Chemigrams

I had the privilege of sitting in on Denis Roussel‘s photo I class for a session yesterday. His class was doing Chemigrams, something Denis hadn’t covered in the alternative processes class I took with him last semester. He caught up with me in the darkroom yesterday when I was adding cyanotype to this print and asked me to sit in and learn about chemigrams.

He did a quick lecture with resources to other artists working with chemigrams and gave us some references of images along with a tutorial. The how-to can be found here on alternativephotography.com (a great resource for anyone working in alt processes.

Here’s a basic rundown of the process, as written by Christina Z. Anderson:

The chemigram process was discovered by Pierre Cordier on November 10, 1956. It is a unique process that uses resists on photographic paper much the same way as wax is used as a resist in batik.

What Cordier discovered in 1956 was that a resist can hold back the chemical effects of developer and fixer on black and white photo paper for a time. Paper put into developer that has been exposed to normal room light for varying periods of time will turn black, except where a resist blocks the chemical reaction. The parts of the paper protected by the resist will continue to change color from extended exposure to room light, of course.

Likewise, paper put into fixer turns white, except where a resist blocks the chemical reaction. The parts of the paper protected by the resist continue to change color from the room light exposure, and suddenly there is the possibility of black, white, and colors in-between on normally monochrome paper.

With a back and forth from developer to fixer or fixer to developer, the resist begins to dissolve, so the next chemical bath either turns slowly exposing paper under the dissolving resist black (developer) or white (fixer) or some color in-between because of the now-lengthening room light exposure. With time this dissolution can be coaxed into creating beautiful, intricate patterns.

The chemigram process is actually very simple, using common household ingredients and common darkroom chemistry. There is no end to experimentation with this nonfigurative, physico-chemical process.

There are some great photos up there. I’ll put the ones I liked best here.


Chemigram by Cynthia Huber, handcoloured


Chemigram by Cynthia Huber, handcoloured


Chemigram by Cynthia Huber: stencils, coconut oil, varnish, sprays on both fixer and developer.


Chemigram by Patrick Rooney done with nail polish and then put through a mordancage solution.


Chemigram by Clare Parsons. “Face” is butter resist and then chemigram is mordancaged.

He also linked us to some work by Heather Oelklaus

These are my two chemigram experiments:

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