Shadow Catchers

Is it possible to take photographs without a camera?

Isn’t that a contradiction in terms, you ask?

Absolutely.

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If you visit the ‘Shadow Catchers’ exhibition currently on at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, you might come to a new and even more confusing conclusion.

There are 5 ‘photographic artists’ from the UK, Germany and Belgium on show, who use different camera-less photography techniques like Chemigram, Luminogram or Photogram in order to create images on photographic paper.

But why are these artists creating photographs without a camera? Garry Fabian Miller explains that in his interest in light and time, he wants to make sense of days. He wants to create a thinking space and for that reason uses mostly circles and squares: “The pictures I make are of something as yet unseen, which may only exist on the paper surface, or subsequently may be found in the world. I am seeking a state of mind, which lifts the spirit, gives strength and a moment of clarity.”

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Although the Photograms, Chemigrams and other works looked beautiful, they still did not have much to do with what I understand as photography. The reason is easy: While lensed photography gives us an image that suggests a perspective on a special field, a window on to a special moment that we choose to capture, cameraless photography gives us an image with no perspective, a view from nowhere.

If you look up Chemigram on Wikipedia, for example, the article describes this procedure as an intersection of both painting and photography and says it lies within the general domain of experimentation in the visual arts. Pierre Cordier, who is called “Mr Chemigram” even sees himself more in the world of painting.

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My favourite pieces were the works of Florian Neusüss, not because he is German, but because his pictures were probably the closest to what I understand and expect from ‘photography’ and the capturing of special moments, for example, this shadow of a person on a chair:

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The exhibition really made me think: Are these camera-less photographs more than photographs? 

Or less? 

Are they art? 

And is it fair for all the other artists out there, that these ‘photographers’ whose process of producing their pictures can take less than a few minutes or even sometimes only seconds…do they deserve to be shown in one of the most important museums in London for as long as five months?!

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I guess you have to make up your own mind about it. It is definitely interesting to learn about this other world of photography. So go and see this special exhibit, if you are in town before February 20th.

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