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Alison Rossiter finds gold in old photographic papers

Alison Rossiter finds gold in old photographic papers

January 3, 2017 // by Paul Karabinis

This is the text of one of the audio guides Paul Karabinis wrote and recorded for Retro-spective: Analog Photography in a Digital World. Listen to the recording here.

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

Fuji gaslight, exact expiration date unknown, ca. 1920s, processed in 2009, 2009

Like others in this exhibition, Alison Rossiter explores the possibilities of picture-making without the use of a camera. She begins with unprocessed sheets of expired photographic paper that date back as far as to the late nineteenth century. The roots of her method began when she developed a sheet of photographic paper that had an expiration date of 1946. What emerged in the developer was an abstract image she described as looking “like someone had drawn in graphite from corner to corner. I couldn't believe it. From that moment on, I knew that there was something to go find in old, unused photographic papers.”

While Rossiter's photographs are made without a camera, they are not photograms in the traditional sense because they are not produced by layering opaque and semitransparent objects or modulating light on the surface of photographic paper.

Instead, Rossiter relies on minimal darkroom techniques that court chance and the mediation of someone with years of analog photographic experience combined with her knowledge as a photo conservator. She creates her photographs by selectively dipping the expired photographic paper in developer or pouring and pooling developer on the surface of the paper. Sometimes she develops a sheet completely to reveal the vagaries of time, storage, light leaks, mold, and even the fingerprints of previous owners.

Her experiments result in a range of photographic tonalities, abstract forms, and shapes that sometimes suggest minimal landscapes. The small prints are displayed singly or in diptychs and grids that enhance formal and figurative relationships.

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