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Alison Rossiter develops abstraction in the darkroom

October 5, 2016 // by Jaime DeSimone

Alison Rossiter's abstract images beguile viewers but become even more intriguing once they learn the process behind them.

For her various series of camera-less photographs, she activates unused, expired photographic paper by pouring or pooling liquid developer directly onto the surface, or dipping the sheets into developer.

We asked Rossiter, who work appears in Retro-spective: Analog Photography in a Digital World, about her connection to the materials of analog photography.

Alison Rossiter Retro-spective Patrons Preview Portrait
Three series by Alison Rossiter appear in Retro-spective. Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.

How would you describe your work to someone who's never seen it?

In a darkroom, I develop expired black and white photographic papers that date from the last decade of the nineteenth century through the late twentieth century. Time has altered the stability of these light-sensitive materials, and I develop the papers to allow the accumulated changes to become imagery.

What ideas do you explore in your work?

The passage of time and the history of photography are essential aspects.

Describe your relationship to analog photographic processes.

My photographic education began in 1970, and it is classic, mid-century training in the use of silver gelatin materials. Darkroom work is my particular skill.

What's the most challenging and/or rewarding part of working with your chosen medium?

Finding rare, expired photographic papers is the challenge, and presenting them in a new context in the twenty-first century is the reward.

Alison Rossiter Kilborn Acme Kruxo, exact expiration date unknown, ca 1940s, processed in 2011
Alison Rossiter, from the series Landscapes, Kilborn Acme Kruxo, exact expiration date unknown, ca. 1940s, processed in 2010. Unique gelatin pilver print. © Alison Rossiter, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York.

Take one photograph on view in MOCA Jacksonville's exhibition and share what you'd like a visitor to know about it.

Kilborn Acme Kruxo, exact expiration date unknown, ca.1940's, processed 2010, 5 x 7 inches, unique silver gelatin print.

The Landscape image is made in a darkroom without a camera by selective development of the expired photographic paper. The dark foreground is formed by dipping the sheet in developer long enough to create a maximum density black. Subsequently, the mid-tone area is the result of a rapid dip and development of that tiny portion of the paper. The sky area has not come into contact with developer and remains the pure color of the paper base. The resulting image is the illusion of a landscape. So far, this is the only technique reminiscent of representation that I have found in my work with expired photographic papers.

Where do you find inspiration?

Research in the form of gallery and museum visits always offers something to consider. I go to the darkroom to synthesize what has impressed me.

What's your workspace like? When and where do you like to create your art?

I work in a basement darkroom, 9 x 14 feet, in a New Jersey ranch house, and I am at my best in the morning after drinking good coffee.

Alison Rossiter Retro-spective Patrons Preview Guests
Alison Rossiter discusses her work with guests at the patrons' preview for Retro-spective. Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.

How do you prepare for a new project?

I have a long list of work to do. I take notes of potential projects all the time, and when one body of work is done, I'll test these idea fragments to see what might be possible.

What is your next project?

From experience I know that it is unwise for me to talk about work that hasn't started.

How will exhibiting your work at MOCA Jacksonville affect your career?

Curator Jaime DeSimone puts my work in the company of brilliant artists in the exhibition Retro-spective: Analog Photography in a Digital World. The association is magnificent. 

Alison Rossiter Retro-spective Patrons Preview Museum Front
Alison Rossiter visits MOCA Jacksonville for the opening of Retro-spective. Image courtesy of Brandi Hill.

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