It was pioneers such as the surrealist Man Ray and the constructivist Lazlo Moholy-Nagy in the early 20th century that first saw the potential of the photogram to create vivid dreamscapes. By placing disparate objects on photographic paper and manipulating the light or chemically treating the surface of the paper, an image in silhouette would appear—an image that allows the imagination to fill in the gaps.
Almost 90 years since Man Ray created his stark “rayographs,” cameraless photographers such as Floris Neusüss from Germany are still experimenting with the form. “For me, making a photogram is almost the opposite of making photographs,” Neusüss told Britain’s the telegraph in a 2010 interview. “A photogram is like a painting: you have a blank sheet of paper and you create a picture on it, step by step. A camera provides you with an instant image that resembles what you can see in front of you anyway.”
He says the great advantage of the photogram is that it follows the contours of the imagination rather than representing reality as it presents to the eye, allowing the artist to create images that have never been seen before. “In 1960, I captured the image of a female nude as a photogram, on a two-metre length of paper. I discovered that in one sense the fact that the woman in the photogram is life-sized communicates intimacy, but in another sense it creates detachment—the picture has no surface detail, so you can’t identify distinctive features. The figure appears to be floating in space. It eludes realistic capture.” While photograms recall some of the earliest photographic processes, there has been a resurgence in interest in cameraless photography driven by the ubiquity of digital photography. “Digitalisation has helped make photography even more banal,” says Neusüss. “You can do anything with Photoshop, and everybody does, with the effect that the observer’s imagination is not engaged.” London’s Atlas Gallery is showing works by Neusüss at Art Basel.
Text by Peter Shadbolt; Images courtesy of the artist and Atlas Gallery, London.