Category Archives: Notes

Negatives – starting from Thomas Ruff

Thomas Ruff states that he became interested in the negative after making photograms. For me it was the other way around.

A photogram is also a negative .

The disappearence of the negative as a tool of reproduction is also a time when it becomes a thing of interest in itself.

Ruff made his negatives from historical sepia toned positives, so the negative appears blue. Reversing the positive back into the original point of reproduction.

I’m interested in the materiality of the negative and also the general aesthetic qualities also discussed by Ruff.

Unfamiliar tonality, reversal etc.

to quote George Baker’s The Black Mirror – on Paul Sietsema. (October 158, Fall 2016) on the negative again.

“suspended between negative and positive, Degas’ between images body forth the negative as medium, middle space relay between photograph and object, camera and image. But in this ‘medium’ we find something medium specificity was never supposed to allow: the opening, through inversion, of photography to film, drawing, writing, even to sculpture ( as cast, double, ….it is this afterimage of the afterimage, this opening of the open image, that Sietsema has claimed in his play with the negative today.”

Not light and dark but opacity and transparency – the negative



Photograms – next steps

I’m developing the previous post’s themes to consider how to develop photograms further

  1. What is the relation between the photogram and my existing practice?
  2.  What is the potential of the photogram – what is to be done?  picking up on the observation that photograms encourage a position to be taken.

1. This is going to develop but there is already a link with previous experiments relating to screens and digital photography which allowed the original setup to be done in a day. The fact that I am asking 2 it follows  that 1 will be answered as a result.  The photogram position will assert its place in my practice and not the other way around.

The potential of the digital photogram at a practical level relates to scale, colour, immediacy, animation, and a wider range of materials that can be used with the screen (could be wet for example which might disrupt normal photopaper)

scale – any size but needs a glass sheet and space for lighting and camera to be positioned.

orientation in production – flatbed but could be vertical.

Colour – could result from objects or lighting.

post-production- change of tonal curve, colour.

reproduction – can be reproduced in various ways (transparency – lightbox, projection- as well as digital printing) could be produced as a negative and printed onto photo paper on any scale.

immediacy – exposure can be set on the computer

animation – what is animated? (objects, lighting) and why?

materiality – found materials -could be wet, subject to processes on the screen, organic etc

These practical possibilities open up a significant space beyond conventional photograms.

The potential of the photogram will result for me from the above space and a consideration of how I want to develop the photogram as a position i.e a more theoretical approach.

Various aspects;

The lack of a lens where the lens is a tool of perspective and ordering of space.

Resistance to straightforward analysis

Photogram and proximity – to a screen – tactility.

Relationship between screen and conventional cinematic projection.

Could be projected as a negative (created from digital) on a larger scale.  The materiality of the photogram scaled up – not like a conventional image which may scale naturally.

Chance.. – picking up on the agency of chance.

Flexible arrangements – part chance part design.

Model –  manufacturing large quantities of objects by laser cutting. flat or 3 dimensional.

Found materials – particularly organic materials, glass ornaments,  shards,

The forensic photogram – picking up on the material and chance qualities together.







Photograms – starting from Ruff

The digital photogram seems to point in a number of directions.  I’m becoming aware of a history related to how people have used photograms in the past (recent and not so recent).

The photogram as a basis for a manifesto. The photogram as a statement of intent.

Thomas Ruff started with the idea of computing a photogram – rendering a photogram using a high end rendering package.  Objects drawn and positioned digitally, material and optical properties are programmed.

Ended up using a supercomputer. The element of chance arose from the time it took to render rather than in the positioning of objects.

States that the interest was in creating coloured photograms on a large scale, well beyond what would normally be materially possible.

The end result does look like a scaled up  complex photogram and the range of colour is beyond anything I have seen with an analog photogram.

What’s missing from this kind of photogram?   The result seems to lack materiality and a sense of close contact with the screen.  Analog photograms seem to have this, as do the hybrid digital photograms I have been making. Instead there is an almost architectural quality and sense of scale.

