“I dip the photo paper into the developer, and it begins to darken. In it, I can see a whole century; past events, uncharted landscapes, and even a hint of our surrounding universe.”
The abstract prints in Martti Jämsä’s exhibition are all made in the artist’s own darkroom without a camera or negative. Silver salts, attached via a layer of gelatin to the black and white photo paper’s surface, react when exposed to light. With this method, also known as camera-less photography, images are created using only photographic paper, chemistry, and light.
In making these prints, Jämsä has used old, expired photo papers, some of which have survived from the beginning of the 20th century. Opening a fresh package of aged photographic paper feels special and ceremonious. In Jämsä’s mind, the photosensitive silver gelatin paper has begun its exposure process, right from the moment of manufacturing—instantly when the sheets are encased within the package. Time is what exposes the paper; the developer only coaxes out the image; and the fixer, together with, for example, selenium toning, stops the process and conserves the image for viewing.
While crafting these works, Martti Jämsä explores the possibility for imagining a surrounding landscape constantly in flux, as well as the elapse of time—with layered traces always present in the image. For Jämsä, an abstract photograph does not lose its expressive power regarding the past nor the future. For him, a photograph is always a proof, a valuable mythical object that should be viewed and interpreted from one’s own point of view.
Martti Jämsä’s newest publication, Free Runoff, continues the series of abstract pictures created in his darkroom. Combining images and text, the work orientates Kaija Rantakari‘s poetic writing alongside Jämsä’s photographs. The pictures and poems are printed on a narrow strip of paper that is rolled inside a cardboard tube. The work will be released by Antti Nylén‘s publishing house Bokeh in connection with the exhibition.
Martti Jämsä is a photographer based in Helsinki, known especially for his expressive analogue black and white photography. Jämsä has held numerous solo exhibitions all over Finland since 1982, most recently Pimiön valokuvat(Photos from the Darkroom) at Mikkeli Centre of Photography, 2021, and Pimiö (Darkroom) at Forum Box in Helsinki, 2019. Jämsä’s previous solo exhibition at Hippolyte was in 2017. Additionally, Martti Jämsä has published 12 photo books, and they, including portfolios and artist books, have been an essential part of his practice for decades.
Free runoff – Liquid Density
26 November – 19 December 2021
Photographic Gallery Hippolyte
image: Martti Jämsä, from series Liquid Density, 2021