Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Max Ernst, Photogram for Mr. Knife Miss Fork, 1931
The photogram was invented by Max Ernst and Man Ray as a means of making a photograph without a camera or lens. Essentially it is a development of the earlier cliché-verre printmaking technique, which was briefly popular with the Barbizon School artists.
Max Ernst’s photograms are among the most important works of a long career in which he was one of the leading figures in two artistic revolutions, Dada and Surrealism. They were made by combining line drawing and frottage (textural rubbings) on pieces of thin translucent paper, and then using those pieces of paper as photographic negatives to create a reverse image (white on black) on photosensitive paper. Each photogram had to be individually made from the original drawing.
The best of Max Ernst’s photograms were his images for the book Mr. Knife Miss Fork, published in 1931 in an edition of 255 copies. I don’t have a copy of this, but I do have one of the photograms for Mr. Knife Miss Fork, separately printed for the specialist typographical journal Arts et Métiers Graphiques. In some ways this photogram stands alongside the contemporary fashion for white line wood-engraving, but the innovative technique employed sets it apart, as does the sublime confidence of Max Ernst’s image-making.
Max Ernst, Composition, lithograph, 1958
I also have several original lithographs by Ernst, but it is the photogram that stands out as a truly original and groundbreaking work of art.