Curator, Ann Temkin: A photogram is made by placing an object on light sensitive paper, which is then exposed to light, creating a negative image of the object. Camera-less photographic images of subjects like leaves or flowers had been produced since the 1830s, but around 1922, almost simultaneously, artists such as El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray all began experimenting with photograms.
Curator, Leah Dickerman: The Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy embraced photograms as a way of making a new kind of abstract image, and his thinking about it came very much out of thinking of light, as painting’s most essential subject matter.
When he became a faculty member at the Bauhaus, he set up something like a laboratory where he accumulated materials that allowed him to play with light—screens and tubes and mesh, things that were shiny and opaque and translucent, all of which would allow him to manipulate the absorption and reflection of light.
Even though they’re tied to objects, photograms don’t necessarily depict them. They’re traces of their physical presence in the world. It’s a sign of something that’s been rather than making an image that looks like something else.