With a Trace
Photographs of Absence
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
- William Wordsworth, excerpt from Tintern Abbey, 1798
Spiritual content and abstract imagery may seem contrary to the use of photography as a tool for reproducing concrete things in the real world. The artists in With a Trace utilize the science of analog (non-digital) photography—light sensitive material, chemicals and light—to depict such intangibles as memory, dreams and emotion. They draw upon the life-giving forces of water, light and air not only as subject matter but as the material components of their processes.
The photographs in With a Trace were created between 1939 and 2010. The artists, spanning several generations, use a wide range of photographic processes—including many that do not involve a camera—to render their subjects. Many share interests in psychology, philosophy, religion, physics and astronomy, evidence of which seeps into their images. Often deeply personal yet universally accessible, the images are as remarkable for their spiritual content as for what is visually absent. They contain the presence of something unseen: life, death, energy, beauty, love.
With A Trace: Photographs of Absence was organized by the Akron Art Museum and made possible by a grant from Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
Photographic Techniques in With a Trace
The daguerreotype process was the first practical method of obtaining permanent images with a camera. The process was developed by French artist and scenic painter Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851). A daguerreotype is made by exposing a highly polished, silver-coated copper plate to iodine vapors, which render the plate light-sensitive. The sensitized plate is then placed into a camera, where it is exposed to light. The exposed plate is returned to the darkroom where the photographic image on the silvered plate is developed with fumes from heated mercury. The daguerreotype was highly popular as a medium for portraiture through the mid-1880s.
Long-exposure or time-exposure photography involves leaving the camera shutter open for long durations, allowing stationary objects to be captured sharply while blurring or obscuring moving elements. Long exposures make the paths of moving light sources visible. Harry Callahan’s Chicago scene involved a long exposure in addition to moving the camera. Christopher Bucklow and Chris McCaw also used long exposures to widely varying effects.
See: Neon Lights, Sunburned GSP#206, Sunburned GSP#255
Photographers such as Jessica Eaton use multiple exposures to create singular compositions that are comprised of two or more images superimposed on one another. The same frame of film or sheet of photographic paper is exposed more than once, recording different imagery each time and creating multiple transparent layers.
See: Positive Form #15, Cfaal (Mb RGB)
A photogram is a simple and direct means of recording an image without using a camera. Originally invented in the early nineteenth century, a photogram is made by placing an object on light-sensitive paper and exposing the paper to light. The object on the paper appears in actual size as a negative image. Another way of creating a photogram is to use light to “draw” on the paper—moving a light source such as a flashlight across sensitized photo paper. Photograms are unique by nature, recording the direct presence of an object or light on paper.
See: Positive Form #15, Ark, My Ghost, Mask, Defender Carbon Argo, Dupont Velour Black, Light Horse/ Dark Horse