In Praise of Shadows

With only one week left of Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography at the V&A in London, do not to miss the opportunity to see work from five of the most innovative practitioners of camera-less photography. Removing the lens from the practice of photography makes it less about optics and more about chemistry, touch and imagination.

At the exhibition study day last Friday, where all of the photographers were present, I learned that many of the most striking images were happy accidents - after months of months of experimentation. The cryptic circles on Pierre Cordier's first of many chemigrams 'The Hungarian Revolution' (1956) were made by the movement of nail-varnish on photographic paper. So delighted was he with the result that it became the cover of a birthday card for a German girl, Erica - something to think about as Valentine's Day approaches and we are faced with endless shelves of cards with pink and red hearts!

Mistress of the waters, Susan Derges, is blessed with extraordinary powers of observation. She works by nightfall to produce her exquisite photograms of moving water. Immersing sheets of photographic paper into the choicest parts of a stream, she exposes them by torch and moonlight.

Gary Fabian Miller, the patient gardener of the group, is famed for sequences of images created by passing light through plant matter and explore the passing of time. I however, was more intrigued by his more recent work, made by a process of dye-destruction printing without the intervention of an object. Purely light and chemicals, 'The Night Cell' (2009/10) resembles an unearthly disk of stars.

For those who can still remember the story of Peter Pan's shadow, Floris Neususs's Korperphotograms, ( direct body exposures ) cannot fail to enchant. Sometimes sculptural, sprightly and scattering blossoms and at other times having a drawer-crumpled appearance (see above), these silhouettes are the closest most of us will get to fairies.

Perhaps spookiest of all are the photograms of Adam Fuss, which revisit obsolete, Victorian techniques to explore themes of self-reflection and mortality. You cannot look at his butterfly daguerrotype (2001) without looking into it - its overexposed blue surface turns it into a mirror - a reminder that you too will go the same way as the floating butterfly.

Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography is on at the V&A until Sunday February 20. Tickets £5 full price, £4 concessions

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could be in London to see this, Kat. Sounds wonderful. Great article!