A photogram is when you make a photo without using a camera. It is also called camera-less photography.
Mind blown right?!? How do you make a photographic image WITHOUT a camera? CRAZY?!!!
And yet, totally possible. See, you let objects make the image themselves rather than working through the camera as the tool that captures the image. Cameras capture an image, originally on to film which made a photo negative, now it captures a digital image that is printed. When analog cameras were being used the photo negative still had to be converted to a photographic image. That was done by shining light through the negative on to a photo sensitive chemically treated paper that would capture the photo positive. That is what we think of as a photograph.
For a photogram instead of using a negative to create the image on the photo sensitive paper you simply place objects directly on to the surface and then expose to the light. So, my photogram cyanotypes are made by me placing items directly on the chemically treated cyanotype fabric and then exposing them to the sunlight.
The image that is made comes from the shadows and outlines the objects make on the paper. Some objects may not be very interesting in a photogram because surface designs on an object do not show up. The shape or outline of the object plus any shadows cast are all that will show up in the photogram image. A beautifully decorated ceramic cup is only going to show up as a rectangle or circle shape depending on how it’s laid on the paper. But a cut glass vase that has more detail to its form and is translucent allowing some light to pass through will create a spectacular image. Eyeglasses, jewelry, paper clips, toys, curled cords, lace, flowers, leaves and even hands and feet can be used in photograms to great effect.
One American artist famous for his work with photograms is Man Ray who called them “rayographs”. He used a variety of objects to create abstract and surreal photograms. Similar to him, I am fascinated by the idea of making art without using my hands to directly shape a sculpture or leave marks of pencil or paint. With photograms the objects “make the art” themselves. A still life, like this one I did of a flower in a vase, is literally made from objects lying very still in the sun.
I am also intrigued by and love the abstract images that can be made through photograms. Overlapping objects and moving objects around during exposure reveal endless possibilities for abstract imagery. Some of my favorite abstract photograms have come from nature and what I call “shadowgrams”. These are images made from only shadows cast onto the photo sensitive material not by placing any items directly on to it. I capture plant shadows this way. If there is no wind then the outline and shape of the plant is clearly seen, but if there is wind you see the effects of the wind with blurred edges and movement captured as the work was exposed.
While photograms are simple to make there are lots of possibilities for creativity. Each photogram is a unique image that cannot be identically reproduced like a normal photo can. If you are interested in the photograms I make, follow me on Instagram or Facebook where I often share pictures and video of my process and work.
You can also try your hand at photograms by purchasing a sun print or cyanotype kit. Kids can make one too. All sorts of fun can be had with toys, animal figurines and action figures! See what you can make from objects that are interesting or meaningful to you.