The Alchemy of the Darkroom


Process and its relation to chemical and technical photographic techniques has become a central focus for the artist. By 2000, Mapplethorpe turned completely away from the camera and concentrated his artistic practice exclusively within the confines of the darkroom. Consequently, the work after this time becomes increasingly graphic and exclusively reliant on technical darkroom processes with each element deliberately conceived and realized by the artist. This dynamic between the controlled hand of the artist and the sometimes unpredictable nature of darkroom processes sets up a delicate balance between chaos and order that subsequently brings a new challenge to the artist's creative methodology. The Compositions series re-incorporates controlled movement by the artist's implementation of ink and compressed air to create linear, automatic drawings. Similarly, the HAIR Transfer series evokes a visceral sensibility reminiscent of x-rays through the use of hair as a mark-making device. At other times, Mapplethorpe inventively uses everyday items such as hairnets or liquid soap to create photograms that function as geometric descendents of Man Ray's Rayograms.

Beginning in 2008 the artist began to remove all extraneous elements from his process leaving only light and darkroom chemicals to function as both subject and medium. The TimeZones series reduces the photographic medium to its essence with an installation representing a tonal gray scale from white to black using the principals of the Zone System. Likewise, The Variations series daringly pushes the boundaries of what defines a photographic work of art− resulting in unique black and white gelatin silver print images that display a rich myriad of color tonalities. These collective bodies of work incorporate an inventive use of materials that subsequently become re-defined in a way that transcends their physical identity. The darkroom compositions buck the idea that a photograph is merely a record of something else, and instead proclaim their individuality as unique objects in of themselves. Mapplethorpe's darkroom interventions serve as gauntlets for the artist to push his personal vision while also reminding us that traditional black and white photography is still a vital and vibrant medium in the midst of the digital age.

Composition #13, 2001 Gelatin silver print; Triptych, each panel 20 x 24" (50.8 x 61cm); Edition of 3; also edition of 1: 30 x 40" (76.2 x 101.6cm); edition of 1: 40 x 50" (101.6 x 127cm)

Composition #13, 2001
Gelatin silver print; Triptych, each panel 20 x 24" (50.8 x 61cm); Edition of 3; also edition of 1: 30 x 40" (76.2 x 101.6cm); edition of 1: 40 x 50" (101.6 x 127cm)

(L) Composition #6, 2000; Gelatin silver print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8cm); Edition of 5; also edition of 3: 39 x 32" (99 x 81.28cm); edition of 2: 55 x 45"(139.7 x 114.3cm) (R) HAIR transfer, 2004; Chromogenic print; 40 x 30" (101.6 x 76.2cm); Edition of 5; also edition of 3: 39 x 32" (99 x 81.28cm); edition of 2: 55 x 45"(139.7 x 114.3cm)

(L) Composition #6, 2000; Gelatin silver print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8cm); Edition of 5; also edition of 3: 39 x 32" (99 x 81.28cm); edition of 2: 55 x 45"(139.7 x 114.3cm)
(R) HAIR transfer, 2004; Chromogenic print; 40 x 30" (101.6 x 76.2cm); Edition of 5; also edition of 3: 39 x 32" (99 x 81.28cm); edition of 2: 55 x 45"(139.7 x 114.3cm)

(L) Untitled, 2008; Gelatin silver print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6cm); unique (R) Untitled, 2008; Gelatin silver print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6cm); unique

(L) Untitled, 2008; Gelatin silver print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6cm); unique
(R) Untitled, 2008; Gelatin silver print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6cm); unique

(L) Untitled No. 869, 2007. Gelatin silver lith print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm); unique (C) Variation No. 7, 2011;Gelatin silver print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8cm); unique (R) Untitled No. 832, 2007; Gelatin silver lith print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8 cm); unique

(L) Untitled No. 869, 2007. Gelatin silver lith print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm); unique
(C) Variation No. 7, 2011;Gelatin silver print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8cm); unique
(R) Untitled No. 832, 2007; Gelatin silver lith print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8 cm); unique

(L) Untitled, No. 846, 2007; Gelatin silver lith print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8cm); unique (R) Untitled, No. 892, 2007; Gelatin silver lith print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6cm); unique

(L) Untitled, No. 846, 2007; Gelatin silver lith print; 24 x 20" (61 x 50.8cm); unique
(R) Untitled, No. 892, 2007; Gelatin silver lith print; 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6cm); unique

TimeZones, 2008 Gelatin silver prints; 9 panels, 60 x 50" (152.4 x 127cm) each

TimeZones, 2008
Gelatin silver prints; 9 panels, 60 x 50" (152.4 x 127cm) each