We don’t need to have a camera and a set of negatives to discover the enormous artistic potential of the darkroom.  I’ve found it great fun – and truly rewarding – simply to create images on light sensitive paper.  In fact, this is how I was first introduced to the darkroom, and I always find it a hugely engaging and creative process:  a sort of painting or sculpting with light, where everyday objects are placed on top of the photographic paper creating patterns when that paper is exposed to light from the enlarger above.  I often find this a real opportunity not just to explore the characteristics of light interacting with the paper and chemicals, but also to make utterly unique images just like a painter working on canvas.  This follows a venerable tradition of fine art photography with the photogram, a medium famously explored by Henry Fox Talbot in his publication of The Pencil of Nature in 1844.  Fox Talbot was, of course, one of the earliest pioneers of photography and in many ways responsible for the traditional darkroom processes of developing and fixing that we have today.  What I didn’t realise is that he was also a member of parliament, an eminent mathematician, astronomer and archaeologist who translated the cuneiform inscriptions from Nineveh!  I feel exhausted just writing that….

But not to digress, more contemporary takes on the photogram were witnessed at the V&A’s exhibition on camera-less photography where a number of current international artists exhibited (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/camera-less-photography-artists).  One of those artists, Floris Neusüss, has a solo exhibition on at present at Atlas Gallery until 12 January (http://www.atlasgallery.com/atlas.php).  I popped in to see it the other day and was immediately struck with the shadow-like details that emerge – sometimes barely perceptible – between the absolute black and the white within each image.  The outline of the nude seems to become less distinct when parts of her body are not touching the paper, and, by still obscuring light, leaves a faint ethereal form, revealing traces of lip, nose, shoulder and breast.  It becomes an intricate and layered image.

I left with two immediate thoughts:  first, I want to explore that space between the contact print and the source of light where the shadows are created (no wonder the V&A exhibition was titled ‘Shadow Catchers’);  secondly, I realise again the value of  exhibitions at the smaller galleries, they are worth their weight in gold!  A number of us at The Gate have recently commented on the proliferation in major art galleries hosting photographic exhibitions.  Yet it is often at the smaller galleries where you are able to see the details and avoid the distractions.

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