I recently went along to the V&A’s exhibition Shadow Catchers: Camera-Less Photography with my niece who has just started studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. This is a superb exhibition, intimate and yet exploring wide ranging themes from history, mythology and the subconscious, to nature, life and death.
The five international artists – Floris Neusüss, Pierre Cordier, Garry Fabian Miller, Susan Derges and Adam Fuss – work without cameras. They produce unique images on photographic paper by casting shadows, manipulating light or chemically treating the paper. Their images hint at visions, dreams and memories, encouraging the viewer to engage with the work, rather than being a passive bystander.
The exhibition starts with a number of panels describing the different processes and techniques. This is worth taking time to read (although it is reproduced in the excellent exhibition handout), as it gives a very clear overview of the techniques that the artists use. The layout of the gallery leads one easily from room to room, artist to artist. When I went it wasn’t too busy and so I could just wander at will and take my time. This was good, as my niece was making copious notes! The exhibition is supplemented by a series of films of the artists talking about their work, ideas and inspirations. These are definitely worth seeing (they are also available on the V&A’s website), as they give an insight into the work, the processes that the artists use and their personalities. Pierre Cordier is delightful in his explanation of how he made his first ‘chemigram’ and his likening of himself to Degas’ description of Nadar, ‘Oh you’re just a faux-artiste, a faux-painter, a faux-tograph!’
The exhibition runs from 13th October 2010 to 20th February 2011. There are various events, including courses and workshops to take advantage of and, of course, the obligatory exhibition catalogue. If you like exploring subconscious themes and are intrigued about how photographs can be made without a camera, then don’t miss it – my niece says she is still buzzing!