Taking the darkroom to the computer.

Photograms

When I first studied photography I was not given a camera. My class was told the basic idea of what photography is, Writing/Drawing with light. Our teacher explained to us that all a photograph is a reaction between light and a light sensitive material. With this very simplistic outlook we were sent out of the class room and told to bring objects to our next lesson. I don’t remember what I brought back though I am sure the resulting photogram must be in one of my journals at my parents’ house in storage.

Photograms have been around since the beginning of photography in the early 1800’s, when one of the fathers of photography, Henry Fox Talbot created the first photogram. A photogram is creating an image without a camera. Talbot would place leaves on his photographic paper and let the paper be exposed by the sun.

Fox Talbots photograms were replicated in a similar way in the darkroom. You would place glass on top of photographic paper and then place your objects on the glass that you are using to create your photogram. Sometimes if needed your can place another piece of glass on top of your photogram subject. Once everything is in place you expose the photographic paper to light to produce the photogram.

An example of a Fox Talbot photogram.

Photograms are an area of photography where you can practice with trial and error subject and composition. Photographers who started using or still use traditional darkroom photography would have made hundreds of photograms even without planning to, when creating their contact prints (A contact print being a method of placing your negative onto photographic paper and then exposing to light, so as to preview what was on the negative more clearly.)

Taking this idea one autumn I was walking around and started picking up fallen leaves. At the time I am sure I had no idea what I was really planning.

After looking at the leaves I thought, what if I could make a digital photogram using them. I knew this was not a revolutionary idea but my brain started to tick over and the creative juices started flowing. I knew a straight scanned image may not look to interesting so I created a work flow. I didn’t want to pollute the recipe because something didn’t work I wanted it to work or not.

With digital photography I have found that it is easy to be lazy with “I will fix that in Photoshop” attitude. I believe if you get it right in the camera then it makes life easier when you get to editing/post production and the image looks stronger.

My work flow was; Scan the leaves, Import to Photoshop, Duplicate layer, Enlarge bottom layer to fill image, Mask out back areas on top layer, Levels, Curves, Hue and Saturation, Sharpen, Save.

Most of the editing was done using an action script. After seeing the output I decided the images needed something extra to finish them off. I added a border using low opacity brushes.

I am very proud of the images and the way i made them. With most of the work being automated through action scripts it meant that I had turned my computer and scanned into a camera, in a way replicating the original photograms themselves. The images have a symmetry to them which could reflect nature with how all the lines and colours fit like puzzle pieces together.

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Making photograms is quite fun especially when you take ordinary objects and see them as something extraordinary. When most people first make photograms they use solid objects but I always think that objects that are slightly opaque are the best to play with the light, to see surprising colours and shades from something we see as not unusual. And this is a reflection of photography taking what could be seen as boring and making it interesting, forcing people to look where they may have turned their head and forcing people to see what they may have been blind to.

The photogram was there at the birth of photography as a primitive form of the camera, and today with the digital age it is still a great form of photography.

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