09 June, 2005

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg: the Chemistry of the Photographic

by June Woest Updated, January 2001

"The boundaries between photography and other media--painting, sculpture, or performance--have been made increasingly porous, leaving the photographic residing everywhere but nowhere in particular." Geofrey Batchen

Although the three works by Robert Rauschenberg that follow have characteristically photographic elements, it can also be said that the singular, solitary, silver-based photograph is absent in all three of them--Untitled [Sue](1950), Dante Editions(1963), and Able Was I Ere I Saw Elba II(1986). In these works Rauschenberg might blur the realistic image, present it by layering and shifting, but never does the original quality of the photograph rest unmarred or in perfect chiaroscuro. Rauschenberg's chaotic use of the representational image, along with his methods of technical experimentation using light, solvent-transfer methods, and photo-mechanical silk-screen processes, underscore what will essentially be explained here as the photographic character found in his three mixed-process and mixed-media works. The three works are each separated by at least 10 years, stretching a span of thirty-six years of Rauschenberg's career. His disciplined experimentation with chemical materials and mechanical processes is also part of an experimental field in which the medium of photography has resided since its conception, in the late 1700's; arguably beginning with the experiments of England's physicist and chemist, Thomas Wedgewood.

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