Saturday, December 17, 2011

Adam Fuss, Man Ray, Anna Atkins, Wim Delvoye

What is a photogram?

Seems worth mentioning now that many people start their photographic education without stepping foot inside a darkroom. Photograms are photographic images made with objects typically in direct contact with a light-sensitive paper. The simplest way to make a photogram is to place an object, a piece of lace or a leaf, for example, on top of paper coated with a light-sensitive emulsion in a darkroom, expose it to light and then process the paper in the appropriate chemistry. The resulting image will be a stencil of the object. Early uses of this technique included catalogs of botanical subjects. Photograms were preferred over drawings because they were considered to be more accurate. Prior to the development of continuous tone reproduction techniques, botanical taxonomies were produced by tipping in actual photograms of the species cataloged. Thus each book was illustrated with original and unique photograms. Below is an example by Anna Atkins from the 1840's followed by a contemporary approach to a similar subject, by Adam Fuss.

As many of the technical problems associated with photographic reproduction were solved, making photograms became superseded by methods more descriptive of surfaces and corresponding more closely to human vision. Almost eighty years later, the technique was revived by artists and photographers, like Man Ray, who wished to go beyond surface description to get at a physical or psychological essence, combining the realism offered by photography with results which are open and allusive. A Man Ray, followed again by an Adam Fuss:

One final comparison, this one between a Man Ray photogram and a Wim Delvoye photograph derived from an x-ray:

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