During the first term, GCSE Photography students are taken back to the beginnings of photography and are set the challenge of creating images without the use of a camera. Not just without digital cameras, but no cameras at all.
To begin with, students were guided around the workings of the darkroom. How light-sensitive paper works, how it reacts to light, objects and liquids. How the darkroom chemicals work and how they can be applied and manipulated to good effect. Once they discovered first-hand how to create a photogram, with the aid of research into the pioneers of the practice such as Man Ray and John Herschel and contemporary artists such as Susan Derges and Adam Fuss, the students were encouraged to experiment, and to push at the limits of techniques available and the ideas they generated.
On a particularly sunny day, there was a demonstration on how to make ‘daylight photograms’, using photographic paper outdoors and blocking some of the UV light with objects then scanning the results quickly before they faded. This technique allowed students work out in the open air for a change, away from the darkroom, as well as producing results with gradients of colour as the light-sensitive paper turned magenta or cyan, depending on weather conditions.
A great deal of development, refining and reflection resulted in some beautiful images, made all the more extraordinary considering all they had to work with were small sheets of photographic paper. The students were ready for the next stage, which was to develop a photogram project choosing a theme from a shortlist given to them. Themes included ‘Fluid’, ‘What’s inside’, ‘How it works’, and ‘Delicate’. They were encouraged to be as creative as possible, aiming for a final piece or series. They were allowed to scan their work and manipulate it digitally, though some opted to add colour using the traditional method of dyes and inks.
The photogram part of the project resulted in very ambitious and original work from all students, and they would happily have carried on indefinetely. We will be returning to the darkroom after half-term this time to make photographs using pinhole cameras which the students will be constructing themselves from cardboard. Stay tuned for the results in a few weeks.
Meanwhile here is a selection of work from each student so far. There is more to each piece than meets the eye, but they can be appreciated out of context too. I hope you enjoy them, and bear in mind no cameras were used in the making of these images.