Experimental photography

Experimental photography

Experimental photography is a phrase that includes alternative process techniques, and broadly refers to any photographic process or product falling outside the realm of straight film or digital photography, including what is considered

Historical Background

Between the years of 1918 to 1945, the world was experiencing a great deal of change during the time of the World Wars. Photography was no exception to the rule, as it too was affected by the global happenings.


It was during this time period that Dada sprung to life. Dada artists Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann were pioneers of an experimental photographic technique which came to be known as photomontage. Photomontage is a process that involves making an image from the combination and composition of different photographs. It differs from the process of collage in that the material used for composition is primarily, if not exclusively, photographs. The works created by Höch and Hausmann, as well as other Dada artists such as George Grosz and John Heartfield, acted as visual representations of their environment. The way the images were composed, sometimes seemingly haphazardly, reflected the quick changes to life felt during the period after World War I. Marien, Mary Warner. "Photography: A Cultural History." ISBN 0130198560 (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.) ]

Another Dada artist who made an impact on traditional photography was Christian Schad. He developed a photographic printing technique that was a "reinvention" of a process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot.Hirsch, Robert. "Seizing the Light: A History of Photography." ISBN 0697143619 (McGraw-Hill Higher Education) ] Tristan Tzara called Schad's work "schadography," for various speculated reasons, including the term being a reference to both Schad's name and the German word "schaden," which means "damaged." "Damaged" is an appropriate adjective to describe Schad's work, as he used scraps of paper and various other little bits of trash to create his compositions. Schad would arrange his findings on a piece of sensitized paper, put a plate of glass over them to keep them in place, and expose the whole thing to light, sometimes adjusting elements in the composition during the exposure process.


Following in Schad's footsteps, László Moholy-Nagy created photographic prints by laying objects on sensitized paper and exposing the whole set-up to light. In line with constructivist notions of industry and the machine age, Moholy-Nagy's work was composed with pieces that had a very industrial feel or look to them.Meggs, Philip B. "A History of Graphic Design." ISBN 0471291986 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) ] His compositions, which he called photograms, were experiments with the boundaries of photography. Moholy-Nagy's work explored the abstract capabilities of photography, extending the medium beyond its typical use of reproducing literal images of the world. He wished to show through his works that which the naked eye alone was not capable of seeing.


Photography was an essential part of the Surrealist movement, as it could act as a visual method of free association. Many Surrealist photographers chose to work in this vein, literary shooting from the hip and taking photographs without framing the shot in the viewfinder first. Man Ray's work was more calculated than that; instead he chose to keep with the trend of cameraless photography. Ray made photographs following a similar process to that of Schad and Moholy-Nagy, but used different objects to form his compositions. Ray renamed the process once again, calling his works rayographs.

Man Ray also experimented with the process of solarization. The technique of solarization involves briefly exposing a print to a light source during development, which then produces reversed tones in the photograph. Other Surrealist photographers experimented with making normal banal subjects look extraordinary, while still others took straight photographs whose subject matter dealt with the idiosyncrasies of life. Two artists that worked in the later fashion are André Kertész and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Both Kertész and Cartier-Bresson looked to photograph moments in life when harmony existed, and Cartier-Bresson came to describe that critical time as "the decisive moment."

Contemporary Usage

Contact-Printing Techniques

These photographic techniques are primarily historical in origin, and have been revisited by numerous contemporary photographers. The general processes of contact printing involves placing a negative, or other materials, on top of a piece of sensitized material, placing glass on top of the negative to force its contact with the material below, and exposing the whole set-up to light. They are listed below in alphabetical order.


The cyanotype process is a contact-printing technique that yields blue, or cyan, colored prints, hence their name. This process has been used by contemporary artists such as Clarissa Sligh, [ [http://clarissasligh.com/index.html] Clarissa Sligh Artist Site] Tatiana Parniakova [ [http://www.alternativephotography.com/artists/tatiana_parniakova.html] Tatiana Parniakova on AlternativePhotography.com] and Robin Hill. [ [http://www-dateline.ucdavis.edu/013103/dl_robinhill.html] UC Davis article on Robin Hill]

Gum Prints

Gum prints are made using negatives, and multiple coatings and exposures of the paper and negative to light. Finished gum prints are quite painterly, and the colors can be infinitely manipulated as per the artist's desires. Contemporary artists who produce gum print include Jacqueline and Jean-Louis Giudicelli, [ [http://home.earthlink.net/~jayrom/jjlg.html] Jacqueline and Jean-Louis Giudicelli Artist Site] and Stephen Livick. [ [http://www.livick.com/welcome.htm] Stephen Livick Artist Site]

Salted Paper Prints

Calotypes, Van Dykes and kallitypes are three similar processes in which a paper is coated with a light-sensitive solution. These three processes all use sodium of some sort, hence their grouping as salted paper prints. Each of the three processes yields different colored prints, with both calotypes and Van Dykes being different shades of brown, and kallitypes ranging from warm black to ultra-black tones depending on the composition of the developer used on the prints.

Photography as Performance Art

**under construction

Toys and other Non-Traditional Cameras

**under construction

Transfer-Printing Processes

**under construction

Other Related Artists

* Hans Bellmer
* Brassaï
* Claude Cahun
* Raoul Ubac

See also

* List of photographers
* List of photographic processes
* Modernism
* Photo manipulation
* Photography
* Toy camera


Cazeaux, Clive (ed.). "The Continental Aesthetics Reader." ISBN 0415200547 (New York: Routledge)

Cotton, Charlotte. "The Photograph as Contemporary Art." ISBN 0500203806 (New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.)

Hirsch, Robert. "Photographic Possibilities: The Expressive Use of Ideas, Materials, and Processes." ISBN 0240800478 (Boston: Focal Press)

Howell-Koehler, Nancy. "Photo Art Processes." ISBN 0871921170 (Worcester: Davis Publications, Inc.)

Moser, Linda. "Fun in Photography: Special Effects and Tricks." ISBN 081740564X (Garden City: American Photographic Book Publshing Co., Inc.)

Squires, Carol (ed.). " Over Exposed: Essays on Contemporary Photography." ISBN 1565845226 (New York: The New Press)

Turner, Peter. "History of Photography." ISBN 0671089234 (New York: Exeter Books)

External links

* [http://www.artlex.com/ Artlex: art dictionary]
* [http://www.aperture.org/ Aperture Foundation]
* [http://www.alternativephotography.com/ AlternativePhotography.com]

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