Alison Rossiter is represented by Yossi Milo Gallery in New York and had her first show there in 2010 but I think I first saw and was drawn to her work years earlier. I was so taken, I came home and immediately emailed her to see if her pieces were available. Since that time and more recently, I saw some of her work at the SFMOMA’s About Time show currently on view. Rossiter’s work is especially exciting, in my opinion, to photographers who have worked in the darkroom and are in love with the luscious silver gelatin papers of days gone bye. SFMOMA interviewed Rossiter about her work and produced a video. (see below).
Rossiter’s work with expired gelatin silver paper has become more and more complex since her first show at the Yossi Milo Gallery in 2010 and she has accumulated extremely special and rare papers to process. Prints in Paper Wait are made with paper from the late 19th century (1890s) through the middle of the 20th Century (1960s).
With the oldest of the papers, Alison has brought out the beautiful blacks and mid-tones by dipping them into developer. Oxidation around the edges, an overall shimmer of silver (not visible in the jpeg) and a gorgeous rich black. Some of these old papers arrived to Alison with latent imagery embedded in the paper, such a fingerprints, mold, light leaks or patina-ed silver, which she revealed through processing:
Eastman Kodak Velox, expired May 1919, processed 2014 – The emulsion on these papers, which expired in 1919, had cracked with age and temperature fluctuations, which Alison brought out in processing. They have a beautiful charcoal drawing-like quality.
In addition to very old papers, the Paper Wait exhibition featured large-scale, geometric pieces. Since 2013, Alison has selectively dipped four sheets in developer at varying angles and assembled them into quadriptychs, resulting in compositions with extraordinary three-dimensionality and presence. Step-by-step, she increased the size of the sheets and built her skill at handling larger and larger prints. The new pieces are made with four 24” x 20” sheets and, framed, measure approximately 52” x 44”.
Other new pieces made by selectively developing the prints with liquid photo developer include Blurs, Air and exceptional new Pools. Alison’s Blurs are made using Eastman Kodak Polycontrast G paper from the 1960s. She creates the image with the negative space she leaves unprocessed. The sheets are dipped into the developer from two directions, leaving the white, hazy “zip” down the middle. So beautiful!
Prints in the surreal Air series are Alison’s response to the curled papers she sometimes finds – in this case, a box of Eastman Kodak Kodabromide G3, expired in 1948. The artist gently placed a sheet face down in the developer, and as the edges of the paper were pulled into the liquid by surface tension, an air lock formed. The edges of the sheet were developed to black around the air bubble, while the untouched center remained white, creating luminous floating shapes. Alison’s recent Pools with Eastman Kodak Vitava B-3 paper from 1943 and Defender Velour Black paper from 1947 reflect her skill at controlling the liquid developer on the paper. The midtones of these papers are extraordinary!
The rarest paper in the show is Gevaert Gevaluxe Velours. Manufactured briefly in Antwerp, Belgium in the 1930s, Gevaluxe Velours is widely regarded to be the best gelatin silver paper ever made. It was expensive to buy and available for less than twenty years. The unique, ground-breaking paper was described in the 1937 Gevaert catalogue with glowing praise: “Gevaluxe Velours is manufactured on an entirely new principle. Its surface has the appearance of black velvet, consisting of thousands of minute fibers, yielding prints with a depth hitherto unknown. The shadows are of a rich carbon black: the highlights clear and sparkling with a perfect rendering of gradations… It is the first photographic paper to embody an additional physical property: a three dimensional effect… It has the rare distinction of being patented, U.S.A. Patent No. 1752665”.A British advertisement referred to Gevaluxe Velours as the “Stradivarius” of photographic papers.
In her exhaustive search for expired photographic papers, Alison has found only two packages of Gevaluxe Velours paper. Alison processed the sheets with liquid photo developer with no other intervention. Before her eyes, the time and atmospheric changes latent in the paper were made visible and the tones of velvety black appeared. After processing, the sheets took on a subtle, billowy haze around the edges that was, she said, “astonishing.” Hear her talk about her work below.