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?