Heat photograms



Miscanthus, Heat photogram, Anna Gravelle


Alongside the geometric patterns, I’ve continued to experiment with making heat photograms using plant forms as a resist.  It is a process of printing which involves placing an object between the fabric and transfer paper before printing in the heat press.  It is a technique popularised by designer Becky Earley.  In a conversation I had with Becky [15.12.09] she explained how she came to discover the process:

“I started out by mark-making, painting fabric, encrusting the fabric with transfer ink and then printing. I then used fabrics like lace and knitted fabrics and discovered I could get the knit or lace effect by printing through them on to the polysatin.  At the advice of Texprint I named my technique ‘heat photograms’. What I came to realise was it was an economic and ecological way of printing as little waste was generated from the process.”

Photogram sketches, Anna Gravelle


It is a process I enjoy experimenting with as the results are often surprising. You never really know what you’ll find when you peel back the transfer paper after printing. Invariably a happy accident will have occured and I enjoy that element.  
These prints for me are reminiscent of x-rays and photograms, a cameraless photograph.  

Some years ago I visited an exhibition entitled ‘River Taw’ by photographer Susan Derges and was captivated by, not only the stunning photographs, but by the way she had captured the images.  

River Taw by Susan Derges


In the book ‘Liquid Form‘ her process is described: At night the river is used as a long transparency or negative and the landscape as a large darkroom. Photographic paper held in an aluminium slide is submerged just below the water’s surface and exposed to a microsecond of flashlight that prints the flow of the river directly onto the light sensitive paper. This is processed as normal in the darkroom to create a permanent record of the river at the time of exposure. Ambient light in the sky adds a colour cast to the cibachrome images which ranges from deep blue at full moon to dark green at new moon. 

For me the images become even more interesting and poetic once you know how they were produced. I enjoy the fact there’s a narrative attached to the images, the story of how they were created. I admire the fact that many elements, most natural, came together under the direction of one person to create the image. I assume that though Derges is familiar with her process there must be a strong element of chance, surprise and delight when the photograms are developed. 

I wonder whether it would be possible to create something similar using photosensitive ink on fabric?  

The magical quality of the images remind me of two things. Firstly the effect you might get from using a ‘starlight’ camera, a camera used currently in natural history film-making which produces magical images of animal behaviour at night with star light.  Secondly, the images remind me of the ghost image which is left on the transfer paper after the 1st print. When this is printed it reveals a very subtle and ethereal image. 

by Adam Fuss


I continued searching for other proponents of the photogram and came across the photographer Adam Fuss.He has created a series of poignant images capturing the ghost-like images of christening gowns.  

Both Fuss and Derges featured in an exhibition entitled ‘Alchemy – 12 Contemporary artists exploring the essence of photography’.  In the catalogue that accompanied the show writers Katy Barron and Anna Douglas describe the photogram thus:

“The photogram acts like a fossilised or an embedded ‘trace’, literally ‘standing in’ for an absent object.”

I appreciate the spirit like qualities that all these photograms possess, they are like apparitions eminating from the dark and have a dreamlike quality.  There seems to be a story attached to them, a story untold – who’s dress was it, where is the wearer? 

Algae, Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1843


 Anna Atkins is considered to be the first person to produce a book of photograms – Photographs of British Algae, Cyanotype Impressions.  In the mid 19th century photographers became involved in scientific study; photography was adopted as it could reveal unseen forms in the natural world.  

In her 1957 series of designs known as Luonto [nature] – Maija Isola [Marimekko’s chief designer] presented patterns depicting life-size naturalistic images of plants in silhouette. They were created like the photograms of Anna Atkins using actual plant specimens.  The specimens were placed directly onto a screen and exposed. The silhouette image was then printed on to paper before being used to produce the final printing screen.

Manty pattern, by Maija Isola, 1957


“The plants featured in the series ranged from ferns and twigs to leaf sprays and clumps of grass. Isola favored plants with intricate, feathery, lacy or spindly outlines, as theses were the most arresting silhouette.” [Marimekko, ed Marianna Aav]

I have been seeking a way of working in a more successful way with my heat photograms. They are, because of the process, printed as one-offs. I’ve been battling with ways of scanning these large scale prints [1.5. metres] in order to manipulate them further using Computer Aided Design.  It seems to me the way forward with this process at the moment because a)  I would like the option of producing more than a one-off print, b) I don’t only want to print on synthetics, which this process requires and c) the process produces carcinogenic fumes.  In my conversation with Becky Earley she agreed that this was also a methodolgy that she was experimenting with. She is investgating digital print onto coated wild silks and hemps.

I’ve yet to discover a perfect solution as the scans of the fabric samples aren’t satisfactory quality to me yet. This is something I hope to work towards perfecting as I feel if I could marry the two techniques I will have found a satisfactory way of working. 

Beyond the current technical limitation I feel that these samples of plant forms are too simplistic in their conception.  They are pretty and people react well to them but I wish to push the process and the designs further to find something more original.

One Response to “Heat photograms”

  1. 1 pear

    it is very interesting!! would you mind tell more detail I am very interest in it
    thanks ^^

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