Out of the shadows

Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography
Victoria & Albert Museum
13 October 2010 – 20 February 2011

I, Captain Fancy Pants- the newest addition to the PCP team, love photography. We were lucky enough to have a fully functional black and white darkroom in my secondary school, and I studied Photography at both GCSE and A-Level. Having had my interest piqued by being exposed to a variety of photographic techniques as a student I now attempt to devour art exhibitions (especially the more atypical ones) like a gluttonous fiend. So off I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the Shadow Catchers photography exhibition, and with my silver tongue managed to obtain a free ticket!

Needless to say I had high expectations for this exhibition, and I am happy to say that it certainly didn’t disappoint. It certainly left me with huge respect for the artists involved and my mind filled with inspiration.

One of my first experiences in a darkroom was learning how to produce a photogram, initial introductions showed it to be a fairly simple technique. Some of the earliest photographic images produced by William Fox Talbot were created in this way; exposing photosensitive material to light, anything placed in front of the light source will interfere with the light and produce an image.

Aside from photograms there are two other commonly used techniques for camera-less photography, luminograms and chemigrams. All three of these styles are shown in the main exhibition.

One of the most prolific artists to utilise this style of photography was Man Ray, one of my favourite artists, whose work always seems to capture aspects of the surreal and look beyond photography as just a means for capturing simple images. Man Ray is hailed for the dynamism of his “rayographs”, at least one of which is among the examples the V&A has conveniently placed in its free photography gallery in an accompanying exhibition, A History of Camera-less Photography, which is on until 27 March 2011 (for more info check out their listing of current exhibitions).

The Shadow Catchers exhibition encompasses a summary look at five artists whose photographic works are all produced unconventionally, i.e. without the use of a camera. The techniques on display vary from the sublimely simple to the meticulously complex. The beauty of the works is matched and balanced throughout, I found it hard to pick a favourite.

Floris Neusüss (Germany)

Predominantly whole body photograms, the result of placing the subjects directly onto the photographic paper, silhouetting them in positions which appear quite intimate and intriguingly diverse in there form and intent. And a recreation of one of Fox Talbot’s original ‘photogenic drawings’ from Lacock Abbey.

Pierre Cordier (Brussels)

Most well known for producing the chemigram. His approach is described as scientific, the results are a selection of insanely intricate geometric forms and mazes, some of them seem so delicate that it’s actually mind boggling.

Gary Fabian Miller (Bristol)

A colourful selection, which uses both natural forms from plants and abstract colour blocks and shapes. In some ways simple, his work contains some seriously bold and striking detail on the boundaries of reality.

Susan Durges (London)

Some wonderfully stunning work, centred on the use of water. A lot of her shots were produced by placing the photosensitive paper in aluminium trays under the water in streams and rivers and flashing them with bright light, capturing a micro-second of the torrent. There are also some beautifully crafted montages.

Adam Fuss (London)

A great collection of both colour and black and white images, some of which captured motion amazingly. His interest in snakes plays a big part in his work, as well as a non morbid interest in death and a wicked variety in techniques.

The centre of the exhibition has a short film which gives a short bio and almost ironic snapshot of each of the artists. My only complaint, as minor as it is, is that as you progress through the exhibition you arrive at the film in between viewing the artists’ works. I’d have preferred it either at the beginning or the end, as either a primer or something to reflect on as you leave. Really though that’s just me picking the tiniest of faults in what was an otherwise brilliant display.

I enjoyed it so much I could go again, although I think I might have to actually pay for my entrance the second time around as my charms aren’t endless. Luckily the book is cheaper on Amazon than in the V&A shop…

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