In 2007 Alison Rossiter purchased a battered box of silver gelatin print paper, stamped with an expiration date of May 1, 1946. Intending to make photograms she headed into the darkroom to make a test print. What emerged on the paper as she moved it through the developer, stop, and fix, she describes as a beautiful Vija Celmins-like graphite drawing. With passion she talks about “finding” the drawing in the tired coating of the paper, “The silver halides could not maintain their light sensitive capacity. I knew then that there was something to go and find in the midst of the deterioration and failure of the paper.” And go and find she did. The shelves of her studio are lined with thousands of packages of expired paper purchased on eBay. Exquisitely beautiful found objects in themselves, the packages display one hundred plus years of design history.
Cameraless photographic processes in art are not new. Avant-garde masters Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray were two of the first artists to make photograms in the early 20th century. Placing objects directly onto photographic paper, they created formal compositions of cast shadows, shapes, and silhouettes. This type of experimentation in the darkroom continues to resurface and to be reinvented by contemporary artists who create abstractions that rely on chance and who celebrate process. These images are often aesthetically and conceptually contrary to the exacting science of photography.