The chemigram process is an equal mix of painting, printmaking and photography. Chemigrams are made without the use of a camera and in full light on silver-based photographic materials. And like any other medium, the chemigram's visual vocabulary is solely dependent on the innovation and imagination of the artist.
Instead of paints and brushes, or chisels and wood or stone, the chemagramist uses photographic paper, developer, resists, water, non-hardening fixer and trays filled with these various liquids spread out across a work area. Regardless of the age of the papers used, they must contain silver to react with the chemicals so that the process can be fully realized. A darkroom is not necessary because chemigrams are made under incandescent or full light.
Chemigrams are initiated by applying resists to the surface of photographic paper. Examples of resists are tape, acrylic finishes, and glue. Resists are a standard printmaking technique that inhibits and randomly allows the chemistry to work its way into the paper emulsion, producing the unique visual effects common to the chemigram. After the resist dries, the print is processed by cycling it between developer and fixer with a water rinse in between, in a series of similar fifteen minute cycles. Later on, dried prints can be digitally scanned and modified with a computer to adjust color and contrast and increase the scale.
The resulting prints are quite magical – this is where Preece gets that mesmerizing organic look, where the lines form and the colors bloom. One constant in his work is their haunting beauty – there is an overpowering depth to his work that does not come by perspective, as much as it slips through our subconscious. With works like Riparian (2016) or Winter (2015) we get a sense of deep soul searching, as if all the intricacies of nature match our own, where both the flaws and the beauty can coallesce.
BIO: Nolan Preece
Nolan Preece was born in 1947 in Vernal, Utah. His father had served in WWII and had become Vernal's first hospital administrator. He was also a serious amateur photographer and emulated Ansel Adams, purchasing Adam’s first books, The Camera, The Negative, and The Print. Preece remembers rocking the tray of developer and watching the print come up at about the age of 5. There was always a darkroom in the house. He was given his first camera at the age of 7 and started to learn how to process film and make black and white prints. Because ready-made chemistry was hard to come by where he grew up in Vernal, Preece recalls he and his father mixed all of their solutions from scratch, using the Photo Lab Index. His father would acquire bulk chemicals from salesmen who stopped by the hospital. By the time he was 14, Preece was quite proficient at photography and so signed up as photographer for the student yearbook at his junior high school. The school owned a Rollicord twin lens reflex camera, with which he used to make over 100 photographs published in the 1962 yearbook. As a high school graduation present, he was given a Yashika Mat twin lens reflex camera.
After a two-year stint in the army in Germany, Preece began and then received his BFA in photography in 1972 and he began his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1977 at Utah State University. It was about this time that he met Al Weber. Al had given him his first merit award at an exhibition called “Photography West.” Al and Ruth Bernard paid regular visits to U.S.U. giving critiques and lectures. It was all a part of the Friends of Photography of Carmel, CA doing outreach to the interior western states. While studying under A.J. Meek at U.S.U., Preece learned the Zone System and how to make the fine print, however he broke with tradition to investigate experimental photography for his thesis work. In 1979 he discovered that mineral spirits dripped on smoke-on-glass, then printed as a negative in his enlarger, created something he had never seen before. He incorporated this cliche-verre process into his final exhibition and published thesis. Later on, his students would nickname them “Nolangrams.”
In 1981 Preece's experimental work started going in a second direction. During his spare time, in his darkroom, his experiments led him to develop a chemical abstraction process on black and white photo paper using chemical masking techniques and staining in conjunction with a printed image. This chemigram process gained him entrance into numerous national and regional photographic exhibitions during the 1980’s and 1990’s. It has since evolved into becoming the major thrust of his chemigram work by using acrylics as resists and Photoshop to incorporate color into the scanned matrices.
After graduation in 1984, Preece started to work as a photographer for the rocket company, Morton Thiokol. For the first two years he worked as darkroom technician and was then promoted to cameraman. He resigned in 1987 to accept a one-year temporary teaching position at Utah State University. During that year he applied for and was hired full-time by Casper College in Wyoming to set up a new fine art photography program, starting fall of 1988. He married Jeanne Chambers, a plant ecologist and research scientist for the U.S. Forest Service and then followed her to the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Reno, Nevada in 1992.
Preece bought the gallery and frame shop, Sun Mountain Artworks, in Virginia City, Nevada and operated it for six years. He was the Executive Director of the Comstock Arts Council for four years and has served on the board of trustees of St. Mary's Art Center in Virginia City since 1996. Preece has taught workshops, he has been published in books and periodicals and he has received several prestigious grants. His work is in thirty-seven permanent collections across the nation and the Southeast Museum of Photography recently set up a repository in his name with 120 pieces. He now has gallery representation in New York City with the Walter Wickiser Gallery and also the Stremmel Gallery in Reno, Nevada.
After serving as galleries curator and photography professor for 11 years at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, Preece retired to pursue his own photography interests. And he says, "There still is, and always will be, a darkroom in the house."