March 3: What makes signs of distress so attractive in the photographic print?
Two exhibitions open today that exemplify this fascination. At Photon Center za sodobno fotografijo (Photon Centre for Contemporary Photography) at Trg prekomorskih brigad 1, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Vladimir Židlicky opens Artful Games at 7pm; while in Chicago, French photographer Laurent Millet shows Somnium at Catherine Edelman Gallery, 300 W. Superior St. Chicago, Illinois in the USA.
French surrealist photographer and crime writer Léo Malet provides an historical connection as dictated by la règle du jeu of this blog On This Date In Photography; he died on this day in 1996 in Châtillon, France.
Malet, a French poet, was briefly a member of André Breton’s Surrealist group. In the mid-1930s, finding accidental montage in ripped and peeling posters on the walls of the street, he declared:
Soon collage will be executed without scissors, without a razor, without paste . . . Abandoning the artist’s table and his pasteboard, it will take its place on the walls of the city, the unlimited field of poetic realisations.
The idea being that these accidents of time and weather could render automatic art and poetry and unintended meaning. At the time, Walker Evans was already undertaking such work as a photographer of eroded movie billboards on the other side of the Atlantic in 1930.
Vladimír Židlický, born 1945 in Hodonín, in the Czech Republic, extends this kind of patina and layering to photography. In 1985 he and Luba Lauffovà (above), Miro Slovík and Tony Stano would describe themselves as ‘neo-pictorialists’ in reference to the painterliness of their imagery that they achieved by working the surfaces of negative and print, through toning and superimposition or multiple exposure in printing.
From the 1960s he had been an abstract painter, but studying in the Department of Photography of the Academy of Cinematic Arts in Prague. Before graduating in 1975, he made straight photographs, though they shot in conditions that produce obscure, moody results.
By the mid 1970s he starts to paint on and scratch negative emulsions to introduce dynamic marks of the kind one would expect of an expressionist hand-drawn work.
The selection of work for Artful Games covers the last ten years of Židlicky´s work when he began working in colour, but these are by no means straight prints. He uses his knowledge of painting, drawing and old techniques in photography; silver bromide prints, ferrotypes, ambrotypes, colored positives, combination printing and other methods of intervening in the colour process, in addition to light painting and multiple exposures in making the shots. In Landscape #101 of 2007 he has worked over the negative to produce a hatching of fine black scratches, and also introduced a layer of scratched perspex or glass in printing, softening the colour.
Pleasant Rest is one of many multiple nudes that he poses before his camera in the studio, though often these crowds are built up through multiple exposure and montage. Here an overlay of torn plastic has been introduced in printing to soften the colour; the effect is reminiscent of an Hieronymous Bosch painting. In his multiple exposure prints the layering of numbers of negatives on top of others mutes the colour and produces a melancholy mistiness.
The transparency of bodies and parts of bodies is a reminder of the transient nature of human life and relationships. In works from 2009 the colour is viscerally emphatic and agitated markings lend an urgent erotism.
A comparison (above) of a straight print of a portrait of one of his models with his Homage to Gustave Klimt, above reveals the extent of his post-camera transformation.
He sometimes reworks negatives from the 1970s and 1980s for this series, but Zidlicky, now 75 years old, exhibits work only up to 2009 on his website, and a book of his work Zidlicky 1970–2007 has recently been published by Atelier Zidlicky.Not exhibited in his own country between 1990 and 2005, he is becoming more widely acknowledged with his works now being included in many collections of the Centre Pompidou, Bibliotheque Nationale, Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Chalon-sur-Saone, Museum Ludwig, Köln am Rhein, Photography Museum of Charleroi, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Museum of Modern Art New York, Museum of Modern Art San Francisco and many others.
Laurent Millet (b. 1968 France) builds sets and objects purely for the purpose of his photography, which in some cases he titles with the date of building;
I felt like I had to take refuge in something that was comforting and reassuring… This idea brought me back to what I did as a child in the countryside when I would play with wood and stones. I rediscovered that pleasure as an adult… Starting with the first things I built, fishing machines, I felt like a world was opening up in which I could really exist. These objects are powered by my personal fictions, my dream of another life. The photograph is proof of that, a record of the moment, a reward.
His use of older printing techniques in themselves lend a patina, but he also intervenes in the processing of negatives and silver gelatin prints in order to generate a cloudy turbulence. The platinum-palladium process produces solid blacks and toning.
Pictures in his series Somnium (Dream) have the appearance of having been shot in a mid-century science laboratory in which optical experiments have been set up by anonymous technicians and physicists.
The amobrotype is a later form of Daguerreotype positive on glass, but able to be viewed like a paper print, without the need to reflect light into the surface as with the daguerreotype. To make them Millet has to employ procedures similar to collodion negatives as used by Julia Margaret Cameron and others of her era Somnium 7 and others made using the technique are one-off; no other copies are available and the large images are the same glass plate as was exposed in the camera.
The crystalline forms being examined by grey-coated men are made of the very substance which catches their strangely floating, lucent images.
Millet has also issued a book Les Enfantillages Pittoresques Filigranes Editions and Musée des beaux arts d’Angers, which won The Nadar Prize for best photography book in 2014.
It is the mark of the hand and the sense that the image is unique that we miss in the perfection and peerless resolution of the contemporary photographic image, hence the return to chemical processes and media such as the revived Polaroid.
Is it merely nostalgia, or is it that something as delicate and provisionally constructed as Laurent Millet‘s ‘little littoral machines’ is what is required to net the truly precious fleeting images? Does the eye need a tortuous texture in order grasp the mysteries of Zidlicky’s visions?