This week, in my weekly investigations situating contemporary image makers within traditions of modern art, I’d like to look at some image based artists I consider working within or around the concept of formalism. I’ve come across a lot of work lately that seems to be questioning the very form of a photograph while at the same time returning to the essential elements of photography – light, paper, chemistry – an interesting return in this digital age. For the purpose of this article, I will narrow this investigation to artists working only with analogue practices.
One of the reasons for this post was a pondering of Walead Beshty’s work via his recent show at Monique Meloche in Chicago. Some of Beshty’s most recognizable works (at least in the photo world) are his larges scale photograms created by folding photographic paper and sending it through the processor; the only exposure to light coming at the end of the process when the paper, still wet in places because of the folding, comes into contact with the light of the room.
Similarly, Liz Deschenes uses elemental photographic processes to create her often abstract monolithic images. In “Moiré” below, “Deschenes places perforated paper against a window and captures its image on an eight-by-ten-inch black-and-white negative, then duplicates the negative and superimposes two copies in an enlarger; a slight but deliberate misalignment creates the disorienting allover patterns that result.” (Brian Sholis, 2007)
Lisa Oppenheim also uses the photogram as a starting point. All of the images in her series Multicultural Crayon Displacements are unique photographs which depict “a set of colors produced by Crayola termed ‘Crayola Multicultural Crayons’. Crayola’s ‘Flesh’ color was re-named ‘Peach’ in 1963 in response to the Civil Rights Movement, and similarly ‘Indian Red’ was changed to ‘Chestnut’ in 1999.” (ArtRabbit, 2008)
Seemingly taking a page from Beshty, Klea McKenna also uses folded paper to create an essentialized form. Her folds however are much smaller and consist of ” 40 light-sensitive paper airplanes exposed to the sky over a period of ten hours at a WWII anti-aircraft lookout post.” (Klea McKenna, 2010) McKenna also uses found, slashed, or corroded negatives in her practice.
Ann Woo’s work, though not entirely explorations into Formalism, often hints at formalist practice. Especially in her Sunset series.