Art

Photograms that Capture Darkness and the Flicker of Fireflies

Michael Flomen’s first photographs were made with the light of fireflies, inspiring a series of work that converses with rain water, earth, and plant life.

Michael Flomen,”Two Step” (2004), gelatin silver toned print, archival mount on museum board, framed with museum glass, 34.5 x 36.25 in; artist proof from edition of 4 + 1 AP (all images courtesy Michael Flomen and Denny Gallery, NYC)

I want to start talking about an art exhibition I saw with a work that is not technically in the show. It’s nearby, on the wall of an office in the back of Denny Gallery. I was attracted to it because it has a white, phosphorescently glowing well at its center, toward which a colony of small, glowing grubs seem to be eddying. This swarm of luminescence seems to be superimposed on an image of the night sky on which the artist has spilled milk. This amalgam is sandwiched with yet another overlaid image: what looks like some items of clothing left on the floor. The work, I discover, is actually a photogram.

Michael Flomen, “Full Moon Rain No. 3” (2016)

The artist, Michael Flomen, tells me that the piece, “Two Step” (2004) was part of a series of breakthrough images for him — photograms that are in conversation with natural elements such as rain water, earth, and plant life. “Two Step” was produced through a kind of dance between him and the fireflies over an 8-by-10-inch piece of film. He tells me: “The negative is completely illuminated by the beetle’s bio luminescent flashes.” But it looks like the faerie sparked into being and winked out, leaving a thirsty void after.

I use this work to start talking about Flomen’s exhibition, Dark Waters, because I think it tells me what this show is doing. Flomen also says as much in an email to me: “The firefly images were my first entry into camera-less photographs. The fireflies brought me to water. They showed me how to make the photograms I make today.”

Installation view of Dark Waters at Denny gallery

In Dark Waters there are three pieces: a very large photogram, “Full Moon Rain No. 3,” (2016), and two smaller ones, “Central Park No. 5” and “Central Park No. 26” (both 2015). They are all inhabited by black-and-white, craggy, jagged nebulae in oceans of darkness, a kind of roiling disquiet erupting through the actual medium. This eruption occurs as Flomen distresses the paper and the resultant creases and tears create rocky surfaces that remind me of Alberto Burri’s craquelure pieces. But in “Full Moon Rain,” Flomen has completely removed one chunk of paper and this gesture is also telling. I see his interest in what’s on the other side of the image — what had quiescently existed before he came along — and I see he wants to devise a way through to that place. I look at the hole in the piece. Underneath is a deeper darkness, pebbly and rough. Flomen looks for this place, which is like the underside of a hidden moon.

Dark Waters continues at Denny Gallery (261 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) until October 8.

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