaginative images pieced together from various other pictures. I liked the works taken from life. The images of the River Taw were created by holding a piece of light sensitive paper underneath the water, and quickly exposing it to the light of a torch. These frozen moments combine an imaginative world with the physical world. They are both dynamic and still.

Floris Neususs, Untitled, Berlin, 1962

There were a couple of these floating nudes in the exhibition. I enjoyed their dreamlike quality, and the variation in shadow that suggests the gentle curves of the subject. The identity of the person is removed and the figure becomes a simplified mass, which I found made it more enjoyable to notice the delicate detail of the hair and the toes. Although the images were made with the subject lying on the floor, the resulting image could be one of floating or falling.

Floris Neususs, Be Right Back, Installation, 1984

Actually took me a little while to notice this, and when I did it gave me a jump! This piece acknowledges that the making of a photogram is a sort of performance. The title of this piece becomes more pertinent the longer time passes. I found it quite amusing at first, but it also made me think about absence. This is a great example of the photogram's capability to capture a memory of an object!

Pierre Cordier, Chemigram 8/2/61, 1961

I thought this piece was interesting because Cordier's work did not fit visually with the rest of the exhibition (in my opinion!). These pieces were very abstract and painterly, evoking desert imagery or strange alien landscapes. This chemigram was made by pouring photographic developer and fixer onto gelatin-silver photographic paper that had been oiled. In terms of the imagery, there was very little said about it, and commentary focused mostly on technique. I gathered that these images were considered exciting because of their novelty and pleasing aesthetic; sometimes experimenting with technique is reason enough to produce artwork, without some conceptual meaning or research attached.

Garry Fabian Miller, 'Breathing in the Beech Wood, Homeland, Dartmoor, Twenty-four Days of Sunlight, May 2004', 2004

These are dye-deconstruction prints. Each vertical line was printed on one day. I do not fully understand the process but here is how it is explained on the V&A website:

Dye destruction print

A print made using direct positive colour paper. This paper was originally introduced in 1963 for printing colour transparencies or negatives. It is coated with at least three layers of emulsion, each of which is sensitised to one of the three primary colours. Each layer also contains a dye related to that colour. During development of the image, any unexposed dyes are bleached out (hence 'dye destruction'). The remaining dyes form a full-colour image.

I liked this work because it is cyclic, and because of the way the artist has managed to physically capture the passing of time. This is a simple image and yet very effective, as a printmaker I was also interested in his use of multiples.

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