An introduction to Luminograms with Michael Jackson
You may also have noticed that most of his output of late hasn’t been (directly) of the beach he’s spent the past eight years capturing on film. It’s all a little…abstract.
Enter the Luminogram.
I’ve been fascinated by them ever since first being introduced to the form by one of Michael’s tweets:
Head Study, silver gelatin Luminogram pic.twitter.com/CNc1xoNfMI
— Michael Jackson (@MikeGJackson) October 26, 2015
On first glance, they look like charcoal drawings; bold outlines, softly shaded into three dimensional relief. Look closer and something’s not quite right. There’s no obvious hatching, rubbing, or lifting…it’s as if they were projected onto the paper, which in fact, they were.
I won’t labour this introduction with any more of my hack writing. It’s time to let the man speak for himself.
Over to you, Michael.
In late 2014, early 2015 I found myself working through a number of different ideas at the same time. I had been offered a show for my eight years photographing the beach Poppit Sands and I was deep into printing my results in the darkroom.
I was also interested in photographing the sun on 35mm film and had started to piece together a number of prints, laying them out in grids on the floor. I had also been lucky enough to have been given a large stack of expired photo paper from a local photographer who had heard of my work at Poppit.
These three occurrences all came together just at the right time. I often find that by pure chance there is a cross fertilisation between ideas, and the fact that I had a large supply of photo paper to play with allowed me to experiment endlessly. I would use up old test strips of RC paper and play with how the light marked them, bending and twisting the paper, always letting the light make the mark but never venturing into making them photograms.
This playing remained just a sideline to my other work until I began to find that I would end up spending all day working on the luminograms and get nothing else done. At that time I didn’t even know that they were called luminograms – it was all just about the excitement of making marks on the photo paper.
As I continued to experiment I managed to work out a set of steps to take to get certain results that interested me. Over time these steps were refined, added to and often removed completely, and as the number of steps increased the more unique the results became.
Eventually I got to a point where I could concentrate on the composition and overall structure of the pieces that I was making. I increased the paper size and worked towards getting repeatable results. This caused all sorts of problems, as an essential factor in making these prints and getting the depth and quality of tone is how the chemicals are made up. Having no way to measure the strength of the developer exactly I had to modify every step in the process to accommodate the day to day differences in temperature and strength.
With regards to repetition, each print is a one-off, as the process only makes one print. The repetition comes in the process itself, and that is always being altered a little bit to try out new ideas and that is how the work grows and also lead to new discoveries, which I am thankful for.
However, the building of the image more than compensates for these small niggles. The fact that you are taking light and moulding it into a form that the paper then receives and reacts to at a chemical level is so exciting to me.
I enjoy the fact that the work is not random, it is not all by chance. It is built up of specific gestural ideas that rely on intuition and a strong image in your mind. I have worked on portraits using the process, along with applying what I learned at Poppit to create compositions resembling how I see nature working all around us.
I use a number of different light sources and I often solarise the print too. I am always open to try anything new and I hope that that will keep the pieces fresh and moving forward. Because that is what you really need to do with a process – you need to push it into areas that nobody has been to before.
Great stuff and yet another example of what we might think as traditional photographic concepts, materials and processes being used to create and develop new forms of art. As Michael described in an exchange we had some months back:
“With regards to mixing film with other art forms – I think that it is wonderful. And there is a lack of coverage for these ‘combination’ pieces of work. I think that photography is still regarded as an outsider when it comes to art (so many galleries show paintings alongside sculpture but wouldn’t dream of showing photos too) so getting photography, especially film photography to mix with painting or installations or sculpture is great!”
…and with that, I’ll draw to a close.
If you’re interested in trying your hand at luminograms, Michael’s website is a great source of inspiration. Wikipedia is always a good place to start for researching concepts and histories and you can find a couple of piece to get started on both Luminograms and Solarization.
I’d also suggest learning more about the progenitor of the luminogram/photogram concept, László Moholy-Nagy, via his foundation’s website.
We’ll be back with something a little less (or perhaps a little more) abstract soon. In the meantime, keep shooting, folks.
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