As well as photographing dance, and performance art, I also help run a community darkroom: Leicester Lo-Fi. Every season, we do some new workshops, and like to put in some less known alternative processes, so I thought I’d do one on Luminograms. First, I had to learn how to do them. Luminograms are photographs taken without a camera, just manipulating light, in the darkroom. The absolute master of the process is Michael Jackson, and I still can’t figure out how he does some of his techniques.

I started fairly simply, using a pack of old resin coated gloss photo paper and a darkroom enlarger. This gave me control of how long my light source was on for, and with this I experimented with glass and objects, finding the exposure times that gave me black, various shades of grey, and also white.

I played with various transparent, semi-transparent and opaque object, to work out the basic techniques of masking, to work on different areas of the photo one at a time, reversing the image (making a negative of a positive), and also figure out what compositions I liked. I realised I liked abstract pictures, where you couldn’t tell what the objects were, but with a bit of off kilter symmetry.

But these all felt like photograms, rather than true luminograms. So, next I started using a torch. The torch I used was way too bright, so I taped several layers of neutral density filter to the front. Controlling the light: position, time, etc. was a lot more difficult, so there was much more randomness in the images, but the results using torch and glass objects was tremendously satisfying.

So, I then started to think, what other light sources could I use? I remembered a laser pen I had bought ages ago. This laser has a prism on, so you get lots of laser patterns. This adds a nice bit of wildness to a picture, and I quickly combined this with other techniques I’d learned.

I want to start exhibiting some of the luminograms, so I moved up a paper size, to 10″ x 8″ (I want to go larger, when I have more experience). I also moved to an Ilford matt fibre based paper. Fibre paper is a lot more curly, which added some challenges, and has a longer washing time, but looks fantastic. I also found the times for the various light sources had changed. I may tone some of the prints.

Luminographs are fun, and there’s all sorts you can try with different materials and light sources. Loads of failures happen, but loads of successes, too. Have a go!