In a world of photography where digital ‘snaps’ are becoming the tedious norm, the Michael Hoppen Gallery presents a show navigating an area of photography that little is known about: the photograph made without a negative. No, not a photogram - but a photograph. We will present a wonderful mix of works, from rare early daguerreotypes through to contemporary takes on these early techniques.
Photographs were invented to be reproduced on demand. The London Stereoscopic Company, as an example, in the 19th century managed to produce hundreds of thousands of copies of photographs from individual negatives. As the mechanical world came into being, mass re-production became the preferred method.
The early photographer in the 1830’s and 1840’s strained to produce lasting images of quality and consistency and it was only in 1835 that the negative by Henry Fox Talbot was invented which allowed them to print numerous copies, and after the paper negative, it was no less arduous and complex a process coating collodion negatives. However, in 1826, Daguerre, a French scientist and inventor, developed a beautifully complex system of producing a photograph on a silver plated copper sheet which was usually cased so that owners could keep the images of their loved ones close to them in their pockets. Larger, half plate daguerreotypes, although much more expensive to produce and hence highly sought after, were often hung on the wall.
Today’s photographers have adopted the digital world in a way no one could have predicted. The days of the hand-made photograph, the laboratory technician, the chemist and artist combined seem almost like a distant memory. The camaraderie of the photographers and printers who would meet in the basement darkrooms of Soho to go over contacts and discuss the printing is all but gone.
Yet a few intrepid artists still do look to the past in their efforts to craft a photograph and the Michael Hoppen Gallery is delighted to include several of them in this exhibition. Richard Learoyd makes his own photographs, and without negatives. Using the most basic form of photography, the camera obscura, Learoyd marries old and new technology: strobe lighting, state of the art optics and Ilfochrome paper to create an unexpected voyeurism. “I suppose people see it as an alternative process,” he says, “but I see it as an alternative use of modern materials.” His large-scale portraits are monumental and contemporary, but share a 19thC alchemist’s tradition.
Adam Fuss too, has forged his career creating startling pictures using early techniques, such as photograms and extraordinary large daguerreotypes. These are hugely complex to create, and there are no 21st century shortcuts available to him. We will be exhibiting the largest daguerreotype in the world which Fuss created last year and which measures some 42 inches wide.
With the tsunami of over retouched and digital photographs we are deluged with each day, it is refreshing to find artists working against the tide of mass production.