Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Hand Drawn Negative

(Charles-François Daubigny
Vâches à l'abreuvoir)

I must say, I had never come across this art form until I noticed a post at gmtPlus9 (-15) about an exhibition at Peter Freeman - The Hand Drawn Negative: Clichés-Verre by Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Millet and Rousseau (1854 - 1862). They are quite intriguing.

Clichés-verre were an early experiment by various artist exploring the possibilities that the new photographic medium presented.

(Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Les Arbres dans la montagne)

"...The cliché-verre, a relatively obscure and still largely-overlooked medium, was borne amidst the flurry of excitement and experimentation following the invention of photography in the early 19th century. Considered a hybrid of printmaking and photography yet made without camera, the cliché-verre was both a creative curiosity and an innovative and unique means to instantly produce differing versions of a single image.

(Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Le Petit Berger (second plate))

Starting with a collodion-covered glass plate, the artist would draw a picture using an etching needle, paintbrush-end or stick; the resulting cliché-verre thus functions as a glass negative for contact printing. Less commonly, an image could also be conceived tonally by painting different densities of emulsion onto the glass surface. Once prepared, the glass plate would be placed face-down against light-sensitive paper, usually salt paper, and exposed to the sun, and the image would slowly be reproduced onto the paper through the photographic process. To achieve a varied effect, the glass plate could also be flipped or a second plate of glass could be inserted between image and paper, producing a softer, almost dewy interpretation of the original image via the refraction of the light rays through the glass.

(Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Le Petit Berger (first plate))

It was in the communities of Arras just outside of Paris and at Barbizon near the Fountainebleau forest where cliché-verre gained a foothold and briefly flourished in France over the course of two decades. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), greatly intrigued by photography, became its most passionate and prolific practitioner, ultimately attaining fluid, free, almost abstract sketches which demonstrate his assurance with the medium and which are striking in their modernity. Corot's extensive visual exploration with this new medium was enthusiastically shared by Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), whose expertise as an etcher informed his sensitive and masterful treatment of the glass plate..."

It's interesting to see how much experimenation took place in the early days of photography - far more than just these - in many ways, almost nothing is new. I guess today if they were showing this work, Corot, Delacroix et al would be described as "artists working in photographic medium"...

(Charles-François Daubigny
Effet de nuit)

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