Interview: Daniel Ranalli
Interview by Kexin Sun
K: Why do you prefer photograms over other forms of photography?
D: Because it’s completely abstract. It doesn’t have subject matter in the way that photography usually does have subject matter. I am interested in how to make an image, which is really about light.
K: How do you define your work based on subject matter?
D: The subject matter in my work is really nothing more than light and dark. I mean there are other people who make photograms. I’m sure you know some other artists doing them. But you can always tell what it was the artist placed on the photo paper. In my case, you can’t really tell. For example, I use strips of cardboard stood on their edge with a handheld light source. I did these for about 10 years from around 1976 to 1985. Then I stopped. It’s not the only thing I've ever done. But when I was doing them, that was all I did all the time. What we are doing now is making very large prints from the original 16x20 inch prints by scanning them.
K: Why don’t you do photograms now?
D: I don’t know. I just moved on to other things. I’ve occasionally gone back and played around with them a little bit but mostly I’ve done other things and not gone back to that work. Now, it would also be impossible to do that work because none of the materials are available anymore that I used. It wouldn't look the same. There is a particular kind of photo paper that Kodak made called Azo. It was a contact printing paper and they don’t make it anymore. You can’t even buy it. Nobody makes the same paper anymore.
K: What kind of context and emotion do you want to show through your photograms?
D: I think part of it is the idea of making things mysterious and that give people a hard time figuring out exactly what it is that they see. I would say the idea of sensuality. Sensual, more than sexual.
K: Can you explain the process of producing photograms?
D: You are in the dark room and you take photo paper. You place objects on the photo paper and expose the paper to light. When it’s developed, the areas that were covered up remain white and the other areas are dark, depending on how much light they received. But you don’t really see anything happening when you're doing it. You only see it when the paper has developed.
K: What kind of objects do you use between the light and the photoreceptor? Why?
D: I only used strips of cardboard and then I stand them on their edge. Sometimes I used little strips of aluminum foil to reflect the light. That was it.
K: Have you done color correction to your work? Or do you just leave the color as what it is?
D: The color’s right. It’s black and white material but I do something called split-toning.
K: Where does your inspiration come from?
D: I don't know. It's hard to say. The idea was to make images that didn't refer to any outside subject matter and also that were reminiscent, at times, of early photography. There's no camera used at all in these so I would say some of the early work by people like Edward Weston and classical photographers whose work had a very long tonal scale are definitely things that I liked.
K: You mentioned that you want to convey sexuality to your audience? Can you explain this a bit deeper?
D: I don't want to over explain my work. I think people have to get their own meaning from it. I like the idea that an image has a certain amount of mystery and that there's a certain amount of chance that goes into making it because you can't control everything when you're making a photogram. You don't know exactly what's happening. So there's always a little bit of chance. In a way, one of my influences is John Cage, the composer, who used chance all the time in his work.
K: How do you explore abstractions in your photograms?
D: I'm not sure how to answer that. I've always been drawn to marks and drawings that are sort of unintentional. There is a series of pieces that I did where I photographed chalkboards that had been erased in a university where I was teaching.
Check out more of Daniel's work here!
Daniel Ranalli is represented by the Laurence Miller Gallery, 20 W. 57th St, New York, NY.