When using a material such as foam there is a complex texture that results from the transmission and reflection of light from the surface.  This is very difficult to do computationally and Ruff spend all his time rendering the optical properties of the photogram while the material aspects were sketched in.

I am thinking of the problems of the problems getting a good CGI rendering of cheese – translucency and sense of material – in an animated film I can’t remember the title of.

The other missing element seems to be randomness between objects – I don’t read the Ruff photograms in that way.  Although they couldn’t predict all the results they did place the objects rather than drop them.  Dropping a load of things in a convincing way, under gravity, is difficult digitally. There is something strange about processes where arrangement is combined with randomness.

So I end up relating this back to the early photograms of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy.

Man Ray – there is a sense of randomness or automatism (abandonment to unconscious processes) in many of the photograms.  I found this aspect discussed at length in an article in October-

Flou; Rayographs and Dada

This contrasts with a cooler, constructivist approach from Moholoy-Nagy. He is interested in the way the photogram creates a space based on a kind of ‘pure’ light based mediality.

Even earlier, photograms were termed light drawings by Fox-Talbot and used as botanical records by Anna Atkins (see Ocean Flowers published by the Drawing Centre, NY). Emphasis on the indexical quality of the photogram as a direct record of ‘reality’

What comes out of this is perhaps a recognition that the photogram seems to elicit a kind of position from anybody who employs it ‘with intent’ . There is a link here with my reading and notes on Krauss ‘Voyage on the North Sea’

A genealogy might look something like

Early days of photography – the photogram lacks a name, it is a form of photography without a lens.  Emphasis on the ability of the photogram to record objects in outline.  Replaced by conventional lens photography which is consolidated.

Rediscovery by Schad, Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy. A programmatic tool; Man Ray automatism and the unconscious (Dada, Surrealism)  Moholy-Nagy – ‘painting with light’ utopian position.

Avante-garde extensions into film – Man Ray, Thermersons.

becomes a tool used by a minority of experimental photographers (contemporary review – Shadowcatchers exhibition)

Taken up by Thomas Ruff – asks the question- What if I simulate the photogram and push the boundaries within this space?

Voyage on the North Sea 4 – Intermedia

In Voyage on the North Sea intermedia is positioned as a kind of (negative) unstructured area in which much contemporary art (installation, video art) has drifted (Krauss writing in the mid 90’s).

Intermedia is something I am interested in but trying to understand how I can deploy it and what it might mean for my practice.

In 4-the-politics-of-intermediality  (2010) Jens Schroeter outlines some of the historical context for this debate, including the historical opposition between Greenbergian medium purity and the explosion of intermedial experimentation in the 60’s.

This kind of oppositional discussion may miss the complexity of media themselves, not to mention the infinite variations by which they can interact.   The different commentators within the Intermedia debate, for example cinema, theatre and literature also have their own perspectives and these often differ considerably.

My approach takes as a cue a paper by Jill Bennett, the first part of which


puts forward the idea of the intermedial gesture following Agamben’s Notes on Gesture. The intermedial gesture is a kind of ‘making means apparent’ which for Agamben is an ethical act. Bennett positions this more as an aesthetic gesture on the other hand so the extent to which Agamben can be called upon is up for debate.   I probably need to understand more about gesture in Agamben and this reading is currently in process. It links to contemporary biopolitics and may have a range of interesting links.

For the moment what seems clear is that the intermedial gesture is integral to Broodthaers’ Voyage on the North Sea although Krauss herself does not employ that term directly.   The film is structured as a book with page numbers and consists of a series of static shots of both photographs and paintings.  At one point a closeup shot reveals the weave of the canvas of the painting.  It seems to want to distance itself from the idea of being a film – hence the gesture of the book format – and directs its attention to paintings and photographs.  The promise of a voyage on the sea is delivered at some level but not directly and only via another medium.  The pitching and rolling of the camera on board ship is traded in for static shots made in the studio.

Some of the strategies of Voyage on the North Sea are employed by Paul Sietsema who extends the approach to the filming or photographing of models in the studio.

To be continued..