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Shadow Catchers

Tuesday 01 March 2011

Camera-less Photography at the V&A (13th October 2010 – February 2011)

‘The essence of photography lies in its seemingly magical ability to fix shadows on light sensitive surfaces. Normally, this requires a camera. Shadow Catchers, however presents the work of five international contemporary artists – Floris Neususs, Pierre Cordier, Susan Derges, Garry Fabian Miller and Adam Fuss – who work without a camera. Instead they create images on photographic paper by casting shadows and manipulating light or by chemically treating the surface of the paper’.

The exhibition has been described as a ‘world of visions’, this could not be more apt. On entering I feel I am floating between ethereal images, laying gaze upon haunted memories, interrupting stories that are half finished. The collection of artists featured in Shadow Catchers have each reached variable conclusions through their experimentations with camera-less photography, yet all of  them record the imprints of life; from the mundane to the Intangible, captured in evanescence – a sense of disengagement from time and the physical world is procured.

Floris Neususs is the first of the five artists whose works are displayed in the exhibition. Neususs often deals in opposites – black and white, shadow and light, movement and stillness, presence and absence. In this exhibition, the female form is a featured subject and is explored through the medium of Nudograms; whether coiled into foetal position or stretched out elegantly, she is always a silhouette, an outline, a blur of sinful black or angelic white, struggling to emerge a complete figure.

Collectively, his images explore themes of mythology, history, nature and the subconscious. Neususs encourages the viewer to contemplate the essence of form by removing objects from their physical context, creating a surreal detachment that allows your imagination to run wild with interpretations. Neususs himself states ‘In the photogram, Man is not depicted, but the picture of him comes into being by an act of imagination’.

A continuous theme explored throughout the exhibition is nature. Garry Fabian Miller’s works record the cycle of time over a day, month or year, through controlled experiments with varying durations of light exposure. His works are enriched by being seen in sequences that explore and develop a single motif and colour range. Often, the images are conceived as remembered landscapes and natural light phenomenon, the works he creates are simple yet multi layered –tranquil yet


Susan Derges, who is famed for her Photograms of water, examines the threshold between two interconnecting worlds: an internal, imaginative or contemplative space and the external, dynamic, magical world of nature. Her works can be seen as alchemical, transformative acts that test the threshold between matter and spirit.

However it was Adam Fuss’s work that left me spell bound. Fuss sums up the entire exhibition with his ghostly, otherworldly images that seem to portray (like his contemporaries) the spirit of the subject rather than the physical form – like an x-ray of the soul.

As an artist he is on a constant voyage to discover the unseen, in keeping with the theme of the exhibition, he deals with time and energy rather than material form. Drawing upon his childhood memories and personal experiences, his works are conceived as visual elegies centred around the universal themes of life and death. Through outward sensory vision, they explore metaphysical ideas of non-sensory insight. Fuss states ‘Life itself is the image. Viewers sense it. They feel the difference’.

A breathtaking exhibition, your way of seeing may never be the same again.