The Atom Planet series explores ways of generating an image on photographic paper without using a camera or negative. The dialogue that occurs between painters or sculptors, and their chosen medium is one source of inspiration for inventing processes that inform the resulting photograph. Another is the scientific method, where you observe phenomena, formulate a hypothesis, test it with experiments, use careful measurements, note variables, observe results, and then use this information to build an image.
While still working with photo paper, light, and chemistry, I use some well-known processes like the photogram, and invent other ways of producing images without using a negative. Some of these methods include painting bleach onto blackened photo paper, or building layered piles of glass and eggshells and moving around them with a flashlight to make an exposure. In one image over 100 medicines, spices, and household cleaners were painted onto photo paper and run through regular photographic chemistry to test for colors and textures. The methods are often an unorthodox collection of materials and techniques from the domestic and scientific realms brought into the darkroom, often coaxing or scrubbing, evaporating or decaying, an image into the paper.
Using glue as a resist and digging down to the photo paper surface with alternating photo chemicals causes an image to emerge on the paper in the form of a chemical painting. Some images are made in the dark and some in daylight, some processes are additive and others reductive. After developing these processes and using them to make a series of giant (50 x 111 inch or 125 x 280cm) photographs, the imagery emerges as circles and spheres, meant to represent planets and atoms, to visualize the macrocosm and the microcosm of life as we know it. The scale has a relationship to abstract expressionist painting; I am often physically in the piece while building it, exploring it as if it were a terrain or landscape. The scale is also impacting the subject matter, the work more often explores the cosmological realm than the atomic, but this obsession with circles is also related to a search for a sense of wholeness.
These giant camera-less photographs pose some interesting questions about what photography is, and what it can be. Photography is a young medium, and there is so much undiscovered terrain. We stand at a precipice: digital photography is eroding the availability of some of the analogue materials that photographers have employed, and it’s important to experiment quickly while the materials are still available.