The process of making a photogram involves exposing some sort of photosensitive material to light - often with materials placed directly on the material, always without a camera.
The process is almost as old as "standard" photography, appearing as early as mid-19th Century with the work of photography-pioneer William Fox Henry Talbot. Pablo Picasso tried his hand and Man Ray created his modestly-named "rayographs" in the 20th century.
Inherent to the process is a certain lack of control; the artist undoubtedly enters into it anticipating a certain amount of the unexpected. For fine art and documentary photographer Dennie Eagleson, working this way in the first place was almost unexpected.
Dennie Eagleson. Eagleson’s “Dance of the Happy Shades” will be on display at Lycoming College’s Snowden Library Art Gallery from today through Feb. 15. The opening and artist’s talk will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. today at the gallery.
"It changed my thinking about [photography]," Eagleson said. "There's me, there's the subject and there's the materials; how much responsibility do the materials have, and how much do I have - for being present and inviting this thing to happen?"
Her recent body of work, titled "Dance of the Happy Shades," is made up of photograms and pictures created using a pinhole camera - a light-proof box with a single, lensless aperture (read: a hole) in one side. With its lengthy exposure times and inability to provide the photographer with information about framing or focus, pinhole photography - like photograms - invites the unpredictable.
While Eagleson's work certainly couldn't be described as predictable up to this point, it has certainly demonstrated a professional clarity, both in vision and end product. Eagleson is currently the creative director at Antioch College and is known for documentary work on, among other things, alternative families, sustainable agriculture and activism in Nicaragua and Sarajevo.
She spent more than a decade creating a body of work in Cuba, and her fine art photography often explores not only people, but the artifacts they leave behind.
That exploration takes on a new level of intimacy with "Dance of the Happy Shades;" the work comes in part as a response to the death of the artist's mother.
"My mother reveled in color and natural forms and had much more tolerance of ambiguity and abstraction than I," Eagleson said in her artist statement. "Each image made is an improvisation, a dance, a collaboration and a way to invite her continuing presence and guidance in my life. My mom drew these sort-of automatic drawings everyday for probably ten years - she filled notebooks. She would just sit, not have any intention, and draw whatever came to her," Eagleson said.
As a documentary and fine art photographer, this way of working was never something she had fully-embraced in her own work.
When the Polaroid Company went out of business, Eagleson "stockpiled" 8-inch-by-10-inch positive/negative materials. The materials were arguably outdated when she procured them (hence the unfortunate demise of the Polaroid Company), but after sitting for a number of years, a medium known for being capricious became even more so.
In creating the photograms, Eagleson used grains, grasses, flowers and seedpods as forms, exposing her compositions on the 8-inch-by-10-inch color film to short bursts of light. The images are unmistakably floral, natural.
She used smaller, 4-inch-by-5-inch Polaroid color film in a pinhole camera, exposing the film for much longer, getting results that are much more abstracted than the photograms. The colors are vibrant - blues and magentas, bright, saturated greens, complex orange-yellows. Many of the forms look aquatic or, like many aquatic features, like they could only exist in outer space. So much so, that Eagleson took to calling some of these abstracted forms within the pinhole images "constellations."
She explained in her artist statement that the title of the exhibition also is the title of a short story by Canadian author Alice Munro, and refers not only to "the disappearance of these wonderful materials [traditional film]," but "a company that was eclipsed by the digital age."
For Eagleson, it became her "method of communing with the spirit of [her] recently departed mother in the search for natural materials to use in the photograms." The work does not feel based in loss, however; but connection.
"It's such a different way of working; it feels like a gift," she said.
Dennie Eagleson's "Dance of the Happy Shades" will be on display at Lycoming College's Snowden Library Art Gallery from today through Feb. 15.
The opening and artist's talk will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 at the gallery. The work will be for sale. For more information, contact Lycoming College Art Gallery Director Rose DiRocco at dirocco@ly coming.edu.