Heliographs by Claus Stolz
The world’s first photograph, titled “View from the Window at Le Gras“, was taken by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. He termed these early photographic works “Heliographs”. At the time, the physiochemical properties of the new technology had not yet been defined exactly.
Today, German photographer Claus Stolz carries on Niépce’s work but has pushed it to new extremes. Stolz has been using this technique for over twenty years—a technique he calls “heliography,” as a nod to his originary predecessor.
Using exposure times ranging from a few seconds up to several hours, the rays of the sun attack the photosensitive material, a carefully measured destructive process. Unique worlds of manifold color schemes and delicately structured designs originate within the bursting, melting and crystallizing layers of film. Grotesque monster heads, bizarre grimaces and surreal formations present themselves. Through the focused action of heat, the image carrier becomes the object, a small-scale piece of statuary art comparable to the slashed and perforated canvasses of Lucio Fontana in the 60’s. Traces of time and energy are merged onto the photosensitive paper and thus grow intriguingly visible and palpable.
The results depend on various factors—materials used, exposure time, camera settings, the intensity of the sun light and the prevailing climatic conditions (e.g. interruptions of the exposure trace by clouds).
And finally, of course, careful control of how the film develops. Traces of solar energy are burnt into the film material using self-constructed devices and lenses with a diameter of up to one meter. Afterwards, the shots are enlarged and printed on paper or the film sheets are directly shown in light-boxes. Or, the film slides themselves are projected onto hangar-sized walls.
In the age of digital imaging, Stolz’s work marks a stalwart position in the history of photography and its continued use of old techniques in new forms.