To understand camera-less photography we first need to unpack the term 'wet photography'. This is the process the process of making an image by using film, chemicals and photographic paper in a darkroom. A darkroom is a light tight room, where film is processed and enlargements are printed. Ambient light is controlled through the lens of an enlarger which holds the negative in place as the image is projected onto photographic paper. The paper is then developed by hand in a three‐step chemical process of developer, stop and fixative; a far cry from the digital technology we have grown accustomed to today.

A number of contemporary artists are revisiting wet photography as a means of creating photographic images, at times, without a camera. Instead, artists are utilising some of the early processes of photography that relied heavily on chemicals to produce an image, rather than taking a photograph using film and a camera. Some of these camera‐less processes include photograms, chemigrams and cyanotypes. By treating the surface of light sensitive paper with chemicals, artists manipulate light and shadows to record traces of the world, at times producing abstract images. Artists that work in this manner will experiment with the enlarger, chemicals and paper to create photographs that are not always representative of what we can see with the naked eye.

Justine Varga creates photographic images using analogue techniques. This includes producing images without a camera, instead exposing film and paper to light over extended periods of time. Her interest in photography began in the darkroom making images, rather than looking through the lens of a camera to capture a scene. Varga enjoys the tactile nature of chemicals, film and paper and prefers creating abstract images rather than representational photographs.

Instead of having a specific image in mind, Varga exposes photographic surfaces to light, with unpredictable results. At times she scratches marks into the negatives or exposes the photographic paper to heat, fluid or adhesives. Her photographs record traces of movement over time with accumulating marks on the surface of the paper or film. With observation at the core of Varga’s practice, her photographs act as a type of surveillance – monitoring and recording time and place.

  • Varga describes photography as a central part of her life. What is the number one thing in your life that you are most passionate about?
  • Imagine if Infection could make a sound. What sound would it make?
  • Marks can often suggest a sense of movement in an image. What do the marks in Varga’s photographs remind you of?
  • Slow down the pace at which you look at Vaarga's works of art. Imagine one of her photographs was a door to a new world. Imagine stepping inside the image. What would the landscape look like? What would the atmosphere feel like?
  • Sometimes, Varga doesn’t use a camera at all to create her works of art. Would you still consider her a photographer? Is everyone who owns a camera a photographer?
  • Varga notes that creating a photographic image is a challenging and time‐consuming process, as she is faced with many variables such as paper stock, temperature, chemical formulations and power fluctuations. Investigate these variables when making an image. Explain how Varga might be classified a ‘scientist’ and an ‘artist’. How different are these two roles?
  • Describe the colours that Varga has created in her work. Select a colour in one of Varga’s photographs that appeals to you. On your journey home locate this hue in other things you see.
  • In small groups, make a list of as many words you can think of that are associated with photography. Play a ‘round robin’ game with each group sharing a different word.
  • Look closely at the textures in Varga’s photographs. Imagine dissecting Varga’s photographs into separate layers. How many different marks or layers could you identify?
“When I look at Peart, I can see his hand in his marks, that the work is him. Since his passing, this has become even more apparent to me. His trace, a quality at once tangible and elusive, unites within layers of paint”
Justine Varga
  • Varga acknowledges gestural abstract paintings by Australian artists John Peart and Roy Jackson as influences growing up. However, Varga describes the way she makes her photographs as a realist approach rather than abstract. Investigate Australian abstract art from the 1970s onwards. How did these artists challenge conventions of the past? What ideas about photography does Varga challenge? Select an abstract painting by John Peart or Roy Jackson and compare to Varga’s photographs.
  • Artists are returning to the handmade print or experimental processes of art making. Traditional techniques such as ‘wet’ photography are seeing a resurgence in contemporary art. Investigate another contemporary photographer who relies on analog processes for creating an image, as opposed to digital. Compare their practice with Varga’s. Artists to consider: Anne Ferran, Rosemary Laing, Trent Parke or Robyn Stacey.
  • Contemporary artist, Dale Frank is well known for his abstract paintings. His works are experimental and performative. As he drips, pours and manipulates the paint across the surface, his paintings evolve slowly over time. This process based approach to art making is similar to that of Varga’s. Look at Dale Frank’s paintings in the Gallery’s collection (online). Discuss how Varga and Frank use similar processes, yet with different mediums.
  • By definition, an abstract expressionist creates works without defined figures or objects that are monumental in scale and use line, colour and shape to express big ideas. Explain how both Varga and Frank may be considered abstract expressionist.

Dale Frank, born Singleton, New South Wales 1959, Paler Than Pale Custard Cream Moonlight Off White Old Ivory Irish Linen Cream Neutral Beeswax Cornsilk Falmouth Hawaiian Sunset Paloma Burnous (Pansy!), 1999, Bundaberg, Queensland, synthetic polymer paint & varnish on canvas, 220.0 x 360.0 cm; South Australian Government Grant 2000, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Dale Frank.

  • Drawing was an important part of Varga’s training at art school. She says that drawing, which she practiced daily while at art school, was the foundation of learning how to look. Initiate the habit of drawing every day for a month.
  • Varga often makes marks directly onto photographic paper. These marks can not be erased. Using a sheet of scratchboard, acrylic or aluminium, create marks on your surface. Experiment with a range of tools and pressures to create a variety of marks. What tool or material made the most unusual mark?
  • Varga’s photographs register her surroundings. Create a series of prints that capture a variety of mark making onto a flat surface. Apply a thin layer of paint to a sheet of acrylic. Using a range of materials, make marks into the paint. Place a piece of paper over the acrylic while still wet to capture your mark making.
  • Varga uses the camera to collect the world. Moments in time are captured in layers on photographic paper. Explore your environment at home or school for places where a build‐up of marks is present. Take notice of walls re‐plastered with promotional posters, peeling paint, paths that are well worn or door frames and latches that show evidence of wear and tear. These observations may even be fleeting moments such as condensation forming and disappearing on a glass. Photograph these impressions to create an abstract image.
  • The process of making is at the core of Varga’s art practice rather than the final product itself. With this in mind, use one colour with varying tints and shades to create a monochromatic painting. Laying a canvas flat, drip and pour diluted paint onto the surface. Experiment with different tools to manipulate the paint. This work may evolve over a series of days or weeks, as you experiment with different opacities of paint, and allow time for the paint to dry between layers.
  • Although camera‐less, Varga records the happenings of a time and place, collapsing them into a single image. Create a moving image or time lapse video of a single place over an extended period. What things did you capture that were unexpected?