Shadow Catchers


Mes notes lors d’un colloque le 4 février 2011, au Victoria & Albert Museum, Londres, à l’occasion de l’exposition Shadow Catchers. Les photographes présents étaient Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller, Adam Fuss et Floris Neusüss.


10h30  Martin Barnes, introduction

1st exhibition in a museum of this kind

Camera-less techniques (20 years or more), their main practice, not a single experiment once.

Unique photographs, one-to-one scale (almost all): different from normal photographs.

Not so much about the process, but what the process allows them to express.

Means of personal expression, metaphorical meanings.

An underground movement today (unlike at beginnings of photography), has been dormant since.

Neusüss & Cordier: continuation of experimental practice which began at Bauhaus, concrete photography movement.

3 British artists: metaphysical tradition of British landscape and poetry.

Recognizable territory but it requires greater imagination on behalf of viewer: it looks unfamiliar.

Make invisible things to be visible, things usually hidden.

Going back to basics: light, time, chemistry.




11h Marina Warner (writer)

Dibutades, Lavater, silhouettes.

Etienne Gaspard Robertson, Phantasmagories (Paris 1790).

Magic lens showing the invisible.

Arthur Rackham, drawing of shadows.

Shadow is body-less.

Thought photography: Hippolyte Baraduc, Louis Darget

Magde Donahue (Scotographs).

Exhibition The 3rd eye.

Book by Ray Sorenson on shadow / shade /filter.
Book l’Extase matérielle.
Stealing the soul.

Ada Dean (Spirit photographer), Brown Wolf.

Withdraw from consciousness.

Animism, mysticism.



11h50 Gary Fabian Miller with Nigel Warbuton

Light is the material, the plant is just an intermediary.

Chance does not play much of a role.

Garry Fabian Miller a une dimension performative : durée, ‘embodiment’, chamanisme.



12h20 Pierre Cordier with Anna Douglas

AD: Going inside the material of photography; this is different from recording the world. Not a shadow catcher, but a matter catcher.

PC: is it made with the hand or not? achereiopoeita? I am not working with light but with the matter. This is different from painting: on the canvas, you add paint.

AD: you go inside the paper

PC: not really, I go on the paper, in the emulsion, the silver salts.

AD: your work is growing out of chemistry, you generate (generative photography), you are a generator of images.

PC: I am experimenting, always (I tried other techniques before). I control the experiment. My influencers: Georges Perec (working under constraints), but mostly Borges (the unreadable, Babel’s library).

AD: Form is the outcome of the process, it’s born from the experiment.

PC: I have no firm plan, I don’t know precisely what will happen, randomness (miracle) plays a part. For example in the zigzagram, there is a great amount of control, but beauty spots happen here and there, it’s a surprise, not planned.

AD: what you call nature, I call generative: the material has an independent life of its own.

PC: usually, I do it in one session, without interruption. Rarely, I come back later and modify a chemigram. I called them Palingramme (de nouveau).

I have read L’oeuvre ouverte de Umberto Eco, who knows me, I can also take away.

Painting is additive, photography is substractive (cutting away a part of the world), chemigram is both.

It is not optical art, different from Bridget Riley.

AD: Duchamp on the retina? Make the viewer a creator.

PC: my work is not conceptual. I don’t make chemigrams so they will look like other things (marmor), I don’t do them to make beautiful decorative objects, they happen to be beautiful (I throw away some, not many).

Reads a text by François Morellet.


12h50 Panel discussion, Matilda Pye (V&A)

Projections into other cultures. Cordier and jazz improvisation.
Cordier: humour plutôt que philosophie conceptuelle. Intérêt pour la science marginale (par ex la mémoire de l’eau). Dans ses chimigrammes, des teintes (venant de l’oxydation des sels d’argent), mais pas de couleurs (il a fait des essais avec les couleurs primaires dans le révélateur, pas concluant)
Alchimiste plus que photographe.
Garry Fabian Miller: I am unlikely to re-use a camera, except for documentation.
Question by Marina Warner to Garry Fabian Miller: Rounds images as halos, as eucharisties? Also using wine: strong religious background.

Adam Fuss to Marina Warner: what is the uncanny?

Nigel Warburton: Like Pierre Ménard, who is not Quichote, they use images that look scientific (and maybe are), but in a different context.

Question from the audience: Are you poets?

Garry Fabian Miller: I am a gardener, a shepherd, maybe a poet.

Pierre Cordier: It’s more difficult to be a poet than an artist.


14h30 Susan Derges with Martin Kemp

MK: Metaphysics of light [long speech].

SD: some digital reworking of photograms. Expediency. Loss of honesty.

Change form: transformation: digital

Change material: transmutation: analogue

Three levels: technique, beauty, signification


Anna Douglas : Derges commence avec des images structuralistes (Chladni) (l’importance du processus, c’est structuraliste) et finit en faisant de l’effet, avec des procédés digitaux : où est passée l’honnêteté ? Si c’est juste une belle image, quelle que soit la manière dont elle est faite, quel intérêt autre que superficiel ? Quelle honnêteté ? L’image perd son impact si elle se résume à la beauté et aux sentiments. Ne pas s’intéresser qu’à la prouesse technique. En comprendre les raisons.


15h Adam Fuss with David Chandler

DC: Idea of place, of laboratory; interior & exterior.

AF: I am outside of any land, an exiled.

The snake as pencil, paintbrush of nature.

I took up photography because I could be by myself, alone.

Importance of memory, remembering (putting members together).

Exploration of the shadow; access to other realms.

Make something that has life, that I keep looking at.

Idea of revelation.

Light and dark, male and female, material and immaterial.

Daguerreotype as a mirror as well as a photograph: the present moment to hold in time. A magical object. Quality of blue (avoided in XIXth century because portraits).

The snake as the original sin; daguerreotype of the mattress (the most difficult thing I could do, because of its size).

Snake also symbol of energy, of live force.

Four levels: seeing (what we see), feeling (how we feel), making (how is it made), thinking (why is it made).



15h30 Floris Neusüss with Penny Black

FN: Historical approach (Talbot, Schad, Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy).

Paradoxes of photograms: negative/positive, Man Ray made editions.

Photograms disappeared in the 70s.

Making photograms of photo paper: no object except itself.

Contact, more than a shadow (which is a projection).

Touching icon.

Presence by absence.



16h30 Panel discussion Martin Barnes

There is a moral imperative to do it analogically. No deception.

Marc Lenot: Your choice of title for the show, “camera-less” as opposed to “negative-less”: no reproduction (aura), closer to object (more indexical).

MB: It’s a good title “camera-less”, it puzzles. We could have used also lens-less.

Question from the audience: Susan Derges using digital photography: it’s a dissimulation, no longer an indexical image.

17h Charlotte Cotton, conclusions