The photogram, using an enlarger and photosensitive paper to make an image without the use of a camera, was a staple of experimental photography in the early 20th century and used to great effect by Man Ray or Lázsló Moholy-Nagy. Such analog techniques have been embraced recently by a number of contemporary photographers. Thus, it is ideal timing for a small show of work by the German artist Floris Neususs, who has done extraordinary things for 50 years with the photogram technique. Dreams + Photograms at Von Lintel Gallery closes August 15.
Most well-known are his nudograms from the 1960's and 70's — Korperbilder — that track the human figure, especially women, as ghostly presences, both dark and light, detailed and unclear, yet life size on huge sheets of paper.
Floris Neusüss, "Portrait of Robert Heinecken; Portrait of Joyce Neimanas," 1997
Gelatin silver photograms on auto-reversal paper; 90.6 x 41.7 inches (230 x 106 cm), each
Courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery
This show includes the 1997 life size photograms of his close friend and collaborator Robert Heinecken and his wife, photographer Joyce Neimanas. Their dark silhouettes on creamy backgrounds are instantly recognizable to anyone who knew them. And, they are only sold as a pair, so they can remain a couple.
Floris Neusüss, "Nachtbild (48), 1991
Gelatin silver photogram; 68 x 42 inches (175 x 106 cm)
Courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery
Neususs also made photograms of landscape by placing the paper with the emulsion side down and exposing it to lightning. Grasses, leaves, twigs appear in a beautiful chaos of silvery blacks and grays. Even Neususs student work from the 1950's, before he embarked on photograms, shows a propensity to experimentation.
Christopher Williams, "Untitled (Study in Yellow and Green/East Berlin),
Studio Thomas Borho, Düsseldorf, July 7th, 2012," 2012.
Inkjet print on cotton rag paper. 14 3/8 × 18 in. (36.5 × 45.7 cm)
Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London
For an entirely different approach to photography, visit Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition organized by Russell Ferguson for the Hammer Museum. It is on view through September 13. Here, the element of chance seems to have been completely eradicated by photographers. In the early development of photography in the 19th century, artists carefully composed pictures, emulating the methods of the fine art form of painting. Then came 35mm cameras, smaller and more portable, so much of modern photography has been dedicated to the perfect moment captured on the street, in battle, in flight. Today, we are swamped with such instant pictures taken on cell phones, posted on the internet. In this exhibition, it is clear that certain artists have chosen to return to the time-consuming craft of composition, even narrative, in their pictures.
Lynn Davis, "Iceberg 32, Disko Bay, Greenland," 2000
Gelatin silver print, toned with gold. 36 × 36 in. (91.4 × 91.4 cm)
Courtesy of the artist
This is quite a cross section that Ferguson selected, artists who usually might be relegated to the post-Conceptual camp, like Christopher Williams, hang beside artists celebrated for rigorous formal technique like Lynn Davis. In both cases, the pictures are seductive, inducing instant amnesia about previously held beliefs. Without being the premise for the show per se, the pictures remind us of the uplifting quality of gorgeous, and in this case, composed photographs, from Annette Kelm's small acorn to Thomas Demand's giant diving boards.
Annette Kelm, "First Picture for a Show," 2007
Chromogenic print. 6 1/4 × 7 3/4 in. (15.9 × 19.7 cm)
Image courtesy of the artist and Johann König, Berlin
Now for some sad news: We mourn the death of Karen Sinsheimer, talented photography curator for 25 years at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, who has died of cancer. Having organized countless exhibitions and built the collection at the museum, her loss is felt throughout the art community.