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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Ellen Carey

SPE Member since 2001
Member Chapter: Northeast

Crush & Pull

"How is this picture made?" and "What is this a picture of?" are questions asked about my work. They address photography as process and the conundrum of an image without a picture 'sign' to read. Light's immateriality challenges its makers today, analog versus digital, doubles our challenges. "What is a 21st century photograph?" finds my answer in partnering 19th century photogram with 20th century Polaroid's instant technology. "What do these two have in common?" and "Where do they overlap?" My answer sees the negative.
Crush & Pull combines Polaroid and photogram using the Polaroid negative to create new abstract forms and blended hues with experimental approaches and innovative process-driven methods located in: chemistry-laden Polaroid pods and the light-tight color darkroom. Here, Polaroid's 20th century instant technology meets the wonder of 19th century photograms.
Crush & Pull links my photographic experiments in color with process, minimalism and abstraction, light and its variations, often with zero exposure, uniting my twin practices Struck by Light and Photography Degree Zero for the first time. Crush & Pull bridges ideas from my own photograms, its history and practitioners to ideas in Polaroid, instant technology's history and those practitioners. My project revisits the negative, rich in -- metaphor, object, picture 'sign' -- that delivers a whole new approach to picture making, underscored in -- concept, context, content -- with a unique, new photographic object that has never been seen or done before.
The history of the 'shadow' in art is cited in photogram, a paper negative (1834) contact printed for its positive (1840). Polaroid 20 X 24 (circa 1980s) makes a large negative transferring it in development to make the positive (www.20X24Studio.com) in a one-step, peel-away process, a large contact print in 60 seconds. The negative-to-positive duality, the foundation in all photography, is similar in photogram and Polaroid processes; I am the only Polaroid artist to keep and exhibit the negatives. In current discourse, the negative is often forgotten, remaining "hidden", a means to an end, a document, its 'picture sign' in portrait, landscape, still life, figure.
Crush & Pull starts with a Polaroid negative, reversing time-honored photogram methods whereby the image ends as a negative. Polaroid's negative, physically crushed (touching an emulsion's surface taboo) by me breaks tradition, it becomes both object and the receiver of light. In traditional photograms, an object, placed between light and chemically coated, light sensitive paper, is the referent. After exposure, a silhouetted image, a ghostly shadow of the object outlined in light sees the negative, later contact printed for its positive.
In my work, the referent is removed, I use only light, photography's indexical and the object is the negative. In the color darkroom, where I make my photograms, a "light-tight" environment allows no light, except upon exposure. For Crush & Pull the Polaroid negative, after exposure in the color darkroom, is developed with Polaroid's "pods". Switching chemistry and purpose of the negative further breaks photography's collective histories; my performance in the black box of color darkroom.

Crush & Pull

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