Updated: May 4
Photography encompasses a spectrum of practices. The RBSA welcomes all artists working in the photographic medium to enter the RBSA Photography Prize exhibition 2021. The deadline is 16 June 2021, apply here.
The Digital Camera
The digital camera revolutionised photography, making photography more accessible. Without the cost and time spent developing film, more people began to explore the medium. The first digital camera was invented by Kodak engineer Steve Sasson in 1975, with Nikon and Panasonic bringing digital cameras to the consumer market in the 1980s.
Photography transformed again with the rise of camera phones in the 2000s and is now a fundamental part of most people’s everyday life. There are, however, many forms of photography that go back to the truly elemental process of photography – the etymology meaning “drawing with light” - often without the use of a camera at all.
Camera-less photography usually applies the chemical process of capturing light on paper. The result can blur the boundaries between what we typically think of as photography and art. Many artists working in this medium were considered avant-garde, contemporary or experimental, but the tactile nature of these techniques has enthralled artists and enthusiasts alike. Methods such as Cyanotype and Pinhole cameras are accessible for beginners and are popular with community groups and art workshops.
"Cameraless photography is really a distillation of the essence of the photographic process. The primary elements of photography–light, paper, and chemical– are both the tools, and the subjects that create the image. Medium and object are one and the same," - Rachel Wolf, artist
This article explores some of the camera-less photography techniques and their history.
Are you an artist that works in the photographic medium?
You can enter the RBSA Photography Prize Exhibition 2021
A photogram is a photographic image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material such as photographic paper and then exposing it to light.
The result is a negative shadow image - a black and white image with the objects appearing white as they have blocked the light. Transparent objects appear grey and the areas that were fully exposed to light appear black.
The technique is widely associated with cameraless photography. It was used by Man Ray in his exploration of rayographs. Other artists who have experimented with the technique include László Moholy-Nagy, Christian Schad (who called them "Schadographs"), Imogen Cunningham and Pablo Picasso.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Engineers and architects used the process to produce copies of drawings, hence the name "blueprint" for plans. The process uses two chemicals: ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide.
Botanist and scientist Sir John Herschel discovered the Cyanotype in 1842, providing a way to document details of subject such as plants.
A year later, Anna Atkins published folios of Cyanotypes which became the first photographs to be used for scientific investigation and illustration.
Botanical subjects are still popular in Cyanotype art for their striking detail and blue-and-white contrast.
A lumen print is a solar photogram - an image created on photographic paper, exposed by the sun. The process was first used in the 1830's by the inventor and photography pioneer Henry Fox Talbot who invented the salted paper and calotype processes, precursors to photographic processes of the later 19th century.
Flowers are popular subjects for lumen prints, their semi-translucent petals have an ethereal quality when printed.
Chemigrams can be made with photo paper, developer and fixer, resulting in a watercolour-like effect. The process was invented in the 1950s by Belgian artist Pierre Cordier.
Similar to the Photogram, a Chemigram is made without a camera, but it is created in full light instead of in the darkness of a darkroom.
The Gelatin Silver Process is the most widely used chemical process in black-and-white photography and the fundamental chemical process for modern analogue colour photography.
A suspension of silver salts in gelatin is coated onto a support such as glass, flexible plastic or film, baryta paper, or resin-coated paper.
The process dates back to 1871, with higher-quality materials available in the early 20th Century. As the negatives no longer had to be developed immediately, photography was more portable.
Microscopy refers to the art of creating photographs using a microscope. The microscope creates an image called a micrograph. Producing artistic images with the help of a microscope been practised since in the 70s.
More than just a device used for scientific reasons, microscopes have become a new avenue for exploring art and nature.
Generally, an optical microscope is used in creating a micrograph or a photomicrograph. Most photographers, however, simply connect their digital camera to a microscope so that they can take highly magnified photos of small-sized subjects.
A pinhole camera is a simple camera without a lens but with a "pinhole" - a light-proof box with a small hole in one side. Light from a scene passes through the aperture and projects an inverted image on the opposite side of the box, which is known as the camera obscura effect.
The camera obscura or pinhole image is a natural optical phenomenon. Early known descriptions are found as early as 300BC.
Rays of light travel in straight lines and change when they are reflected. They are partly absorbed by the object, retaining information about the colour and brightness of the surface of that object. The tiny pinhole only lets through rays that travel directly from different points in the scene on the other side, and these rays form an image of that scene where they reach a surface opposite from the opening.
Are you an artist working in the photographic medium?
The RBSA Photography Prize exhibition invites artists creating work in the photographic medium to enter. We welcome entries from professional and emerging artists based in the UK and internationally.
There are 4 prizes to be won including £1,000 1st Prize, £500 2nd Prize, £250 3rd Prize and a solo exhibition at the RBSA Gallery.
Enter the RBSA Photography Prize Exhibition 2021
Deadline 16 June, 4pm 2021
All images used in this article are public domain unless credited otherwise.
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.
The RBSA runs an exhibition venue, the RBSA Gallery, in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre.
Stay updated with the latest news and learn about art by joining our mailing list.