April 17: If you want heartfelt, expressionist photography it seems the place to find it is in Central Europe, but you may be surprised to find it also in the UK.
Michal Macků, born on this date in 1963, is a Czechoslovak photographer whose work does not hold back. Using mostly his own body he produces strenuous, athletic images. Jennifer Pattison was also born on April 17, in 1978. She shares an expressionist impulse with Macků in her series of explorations of fantasy, the theatrical and the visceral.
Since 1989, Michal has used a technique which he has named “Gellage” (his neologism is a combination of ‘collage’ and ‘gelatin’), and which you might know as mordançage, that involves the transfer of the gelatin emulsion from the fibre-base photographic print to a new surface. During the transfer, the thin gelatin membrane is able to be folded, distorted, torn or overlapped with others before being affixed to the new surface. It is a one-off process able to be repeated only by copying the image.
These ‘gellages’ date from the late 80s through to 2005 and it is clear that Macků is well practiced in the technique, more so than most, and there is a consistency of vision; the ideas become more complex and the prints just get better. In the image above the gelatin emulsion has been torn away as if the subject themselves has lacerated their own representation.
The process reminds us that although we regard photographs as an almost transparent window on three dimensional reality, they are actually two dimensional surfaces which through this technique can be lifted off their support to take on a new three-dimensionality, before being flattened once again, though with the traces of their transformation, buckles, folds and seams, preserved.
This is an effect appreciated by Macků and one to which he attributes a temporal potential;
Photographic pictures mean specific touch with concrete reality for me, one captured level of real time. The technique of Gellage which I am using helps me to take one of these “time sheets” and release a figure, a human body, from it, causing it to depend on time again.
After experiments with heliogravure, platinum and kallitype, Macků has since 2000 turned to carbon printing, an historical photographic technique invented by Alphonse Poitevin in 1855, which he uses in combination with his ‘gellages’. The carbon print image is pigmented gelatin, so it relates to the mordançage process in being a conversion of the original silver-gelatin print (it also works as a transfer process, enabling multicolour prints). Though it is laborious to produce, it is more stable and long-lasting than a gelatin-silver print and it permits adjustments to the tonal range and texture through selective application of the pigment.
In this example a carbon print has been based on a ‘gellage’ manipulation through copying, but at some stage the original, in the upper portion of this androgynous sentinel, appears to have been photographed or printed through textured glass, and the grass in the foreground might be a photogrammed addition. Long practice has made the complexities of the technique indecipherable, but even after more than twenty years, themes of anguish, lost love and self-negation continue. The upheavals of Czechoslovakian history have left their mark on the country’s art; while Macků uses his own body to make most of his pictures, they are not self-portraits, but represent an Eastern European Everyman.
The use of rippled glass as a filter in the image above predicts Macků’s next technical innovation; using the ‘gellage’ process to print directly onto glass layers to retrieve the sculptural form of his body which so often imitates sculpture itself in such poses as that of the Discobolos or of Rodin’s Thinker.
Macků is represented by Galerie Paci Contemporary which has just this month presented these ‘Glass Gellages’ at the AIPAD Photography Show in New York City and will again in solo show at Photo London, 18 – 21 May 2017.
It is a surprise to encounter this image which might be mistaken for a Michal Macků ‘gellage’ in colour; a floating ‘skin’ unravelling. It is from British artist Jennifer Pattison’s recent series Levitation, Ice and the Limits of Reality photographed in Rio, in Brazil, and which she says was inspired by Gabriel García Márquez’s magic realist novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
My intention was not to re-stage events from the novel, but to use it as a springboard to provoke a playful, and perhaps naïve way of looking.
A selection from this work was included in a group show at Uncertain Sates at Mile End Art Pavilion, Clinton Road, London, from 4-15 November 2015.
There is a certain Duane Michals magic realism in her sequence (a selection, shown out of order here) but also more intense poetic and chromatic awareness of the transcendent potential of cloth and the limbs of trees that attach to the human in form or simile.
These are sensitivities consistently apparent in other series by Pattison, even though they are varied and experimental. The ongoing In Sight of My Skin are unclothed portraits of women photographed in their own homes to capture a sense, a ‘whisper’ as Pattison puts it, of their presence.
A desire to convey her father’s suffering from depression, and his efforts to alleviate it through therapy, prompted the series Edward, in which a sickly cyan dominates a majority of the prints, photographs of objects her father created in OT sessions or collected on long walks as he distracted himself from deep seated anxiety.
While, as one may expect from clichés about the prevailing national temperament, Pattison’s expressionism is quieter and more reserved than Macků’s, the emotion and empathy is as intense, the imagery as passionately wrought.