Photogram Work in the darkroom at Cleveland Print Room

I wanted to explore something completely different when I began the residency in Cleveland. I am always working with print, which requires a really specific way of thinking about image making. You must think in terms of layers, and keep the process you're using in mind at all times. With the exception of monotype, it's sometimes hard to be spontaneous in printmaking. The chance to work with photography for a while was a chance to refresh things and make something visually different, because I'm literally having to think differently during the process.

Of course, I still wanted to make work relevant to me. I love photography and taking photographs and have never used them in my own practice. So in the beginning of the residency period I did a lot of research and reading on alternative darkroom techniques, and ways in which I could use black and white photography in more abstract and spontaneous ways than I would have otherwise.

  Ripple - Silver Gelatin Print

Ripple - Silver Gelatin Print

I had been thinking about the images made by surrealist photographer Man Ray, who popularised photograms, although he referred to them as Rayographs. Here is a little collection of my research images, all Man Ray photograms featuring hands:

These photograms really inspired me, as they were so unique, having a dreamlike, surreal mystery to them. I managed to learn the technique from the wonderful staff at CPR. The process is the same in the darkroom as it would be if you were making prints from a roll of film, just without the film. Essentially, they are camera-less photographs. The print room has great facilities for creating enlargements up to quite a large scale, so I was excited to work on some big photograms using my own paintings as transparencies. 

In my work have used hands as a symbol representing people, emotion, movement. Using the cutout hand shapes is also a callback to silhouette papercut illustration, and shadow puppetry.

 A work in progress image from my sketchbook. I laid out the cutout hands in different ways to decide on compositions.

A work in progress image from my sketchbook. I laid out the cutout hands in different ways to decide on compositions.

To make my photograms I began with painting on transparencies, using sumi ink and salt, which I then cut up into shapes. I then brought these to the darkroom, where I arranged them under an enlarger directly on top of photo paper. These objects acted as a stencil for the light from the enlarger, and once exposed to that light, the photogram could be developed as usual.

 Cutout hands on photopaper. This one actually ended up as a lumen print.

Cutout hands on photopaper. This one actually ended up as a lumen print.

I then brought these shapes to the darkroom, where I arranged them under an enlarger directly on top of photo paper. These objects acted as a stencil for the light from the enlarger, and once exposed to that light, the photogram could be developed as you would a normal black and white print. Below, you can watch the process of developing one of the photograms at the print room.

katieravenscraig photogram.jpg

I love this process and will be making more.

Check out the full project for more photograms!