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Bruce Conner, “Teardrop Angel,” gelatin silver photogram, 1974, 89 x 38″

Bruce Conner, “Butterfly Angel,” gelatin silver photogram, 1975, 89 x 38″

To create these, Conner’s body was placed between a large sheet of photosensitive paper and a light source. Because the photograms are, in effect, photographic negatives, the area in which Conner’s body blocked the light from reaching the paper is seen as white, while areas where the light struck the paper without interruption came out as black. In the earliest examples, which were exposed to the light source for a relatively brief amount of time, Conner’s figure appears as a stark white silhouette against a jet black ground. Eventually, he began exposing the paper to light for longer periods of time. In these, his form is seen as a gray silhouette, but any point where he was actually touching the paper—thereby blocking out all the light—glows bright white. In those in which the paper was exposed to light for the longest period, the silhouette is blacked out entirely and all that can be seen are the points where his body touched the paper, as in “Flame Angel,” 1975.

In these photograms, Conner’s figure seems to be made of pure light as it shines out from the blackness around it. He appears as a radiant evanescence—spirit rather than flesh—hence the title of the series. But the figures’ associations are not just angelic; they are also distinctly Christlike. The impression of the full figure on the paper calls to mind the Shroud of Turin, where the image of Christ’s body has supposedly been burned into his burial cloth (it does not hurt that Conner’s shoulder-length hair and beard can be clearly seen in a number of the images).

Peter Boswell, from “Bruce Conner: Theater of Light and Shadow,” 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story, Part II, (Walker Art Center) 1999

Bruce Conner, “Enfolding Angel,” gelatin silver photogram, 1974, 36 x 33″

More of Conner’s Angels here

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