What is the luminogram process?

The Luminogram process is light, directed onto photo paper in the darkroom. About as basic as ‘photography’ can get. It has been with us for a long while. László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) started using it in 1922, while Gottfried Jäger described it as "the result of pure light design; the rudimentary expression of an interaction of light and photosensitive material… a kind of self-representation of light."

Silver gelatin darkroom print created by Michael jackson using the Luminogram process

And yet it has always seemed to sit on the sidelines while its alternative cousins, such as photograms and lumen prints, have been embraced by artists and students everywhere.

It may be that the luminogram process has an added sense of mystery about it. The fact is that what you are really doing is taking this thing that is all around us, something which cannot be touched or felt – light - and you are moulding it into three dimensional shapes that hit and react with light sensitive paper. You are making the light represent itself (as Gottfried Jäger so eloquently stated).

Limitless development and progression

The results are not taken from the real solid world, they are taken from the connection between the mind and the light, in the same way, that a potter works with clay or a sculpture is made. Your hands are used to make gestures and intensities that show as direct results of your decisions on the paper. And because the process is so simple it allows for limitless development and progression.

It is a truly wonderful way for an artist to grow – as free as a painter with oils. It has no dependency on nature or the real world all around us. Just light and paper.

Silver gelatin darkroom print created by Michael jackson using the Luminogram process

Working with light

When I started making luminograms I had no idea what they were called, I was just interested in the smooth gradients that appeared on some old test strips of RC paper that I was working with. That interest started me down the road to constant experimentation. Everything I did was based on the simple idea that if I saw a result that I liked I would incorporate it into my own workflow. I used up an awful lot of paper, but eventually, after about a year I had a process of my own that allowed me to relax a little on the technical side and progress further with the intuitive nature of working with light. At this point, I could really start to get my teeth into the wonders of how light reacted with the paper – and I began to appreciate the artistic qualities of the paper itself.

Silver gelatin darkroom print created by Michael jackson using the Luminogram process

Paper as the star of the show

I had always thought of the paper as an accompaniment to photography, a final canvas for all the hard work that went on with the camera and the printing. However now I could see that the way that it reacted to light at a chemical level could make it a medium all of its own. It didn't need anything else, no camera, no film, no objects placed on it to make a photogram – these things were not the subject of a Luminogram piece. It was the paper itself that was the star of the show, and how it captured and held what I was moulding in the light. It held tightly, on its flat surface, abstract thoughts and ideas that were coming from my mind and hands. It wasn’t just a receiver of information – it was the core of it all.

With the luminogram process, you have the abilities of the photo paper alongside the limitless possibilities of light itself. All you have to do is dive in there and get the two working together in a way that shows your vision. There seem to be few rulebooks on the process, fewer teachers and even fewer people putting down guides on how it is all done. Which is wonderful. The process is open for you to discover for yourself.

All images ©Michael Jackson