Chemigrams are one of the simplest forms of alternative photography one can play with and explore. By placing a resist on silver gelatin coated darkroom paper and exposing it to light, then placing the paper in alternating baths of developer, fix, and water, an endless array of patterns and colors begin to form right before one’s eyes. I was first introduced to the chemigram process while pursuing my undergraduate degree. Focusing on the experimentation aspect of chemigrams, I quickly became fascinated by the range of colors and textures each resist created. The longer the resist remained on the paper, as well as the length of time the paper remained in the developer, fix, or water baths, the more complex of a pattern would emerge.
In the spring of 2022, I was enrolled in Advanced Alternative Photographic Processes, and the first process we visited were chemigrams. Instead of just experimenting with resists, this time I began to think about concepts. Moving away from food products, I looked at different combinations of resists, what they meant and represented, and their relation to one another. One of the first non-food combinations I paired was sunscreen with aloe gel. When placed in fix the aloe gel would ‘crack’ and create a unique texture I had never seen before, with different kinds of rings and patterns emerging as it gradually washed away. Sunscreen as a resist took longer to degrade, which created its own unique and more subtle patterns. Combined, the overall appearance of the two resists made me think of squamous cell skin cancer.
I printed silhouette negatives of body parts affected by skin cancer, and after cutting out the silhouettes, applied the sunscreen as an outline of the image and filled the remaining negative space with the aloe gel. The resulting chemigrams are a representation of how we use sunscreen to protect our skin, but it really is only the superficial layer of skin that is protected while what lies beneath, and unseen is often more complex, severe, and damaged than we realize.