Last Thursday, for After Dark: Photography, we led visitors in creating photograms, which are images created without a camera by placing objects on photographic paper, exposing it to light and then developing the print. Our group had previously been inspired to explore the medium with artist-in-residence Leigh Anne Langwell who creates mesmerizing photograms reminiscent of microscopic worlds, but this was our first chance to offer the experience of making photograms to museum guests at a public program.
I recruited photography expert and master teacher Modesto Tamez to help me set up the workshop. We needed to create and develop the images in a darkroom, so we got some flat black foil and red LED lights to transform one of our upstairs classrooms to the proper environment.
We raided the learning studio materials bins to form a collection of all kinds of familiar and unusual objects like LEDS, lego gears, hardware, chains, and doodads that we thought would make interesting shadows.
Groups of twelve or fifteen people worked together in three sessions that lasted about forty-five minutes each. After a short introduction, we wanted participants to spend the session iterating on their photograms, so we created individual stations out of cardboard boxes, clamp lights, and gaffer's tape. To create the photogram, people carefully placed objects on their paper, put the arrangements in the boxes, and flashed the light for less than a second to expose the image.
It was also important to have the photographic chemicals readily available for people to process their images at their own pace. To help ease the process, we created a "buffet" line so that participants could work from both sides and dip their paper into the developer, fixer, and stop baths.
Many people had never worked with film experimented with photograms before so it took participants a couple tries to get the timing right, but soon we had a large collection of beautiful images.
Some of the materials that we found created lovely interplays between the transparent and opaque parts. The process of making protograms (especially with our makeshift stations) also creates an interesting dimensionality when the shadows leave areas exposed to different degrees.
This beautiful image made with cheap mardi gras beads demonstrates how the angle of light can create dramatic gradients.
We also borrowed some natural materials from the bio lab which made for whimsical contrasts with the electronic components that we brought up from the learning studio.
I also loved how some people decided to use their own jewelry and personal objects to create unique photograms.
After each workshop, we hung the prints up on a clothes line to be admired by guests before being picked up by their makers. It was a really beautiful and varied collection of images on display in the museum.
Overall, the workshop was a super fun experiment. It was great to be able to use the real photographic chemicals, but also to allow participants to respond to immediate feedback as they developed their photograms. I'm looking forward to continuing to tinker with these elements in further workshops on photography. One idea with have for another project is to create homemade pinhole cameras and then develop the images in a two part session. Maybe a future Tinkering Social Club!
Until then, here's the link to the rest of the images from the event.