My Black and White Photogram Project

A few weeks ago, some of my work was shown in on online group exhibition called “Auras” on Don’t Smile, a women’s photography blog. I had never received that kind of recognition for my photography before and it was an honor to see my photographs alongside work from talented artists from a range of experience levels.

I realized I hadn’t previously posted anything about this project, though it was completely analog, and decided I wanted to share my process on the blog.

I created the body of work, Artifacts, during a 4×5 large format photography class. My great grandmother had recently died and my family was beginning to clean out her home. Through photography, I hoped to document her house as it was before anything was moved. But equally important, I wanted to find a way to represent an almost spiritual feminine presence that I imagined I could still feel in its spaces.

This lead me to incorporate photogram techniques. Photograms are images created by placing objects darkroom paper and exposing the paper to light. The spots where the objects sit on the paper blocking the light remain white. The parts of the paper that recieve direct exposure to light turn black during development.

I had seen Man Ray’s photograms (which he called Rayographs) and had made similar ones, though rudimentary, in my first darkroom class by dumping all the contents of my backpack onto the paper.

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My first-ever photogram

Before I started my project, I also looked at photograms by contemporary artists. Some used simple materials like salt to compose entire galaxies, which inspired me.

I had not seen any work, however, where photogram techniques were used in combination with images taken on a camera.

I experimented with semi-transparent materials (so they would not completely block out the images) like salt, plastic wrap, artificial flowers, and lace. In the dim red glow of darkroom safelights, I strategically placed the objects on top of the paper (either 11×14″ or 16×20″) where they would interact with different parts of compositions in the images. After exposing, I developed my prints normally.

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My artist statement:

During any life event, it is easy to inadvertently obstruct moments by
becoming too engrossed in recording devices. But without photographs or
other memory aids, one must rely wholly on flawed human memory to recall
treasured moments.
This photoseries is an experiment in capturing memories retroactiv
ely.I grew up visiting great grandmother’s house almost every day. When I was
there, I never thought to pull out a camera to
preserve special little moments — my grandma cooking, doing laundry, working in her shed, or relaxing in front of the television —
until it became impossible.
After she passed away, my memories of her began to soften. Sharp impressions rounded out and became warmer, even to the point of idealization. I grew afraid of the important parts disappearing altogether. About a year later, I traveled home to capture this effect and, hopefully, halt its progression.
The human mind preserves few memories perfectly. Mine betrays me, imposing false artifacts on my most pristine recollections, altering them and instilling pleasant fiction. These alterations overwrite parts of even my most permanently fixed memories. Three-dimensional objects positioned on the paper in the darkroom illustrate memory’s failures in a way that cannot be captured through a lens.

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