Photograms by Ágnes Eperjesi
"Baby collection" on metal stands, in display- cases without glass tops. Strange to put it in writing: child nudes, baby nudes. Blurred features without facial expressions. Only the outlines of a the nose, the forehead, a profile are visible, frozen movement with hands open or in a fist. Babies hugging, squatting, stepping, jumping, flying with outstretched arms, hurtling themselves into the abyss with abandon, then resurfacing, floating in space. While signs of gender, locks of hair, rolls of fat and fingers are all recognisable, it is the body's positions and its contours that define inform thesethe images.
The artist's daughter was the first to be placed on the light-sensitive paper. She was followed by five "borrowed" babies of friends, mothers who made the decision to lend or not to lend their child for the project. Those who did, placed their babies on the enlarging paper in the dark themselves - just to be sure. A flash of light, then paper rolled up before a switch was turned back on. Exposed paper developed at home in the darkroom, with sponge soaked in chemicals. Finally, images running the gamut of soft, diffuse graysgreys , and sharp, high contrast black and whites emerge, with some sepia tones here and there. Most prints have tentative borders, suggesting a background of nebulous substance. Hardly any depth of field or, sense illusion of three-dimensional space.
The emotional impact is largely defined by the contrast of black-and-white and the nature of movements. Some try to flee and just leave their shadow;, others throw their limbs akimbo in terror,; still others sink into the background with a sense of satisfaction. Some leave a clear impression, others are barely recognisable as beings. In some prints finely defined details and amorphous, roughly hewn shapes lie next to each other. Direct contact with the photographic paper results in the most sublime, touching imprints: downy, silky hair washed in light, heads crowned with a full shock of hair, a beam of light reflected by tiny Achilles-heels.
Since the photogram is actually a negative, the role of black and white is reversed. The baby's body blocking its path;, light, instead of describing it, fills its form and becomes substance itself. Half transparent, glowing light-child in the heart of darkness. The surrounding black void of variable density suggests Nothingness, Space, Emptiness, Fog and Water. The bodies float, fly or swim in this nebulous substance.
We lose our sense of direction as well: when bodies lie ion their backs, we have the impression of looking down on them, when on their stomach, they appear to be illuminated from below.
The pictorial world of photograms offers countless associations: ultrasound projected on a screen, X-ray imaging, silhouette portrait, Xerox images with highlighted body-parts, fluorescent shapes suddenly crossing the path of underwater searchlights. And it is all highly reminiscent of the world of cinema, based on the shifting contrast between light and darkness.
Seen as a whole, the installation evokes images of 19th.. Century scientific expositions, together with their slightly macabre atmosphere. Displayed in the same space, the "collection" becomes a series, not lacking the cold precision and distancing of scientific research. But it does not become a dominating factor. There is neither joy, nor sorrow here. There is more involved here; . There is a sense of wonder and discovery of a world lost, yet so familiar.
But how do we get here? In fact, where do we end up? What can and what cannot be controlled in this process? Where can we look, what can be glimpsedwe perceive? Almost all is a matter of chance: the placement of the child, the moves he/she makes, his/her reaction to the sudden flash of light and, finally, the imprint or shadow left on the enlarging paper.
The ostensibly simple idea is based on a few, well chosen means: the method of selecting subjects, relying on 'their' and the parents' active contribution, the artist acting as mediator/organiser. The joint effort is also personal experience, and the result is a collection of 'prenatal-evidence' documenting archetypal images of undifferentiated being.
The work is born of personal experience: pregnancy, labour and birth, motherhood. The personal story is then expanded with the introduction of other 'characters', and becomes entangled in a recurring Mother-Child-Artist triangle, a small community bound by shared emotional experience. Finally, in a curious self-reference to a permanent constellation, the story loops back to past concerns in the artist's personal history. In a number of earlier works, Ms. Eperjesi was already interested in photography's strictly technical aspects that, nevertheless, shape the final outcome, i.e., emulsion, photographic paper and various chemicals. Playing with these component elements, images went through a number of metamorphoseis, rose to the surface only to disappear completely after some time. And now, they have re-emerged again in the present New-born series, not as positive prints, but as photograms. This may not be an accident, however: print and photogram are both ineluctably attached to reality, yet in fundamentally different ways. The latter appears to be the simpler of the two approaches: it fixes an image on light sensitive paper without the use of lens or camera. The image, out of focus and hard to identify, always retains its sense of mystery. There is no depth of field or focal point, yet the subject always presents its true scale. It is more direct and sensual than the photographic image, while it is the result of the same chemical process. The light envelops, at times even shines through the body, while it is also in direct contact with the paper as it shifts around the surface. It being a human body, the sense of personal touch enters the picture. Unique, unrepeatable. The objective is not reproduction, but rather the doubling of reality, documentation and the extension of memory. The image becomes the locus of discovery, search, analysis and experimentation.
In most cases we read others by observing faces, hands, mimicry and gestures. Here, however, we do not have any tellingdistinguishing personal features. Just as well, because these complex and subtle means of communication belong to the world of adults. At this point, all is instinct and desire, formless existence, a state of germination, constant flux and development. Parents, however, like mothers recognising the voice of their own child out of many crying babies, picked out the image of their offspring immediately; seeing the entire being as a whole, being personally implicatedinvolved. But what do we, as viewers and outsiders, recognise in these images?
Our imagination is searching for signposts and markers based on various degrees of similarity. The relationship of light and dark, the archetypal impression suggested by body positions lie at the most elemental/fundamental level. There is no context of time or space. Only immanent existence. All at the stage of pre-consciousness. A distant memory, lost in the fog of time. Associations evoked by movements. Dream state. Still, a defining moment. Are we before or after the event? Are we in the present, or do we witness an earlier state, an event lost and frozen in time, seized from time in a unique series of images? It's aAs if flashes of light, in the womb of dark rooms, were to suddenly to bring buried and long forgotten sensations back to life, to be experienced again.
Translation: Paul Salamon