Un/Seen: The Alchemy of Fixing Shadow

Chazen Museum of Art

Feb. 15, 2024 - Apr. 14, 2019

800 University Avenue
Madison, 53706


The earliest photographic processes were simultaneously science, art, and magic. This new, strange alchemy concealed as much as it revealed, light and silver halide combining, developing, fixing with a swirl of chemical across paper, tin, glass. Historic photographs allowed for new ways of seeing yet kept other things in the dark. Moments, while made visible, were always already echoes of the thing itself, dealing in snapshots of reality that were never quite reality. And while the visible is very much at play, it’s what is rendered invisible—the process—that lurks in the shadows of the end product.

The toxic chemicals and rituals photographers employed, happenings outside of camera lenses’ carefully structured views, and the larger social and cultural patterns that shaped the production of images are often hidden and much harder to see. Nineteenth-century photographic and proto-photographic processes—silhouettes, daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes and cyanotypes—allowed for innovative ways of presenting and shaping images of the world, a toxic labor that left a great deal unseen. Today, these practices offer contemporary artists new tools for telling stories about the ways past and present intersect—about bodies, desires, communities in the shadows, striving to be seen—revealing hidden patterns in the process.

Chazen Museum of Art

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