Ellen Carey pushes the boundaries of photography – ARTnews.com


Ellen Carey spent the summer of 1988 in her darkroom trying to answer a question that bothered her: “What is an abstract photograph? Her experiments kept failing – she processed 120 black-and-white films with different canvases and lighting, made black-and-white photograms, and painted with airbrush and chemicals on various papers.

Then one day she developed a photo with nothing in it. “All it takes is a photo when you’re having trouble,” Carey says. It was a gradient, going from white on the left to black on the right. The work is essentially an image of a whiteboard, although it doesn’t necessarily appear that way. “It was all about the light,” she said.

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Since then, Carey has focused on and pushed the limits of what can be done with photographic equipment and materials. This ongoing project continues in his latest body of work, a series of photographs that the artist has called “finitograms”. Presented during a personal exhibition at the Galerie Miranda in Paris (until June 22), the name of the series refers to the not finished technique used by Donatello and Michelangelo, who in some cases deliberately did not carve all of the marble blocks they used.

Carey’s images, however, are completely finished, as they are 8×10 photographic papers with chemical traces on them – from the experiments of Carey’s students to the marks left after being thrown in the trash. “The idea here is light and chemistry without the interference of the human hand,” she says. For the past 20 years or so, Carey has collected and stored them – “time is the operator of the camera,” she says.

According to Miranda Salt, director of Miranda Gallery, Carey’s work blurs gender lines a lot.

“It’s superb fine art photography with a strong connection to the world of painting,” Salt said. According to her, French institutions have long focused on figurative photography and are therefore about five years behind the United States. That’s why they only understand Carey’s work, she postulated.

Portrait of an elegant woman near a large camera the size of her body.  She holds a hand to one of her ears.

Ellen Carey.
©Douglas Levere

Carey’s best-known series are large-format works the size of an adult human and composed of brightly colored spots and cracked patinas. They were made using 20×24 Polaroid cameras, which weigh 235 pounds and require their own wheeled frames. They are so large that it takes two people to move them and, often, to operate them.

Carey uses the camera to take a picture, then takes the film to a dark room with no lights (she used a closet during lockdown). There she crumples the paper, with her negative attached, by hand, before walking away to reveal the finished work. She sometimes includes the negative in the work as well.

This body is linked to Carey’s obsession with surrealism. Decades of playing in a darkroom gave him the confidence to actively damage film, breaking a great photography taboo.

Carey has one of seven existing 20×24 Polaroid cameras (a new one is being built) in her studio in Hartford, Connecticut, which was used by photographer Elsa Dorfman until her death two years ago. . When the Polaroid company announced it would no longer be making the film, 20×24 Holdings, which helps run some of these cameras, purchased over 500 cases of film. However, since no backer has yet been found, Carey feels that there are only enough films left for a few more years. Although Carey is undoubtedly the only one to work in this abstract way with this camera, it is possible that she will also be the last.

Although Carey has continued to expand the field of abstract photography over the past three decades, creating entirely new genres, she has not achieved the same level of recognition as some of her contemporaries. For example, she was friends with Cindy Sherman when they were at University in Buffalo, New York, and had a shared exhibit in 1976 on a city bus in Buffalo.

Carey first encountered the Polaroid 20×24 camera in 1983, when she was invited to be part of the Polaroid Artist Support Program, which ended with the great stock market crash of 1987.

Photograph resembling an abstract spray of black paint.

A new work from Ellen Carey’s 2022 “finitograms” series.
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Miranda, Paris

“The camera made me rethink my modus operandi,” she said, explaining that she knew she wasn’t very good at painting, drawing or other figurative ways of doing art. ‘art. This can be seen in Carey’s ‘zerograms’, for which she folds and crumples Fuji Crystal paper (a process similar to ‘Crush & Pulls’), then manipulated in a darkroom without light and displayed in vivid color mixtures .

These designs were spotted by the creative team behind menswear brand Dunhill, who collaborated with them on some pieces for the Spring/Summer 2022 collection. Dunhill’s creative director, Mark Weston, said the work de Carey had “the importance of trusting instincts while embracing alterations” which resonated with the design team, describing how “painterly colors” lent themselves well to printing on satin of silk.

Carey thinks of her practice the same way. She said her job was to “introduce chance and chance”, sometimes with the intervention of the human hand, sometimes without.

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