FUN WITH PHOTOGRAMS
By Margaret (Maggie) Brezden
Photograms are photographs you create without using a negative or slide. The typical photogram is made by placing objects on top of photo paper and exposing it to light from your enlarger. If the subject is flat and small enough, you may be able to place it in a glass negative carrier and enlarge it as you would a negative. The photo paper is then processed in the normal way, and depending on their opacity, the objects that were placed on the photo paper at the time of exposure will appear white or gray against a black background.
Opaque materials will produce a high-contrast black and white image while translucent and transparent subjects will give you a photogram with varying tones that can be manipulated with regard to contrast and overall print density, the same as in conventional enlarging. You can get additional control by dodging and burning the image.
With opaque objects, exposure time isn't critical, but it should be long enough to provide a good solid black, but not so long as to degrade the highlights. When you use subjects that are translucent, determine the exposure times by doing a test strip.
During the 1920's Christian Schad, Man Ray, and Moholy-Nagy experimented with photograms, each having their own name for the process. Schad referred to his images as Schadographs; Man Ray called them Rayographs; and Moholy-Nagy called them light drawings or photograms.
Use your imagination when choosing objects for making your photograms. Almost anything can be used to form a design on photo paper: cellophane, string, wire, paper of different textures and thickness that has been cut or torn into different shapes. If you use pages from a newspaper or magazine, remember that what is printed on both sides of the paper will appear on the photogram. Other items you could use are feathers, plants, food and metal objects such as keys, kitchen utensils, nails or any other object you may find interesting. Polished objects reflect the light and will make spots or lines or light on the print while glassware reflects and refracts the light in unexpected ways, producing unusual shapes and patterns.
Photograms are usually one of a kind, but if you want to be able to produce more than one image of the same design you can arrange your objects on a piece of glass which you will place on top of the photo paper. After you have exposed the paper, you can carefully remove the glass without disturbing the objects and repeat the process to make a duplicate photogram.
You can also use glass to raise the objects above the paper, which will allow light to bleed around the edges of the objects and diffuse the image. To do this, use a large piece of glass that extends beyond the print and can be held up at the corners with small wooden blocks or other suitable objects. Remember that any object placed in direct contact with the paper will become a sharp-edged silhouette.
Combine regular photographs as a part of your photogram by using multiple printing methods, or use a negative strip as you would making a contact sheet to form part of your photogram.
Another method you can use to make photograms is to press tiny delicate flowers and use them in the negative carrier as you would a negative. This technique allows you to create an image of whatever size you wish by raising or lowering your enlarger head and it also gives you greater control over exposure.
If you are methodical and consistent in your approach to making photograms you will discover a unique form of creativity and personal expression.
||The colored images that appear on this page have been colored using Cibachrome dyes on RC photo paper.
Margaret Brezden is a self-taught photographer who has used the media as a means of
recording a small part of her heritage in an effort to perpetuate a lifestyle few of
us would have endured. She has extended her artistic expression to encompass an old art
form that has recently regained popularity "Hand-Coloring". Many of her botanicals are
reproductions of her original hand-colored images.
Margaret has also spent time experimenting with her scanner and has created
beautiful botanical prints that are unlike the typical photograph becuse of the depth
and detail of the image. Visit Margaret's On-Line Portfolio
more of her work.