This week I am delighted to host the work of James Arthur – a good friend and a brilliant photographer – BUT he doesn’t always use a camera!

James says – “In the autumn of 2010 I went to a stunning exhibition of cameraless photography at the V&A Museum in London.  I made up my mind to have a go at this myself and eventually made the experimental images presented here.  These are all Photograms using one of the simplest methods offered from the wealth of techniques available for cameraless photography.

Figure 1 Image of maple leaves being exposed to sunshine. The white tape helps to set the image up in the darkroom.  The reflection of an adjacent building has no effect on the image.

Each Photogram (or Lumen Print) was created by exposing photographic printing paper to sunlight (a technique dating back to the early days of photography in the 1830s).  After fixing and scanning, each image was edited and printed using 21st century digital techniques.

The prints were created in a simple A4 size “clip” frame.  Each subject was laid out onto a piece of 20 x 25 cm photo print paper (the sort used in a darkroom, not inkjet paper) resting on the backing board in a darkroom (garden shed) under a red safelight.  The picture glass was then located to hold everything in place during the exposure and clamped into position.

The “picture” was then exposed to sunlight for 1½ to 2 hours.  After exposure, photographic fixer was used to stabilise the resulting image and prevent further darkening; then washed using water from the adjacent rainwater butt.

Figures 4, 5 and 6 Three versions of the same image of leaves from two different maple trees

Once dry, the print was scanned and printed.  The initial scan usually appeared rather dull and lacking interest.   Adjustments made after scanning were limited to one or more of the following:

  • Use of the “color restoration” setting on the scanner
  • In Lightroom using the plug-in “Viveza” to enhance structure and contrast
  • In Photoshop, “inverting” the image, i.e. turning the image from a positive to a negative or vice-versa, although these terms have no meaning in this context.

Figure 7  A spectacular image from a bush in the garden.  Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of either the name of the bush or how I produced this amazing colouring

The appearance of the final image was pretty much unpredictable using this approach, which added to the fun.  As no colour filters are used and all the materials are monochromatic, I am intrigued by the physics of the colours produced: e.g. why do I sometimes achieve such a bright blue background? Why do two apparently identical maple leaves produce such different reactions? 

Figure 10 Montage of the original fern together with three different Lumen prints of the fern and rose petals derived from the exposure depicted in Figure 9

If any reader can throw light on this or, indeed, would like to discuss any aspect of the subject, then please contact me, James Arthur, through my web site