Unreal Nature

December 16, 2010

By Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:25 am

… in some series one can sense Moholy-Nagy’s intervening hand, in others he himself remains entirely passive, as though waiting for the material to show what it can do by itself.

This (images and text) is from Moholy-Nagy: The Photograms Catalogue Raisonné edited by Renate Heyne and Floris M. Neusüss. with Hattula Moholy-Nagy. The text that I quote is a small part of an Renate Heyne’s essay, “Light Displays: Relations So Far Unknown”:

… In most cases, several objects would be used for the making of the photograms, but unlike Man Ray, who assembled objects in his photograms into poetically surreal séances that at times remind one of the “chance encounter of a sewing machine with an umbrella on a dissecting table,” Moholy-Nagy considered only the material and the form of the objects to be important for his compositions, even putting them in full control at times: while in some series one can sense Moholy-Nagy’s intervening hand, in others he himself remains entirely passive, as though waiting for the material to show what it can do by itself.

[click for larger]

… Using movable light sources, with which he “irradiated” the objects on the photographic paper from different positions and from all sides, Moholy-Nagy was able to dissolve their forms into intermerging tones of gray. While the objects served him as a means of creating the composition (as in photography), they completely disappeared from the final image. But there is something else too. Not only was the image the result of an interaction between the light and the object, but it also had a tactile quality arising from the physical contact between the object and the photographic paper: both the light and the object were in contact with the paper during exposure and left their traces. … The action of the light left traces — Moholy-Nagy coined the phrase “surface treatment with light” to describe them — that were comparable with the traces of a paintbrush on a canvas.

[(above) click for larger]

[photograph of the type of tea infuser with dish used to make the photogram above]

In Dessau, Moholy-Nagy used almost only black-tone darkroom developing paper of 18 x 24 cm format. Although he denied that it was his intention, the pure black, unmodulated backgrounds of his Dessau photograms awaken associations with cosmic space. The light modulated by the objects now passes through the seemingly infinite blackness of the picture space, creating tension between the suction forces that seem to be generated by this blackness and the finely graduated gray tones of the forms that develop within it. Compared with the photograms of his early period, in which the “effect of form” took priority, those of the Dessau period placed emphasis on the “effect of light.” Just as in infinite space, there is no top or bottom, left of right, in these photograms. Indeed, Moholy-Nagy also displayed them with different orientations in his publications.

Captions to the above Popular Photography spread:

(Tacks) “Two coils of string and some tacks were placed on a sheet of sensitized paper. The whole was illuminated briefly with a small flashlight. The objects were then moved ont he paper and another exposure was made.”

(Spoons) “Two spoons and a napkin ring produced this photogram. The highly reflective, curved surfaces give interesting tone gradations. They were illuminated from a low angle.”

(Double head) “”Moholy-Nagy laid his head down on the projection paper to make the photogram shown above. He then turned his head on the paper and made a second exposure.”

(Leaf catcher) “A circular piece of wire screen was placed on sensitized paper and then covered with an inverted bell-topped glass vase. The light was placed slightly off vertical. This setup was then removed and replaced by a silver fruit basket for the second exposure.” [I think maybe he said “silver fruit basket” either by mistake or because he didn’t want to explain what a leaf-catcher was. Elsewhere in the book, they have a photograph of the leaf-catcher that he used (it’s a device that goes on the end of a gutter’s downspout).]

(Hand/brush) “Originally a paint brush and a wire grid were placed on the paper. When the design began to appear on the paper in the developer, the author placed his hand on the paper and made two more exposures.”

(Rose) “Here a rose was laid on the paper and the illumination was concentrated in certain spots with a very small flashlight.”

Below is a collection of photograms from the book that I particularly like. Sorry, there is no larger size: they are the same as found in the book.

For previous post on Moholy-Nagy, see here.



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