On the History of Photograms and My Process
by Seze Devres

The photogram, a process founded along with the birth of photography in 1834 by William Henry Fox Talbot, has a rich history all its own. As documented in his beautiful photographic series "The Pencil Of Nature," Talbot wished to provide exact, detailed, scientific renderings of flora. Along with his discoveries in the invention of photography he developed the photogram to keep records of the exact shapes of leaves, flowers, lace and other materials.

The photogram is a photograph that duplicates the shape or outline of an object after it is placed on photo sensitive paper in the dark. Once a direct light is projected upon the object, the silhouette of the object is forever burned on the light sensitive medium beneath it. This film or paper is both the first record of light and the keeper of the image after the object is removed, it records the image in its negative form, which may be later contact printed to make a positive. However unlike the usual negative/positive process the foundation for all photography, the photogram is a unique art work.

Photograms have a long celebrated legacy in fine art that includes many others after Talbot's first experimentations. In the early part of the 20th century the photogram was revolutionized by the Surrealist photographers Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray (who coined his own term "rayographs" after his namesake) and Christian Schad's 'Schadographs,' which were made using collaged material in contact with photographic paper. Through the 1990's the exploration of color in photograms was highly developed by the artists Adam Fuss, Susan Derges, and Ellen Carey, to name a few.

Even though I am obviously influenced by these innovators of the photogram, my own photographs also have references to other artworks that use colorful geometric drawings as a leitmotif, such as the early Modernist work of Matisse, the gestural paintings of the Abstract Expressionists, and the Minimalist ÒlightÓ artists Dan Flavin and James Turrell.

Growing up in the late 20th century, and entering the 21st century has been an exhilarating time. Straddling two cultures (being Turkish and American), through two centuries, and looking even further back to another at photography's roots has given me an interesting perspective from its invention and the medium's current possibilities.

My own process of making photograms-ight drawings, though refined after years of fine tuning, still involves chance, play and serendipity. Beginning with hand cut drawings, I hold one under an enlarger that projects light patterns onto, not paper, but a (positive) color sheet of film. This allows me the possibility to later make enlarged prints of the same image in the color darkroom. Capturing the light as it falls onto the large sheet of color film in total darkness, which is how all color work must be done, camouflages the artist's hand. Glimmers of light are recorded as a glow later on the print, suggesting that light is slowly leaking out and around something.

The fact that I have the ability to reproduce a picture is part of the appeal of working in the medium of photography and not painting. Making a negative also allows me the advantage of making more than one "unique" image, something that concerned me as an artist fluent in photography and digital imaging technologies. This method of working permits me to reproduce my first original record of light from the transparency film, which was an inscription of the initial creative act.

My way of altering the photogram technique, coupled with making a "negative" from a "positive" references Talbot, but also adds a conceptual component to this process. These images are also inherently abstract, with no reference to how the picture was made or what it is a picture of. Abstraction in photography is a contradiction in terms, a specific area in photography with few practitioners even today. Thus leaving me with room to develop my own visual language and cultivate my own systems of creating a "non" photographic image, that negates the use of a camera obscura (the traditional drawing tool used for centuries by artists), by instead painting with just pure light.