Yossi Milo Gallery is pleased to present Paper Wait, an exhibition of camera-less photographs by American artist Alison Rossiter. The exhibition will open on Thursday, February 26 and will be on view through Saturday, May 2, with an opening reception for the artist on Thursday, February 26 from 5:00 – 8:00 pm. This is Rossiter’s second exhibition at the Gallery.
Each of the unique, hand-made photographs in Paper Wait is a relic of photographic history and reveals the echoes of times passed. Alison Rossiter activates unused, expired photographic paper by pouring or pooling liquid developer directly onto the surface, or dipping the sheets into developer. The embedded histories of these papers are then reawakened, revealing fingerprints, light leaks, oxidation or mold in the photographic emulsion. The artist’s experimental processes draw on the photograms of László Moholy-Nagy and the paintings of Morris Louis, and result in painterly or geometric abstractions that illuminate the unique characteristics of each sheet of paper. This exhibition will include Rossiter’s largest works to date, and feature papers from every decade between the late 1890s and the 1960s.
While most early gelatin silver papers are modest in scale, the artist found packs of 24” x 20” sheets at a West Coast military base. Among these was Dupont Defender Varigam (expired 1954), an early variable contrast paper. For her Fours series, Rossiter brings out the paper’s wide range of tones by dipping the paper into developer at numerous angles. As various tones of black, brown, and white emerge, the angular shapes appear to be three-dimensional. The artist then combines four developed sheets to create oversized compositions with extraordinary sculptural qualities.
The rarest paper on view in the exhibition was an incredible find: a full package of 11” x 14” Gevaert Gevaluxe Papier Velours from the 1930s, considered to be the most beautiful photographic paper in the history of silver gelatin paper. Although many of Rossiter’s compositions are born out of darkroom experimentation, the “Stradivarius of photographic papers” received a simple treatment. The artist highlights the characteristic rich tones, matte surface, deep, velvety blacks and wide grey scale by developing the entire page at once.
The darkened edges are evidence of the slow loss of light sensitive stability, revealing the inherent effects of time. Rossiter treats this rare and expensive paper as a treasured artifact.
A much different visual result is achieved in the Defender Argo series. These photographs appear to depict ethereal landscape scenes, but the dark hills, rolling clouds, and starry skies are the result of latent mold blooms and humidity revealed through the artist’s unique process. Rossiter pre-wetted this paper from 1911, similar to the way a water colorist prepares paper, before she selectively developed the bottom edge first and then quickly dipped the entire sheet. In doing so, the artist allows the subtle features of this paper to evolve in reaction to the darkroom chemistry.
In the gently surreal Air series, floating forms of white light are enveloped in smoky grey hues, creating the illusion of an airplane window during a hazy dawn. These prints are Rossiter’s playful response to the warped papers she sometimes finds – in this case, a box of Eastman Kodak Kodabromide G3, expired in 1948, which arrived with the papers severely curled. The artist gently placed a sheet face down in the developer, and as the edges of the paper were pulled into the liquid by surface tension, an air lock formed. The edges of the sheet were developed to black around the air bubble, while the untouched center remained white.
At a time when digital images are quickly consumed and forgotten, Alison Rossiter reminds us of the untapped potential of overlooked relics. She states, “It is miraculous that any of these expired photographic papers exist today. They should have been discarded long ago. As darkrooms were dismantled with the rise of digital photographic production, the online market place, ebay, appeared. ...and thankfully, expired photographic papers were among the treasures.”
Alison Rossiter’s work is currently featured in the exhibition Process and Abstraction at Transformer Station, Cleveland through May 2, 2015, and will be included in two upcoming exhibitions: Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography at J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles from April 14 - September 6, 2015, and The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Acquired with the Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund at The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, from May 3 - September 7, 2015. Alison Rossiter’s photographs are in the collections of major public institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Milwaukee Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Ms. Rossiter was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1953 and currently lives and works in the New York metropolitan area.
*The title of the exhibition, Paper Wait, is adapted from Alison Rossiter’s interview with Robert Enright in Border Crossings (No. 119, 2011).