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Michael Skeen's chemigrams and photograms flip realistic representation

Chemigrams and photograms are camera-less images that challenge the viewer to leave any preconceived notions of what photography is behind and embrace it as dark and light. The black and white images you see here are silver gelatin photograms and the ones with some color are chemigram paintings with developer and fixer. Michael Skeen, the photographer, provides a brief bio below.

"I'm from England and am currently studying Fine Art Photography at Glasgow School Of Art. I'm really interested in the relationship between painting and photography, my practice has been multidisciplinary for a long time but recently I have become more aware of the similarities between the two. The more I research and think about it the more the lines seem to blur." 

You can see more of Michael's work on instagram at @michael_skeen

ALTER/ANALOG:  Can you briefly explain the chemigram and photogram process for us?

MS: I make the chemigrams in my bathroom with the normal light on, the silver gelatin paper is exposed to light from the start which renders it useless for printing conventional photographs. Something known as a 'resist' is used to separate and delay the paper from the chemicals. From then I essentially paint on the paper with developer and fixer, timing is very critical. Part of the control is surrendered to the materials and the outcome is often a surprise, which is part of the fun!         

On the other side the photograms are made in a traditional darkroom setting using a number of cardboard masks both placed in an enlarger and placed directly on the photo paper, this process is much more ordered but is also highly intuitive, I don't plan the pieces in great detail. Each piece is composed of several exposures, there is also an element of chance involved as often I cant remember exactly what has already been exposed. 

ALTER/ANALOG: How did you get your start in photography? 

MS: A few years ago I was going through a really tough period and getting into film photography helped pull me out of it. I would go for long walks or bike rides with my headphones in and an all plastic toy camera in my hand and would create abstract multiple exposure images. I went on to combine this with damaging my rolls of film by soaking or boiling them in various liquids, I was trying to see how far I could push photography using the materials I was familiar with at the time. Also, I became really involved with a local community darkroom and learnt how to process my own film which helped a lot with figuring out how far I could manipulate processes and materials.


ALTER/ANALOG: What led you to explore abstraction in photography? 

MS: I think that in the modern world there is an overflow of images, we are constantly bombarded with photos at all times whether it's through social media or advertising and in my opinion this has diluted the magic inherent in the medium. 

I'm endlessly fascinated with the alchemy of photography, in my practice I'm trying to strip analogue photography back to its most basic elements, light and chemical reactions.  I always find it really interesting that when I tell people I work with photography people seem to have a really clear idea of what that entails, and are often surprised when they see the kind of work I produce.  

The idea of representation is obviously the centre of most photography, I am interested in how far I can flip this, how far away from representing reality can I take it? 

ALTER/ANALOG:  What projects are you working on next?

MS: I've been wanting to branch out into colour cameraless work for a while now. I have a stack of colour paper and am currently working out the logistics of doing RA4 work at home. 

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