JTF (just the facts): A total of 58 black and white photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the East and West galleries and the small hallway alcove. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, from single sheets to two and four panel constructions, made/processed in 2007-2015. Physical sizes for each sheet/panel range from roughly 4×3 to 24×20, and all of the works are unique. The works on view are drawn from various series: Splits, Pools, Latent, Landscapes, Fours, Test Strips, Blurs, and Seams. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: As we move further and further into an all-digital photographic existence, one of the things that is often being inadvertently sacrificed is the artistic freedom previously enabled by paper choice. Throughout the medium’s long history, photographic papers have been made from a dizzying variety of stocks and chemical combinations, each one finely tuned to deliver certain tonalities and image properties. Depending on the desired effects, certain papers perform better than others, almost as if they had personalities of their own that were just waiting to be unlocked by the right set of artistic circumstances.
Alison Rossiter has built her photographic career on the rediscovery and manipulation of expired photographic papers. Over the past century, manufacturers from all over the world have repeatedly come and gone, leaving behind caches of increasingly scarce unused papers that were squirreled away by the devoted, only to be unearthed decades later. Rossiter’s work is in many ways a reverential celebration of these lost papers, and of the fascinating stories they have to tell when teased out by a patient observer. Every paper degrades in its own particular way, and the chance remnants of that gradual process of decay provide the foundation for Rossiter’s wide ranging experiments.
A double hung array of works in the back room is perhaps the best place to start in terms of understanding the touch points of Rossiter’s approach – each image is made from an expired paper which has been recently processed, with no obvious additional artistic steps introduced; it’s the papers themselves, unadorned, each one a straightforward almost minimalist abstraction, an open ended historical record of the quirks of time. From the raw material of found German, Russian, and American papers (many expired in the 1910s and 1920s), an astonishing array of visual artifacts emerge – burnished edges, gestural marks, ghostly zips, coppery residues, hazy edges, splotchy blobs, small crease lines and dots, faint fingerprints, shiny metallic rainbows, cloudy wisps, and textural gradients, in colors that stretch from white to black, with stops along the way in shades of yellow, grey, brown, and maroon. We might even call them painterly, except of course that they’re not. A special series of works made from 1930s era Gevaert Gevaluxe Papier Velours (one of the most sought after gelatin silver papers of all time) use this same simple processing to generate fuzzy hovering white rectangles with dark edges, the richness of their tones dissipating like fading memories.
The other works/series on view show Rossiter’s more interventionist side, where dips and pours of developer are used to create various geometric abstractions within the broader framework of chance and discovery. In her large four panel works, Rossiter employs straight line dips to generate hard edged polygons that echo each other in morphing pairs, often with the addition of a layer of mottled grey between the extremes of white and black. Smaller two panel works feature pours of developer that create deep black orbs hovering on indeterminate white, their edges seeming to creep and shiver. And Rossiter even finds a way to mimic nighttime landscapes, using a dip to create a dark horizon and moldy white spots as galaxies of pinprick stars. Each series is a thoughtful line of experimental thinking, beginning with the qualities of the paper itself and then extending and expanding somewhere more fundamentally abstract.
There is an overstuffed, bursting, almost exhausting quality to this show that reinforces Rossiter’s commitment to these papers and their hidden secrets; there are surprising treasures to be found at the end of seemingly every road. These works are at once elemental and sophisticated, historical and freshly contemporary, rigorously analytical and full of uncertainty. But more importantly, this recent body of accomplished work takes Rossiter beyond the limiting boundaries of the “process” label to a place where the backstory recedes and we’re left with images that are entrancing all on their own, regardless of our knowledge of how they were made. I think she’s successfully jumped the fences of the genre, and landed in a place where we can now enjoy her works as both durably refined abstractions and archival remnants of photographic history.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $3500 for the smallest, single sheet works to $29000 for the largest four panel compositions. Rossiter’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.