Monday, 14 February 2011

Shadow Catchers at the V&A - closes 20 February 2011

Shadow Catchers, an exhibition of camera-less photography at the V&A, is drawing to a close soon and since it's resonated with me since I saw it a few weeks back, I wanted to put down some thoughts and encourage those who haven't been to catch it before it disappears...

Essentially a collection of works on photographic paper by five contemporary artists, the show demonstrates how images can be captured by non-mechanical means of reproduction to startling and often haunting effect. There’s no technology involved in the production of these pictures, only a bit of chemistry, the elements and an artistic mind. It's everything that quick, easy, highly detailed, easily manipulated digital isn't.

Floris Neususs creates life sized photograms of female models who, it appears, pose on large sheets photographic paper before being exposed to light, which then fixes their shadows and contact points with the paper in large monochromatic imagery. There’s a real sense of traces in these works, the memory of a being who is now absent, their form now impregnated into the paper in a series of tones.

Pierre Cordier uses the chemicals of photo processing like a set of paints, priming and making marks on a sheet of photographic paper with chemicals ranging from developer and fixer to egg and syrup. The resulting imagery can be geometric or fluidly organic, but always utterly unique to his way of manipulating the medium. One leaves these images with little or no idea of how they were produced, there’s no demystification, just awe at how such intricate works can be produced by hand.

Using metaphysical themes and symbols, Adam Fuss’s work turns three dimensional objects into large two dimensional motifs. His image of a baby crawling through shallow water is burnished onto a bright yellow background, suggesting a symbol of a baby more than a representation of form. His photogram of swirling smoke conversely suggested depth and form within a two dimensional pattern. His work very much opens itself to chance.

Like Cordier, Garry Fabian Miller similarly creates abstract imagery in his work, but it is his beautiful images of leaves that engrossed me the most. Miller imbeds a sense of time into these photographs by using repetition and variation. There’s a real sense in these images, as with others in the exhibition, that this particular approach to photography really lends itself to natural forms. Where photography using a camera suggests a pose or at least selection of imagery, these images have a sense of participation between the object depicted and the mode of capturing its likeness.

Similarly, Susan Derges produces imagery by placing sheets of photographic paper in rivers, allowing moonlight to cut through the water and dance across the surface, leaving a record of both time and nature. Again, these works feel like somehow the elements were complicit in the process, not just objects being represented.

Barthes made a beautiful observation in Camera Lucida – that there is a chain of light between an object photographed and the eyes of those viewing it. The analogue photograph emanates with the light that once bounced from the object or person who was once in front of the camera (or in this case, paper). I'll leave it to him to conclude:

“From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, Sontag says, will touch me light the delayed rays of a star.”

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