from The Longer than life series 1997-99
type C photogram
(157.6 x 102.6 cm) (image)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds arranged by Loti Smorgon for Contemporary Australian Photography, 2001
© Courtesy of the artist
Then tell me, what is the material world, and is it dead?
He laughing answere’d: I will write a book on leaves of flowers …
I’ll sing to you this soft lute; and shew you all alive
The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.
William Blake, Europe: A Prophecy 1794
The way that we view photographs has profoundly altered over the last decade as digital technologies have severed the connection between the image and the world ‘out there’. At the same time a number of Australian photographers are choosing to use various nineteenth century techniques, in particular the photogram, to produce pictorially sophisticated and resolutely contemporary images
The photogram is one of the first photographic processes and technically the simplest. In its rudimentary form a photogram is a camera-less image made by laying objects on sensitised paper and then exposing them to light. When first produced in the 1830s, the resulting images seemed to offer magical evidence of the material presence of objects. However, in the hands of today's artists, the process has often been conceptually transformed with the contemporary photogram less about the presence of objects as their absence. The shadowy traces of objects in evoke the transitory nature of time and question the materiality of life.
First Impressions considers the work of a range of Australian artists for whom the photogram is a medium that best suits their creative concerns. As their evocative and often mysterious images suggest, the material world may not be as fixed as we once imagined, but the traces of its living, conscious energy we see here are far from dead.