Rachel Wolf

The alchemy of photography, sans camera

In a show in Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center, Rachel Wolf works transformations using paper and film, light and chemicals

Our lives are saturated with photographic images — pictures taken by tens of millions of people daily on phone cameras, photos that are then Facebooked, Instagrammed, and Tweeted into the world, where our eyeballs are bombarded with this digital hail. Those who shoot pictures with a camera that uses film, I have to believe, have become a tiny minority.

In that small company of analog photographic artists, Rachel Wolf stands virtually alone.

“Flight” by Rachel Wolf (chromogenic chemigram - archival digital print)
“Flight” by Rachel Wolf (chromogenic chemigram – archival digital print)

Wolf takes pictures — or perhaps I should say she makes pictures — with lots of film, but no camera. The results of her work (and it’s clearly a lot of work) landed at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg last week in a show titled Unconditional that runs through Aug. 3. Wolf has shown her work in New York, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Portland, where she lives, so once again we have an instance of Chehalem’s curators bringing an urban art experience to rural Yamhill County.

The product of camera-less photography is called a photogram, chemigram, or luminogram, depending on what combination of object, light, and chemicals is used to make it. Photograms use an object on paper to create the image, Wolf said, while the images in chemigrams come from chemical reactions, and in luminograms the images are from light. The images in Unconditional are chemigrams.

There’s no precise date for the invention of photography itself, as precursors go all the way back to ancient times, but the first photo engraving dates to 1822, and about 20 years later a book illustrated with photograms was published. In the 20th century, the number of artists known for this kind of camera-less photography is pretty small; they include: Man Ray, Adam Fuss, Susan Derges, and Christian Marclay.

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