A chemigram (from "chemistry" and gramma, Greek for "things written")[1] is an experimental art where a photographic image made by painting on a light-sensitive paper (such as photographic paper). The result resembles a watercolor painting.

Chemigrams were invented in the 1950s by Belgian artist Pierre Cordier.


Johann Schulze is regarded as the first to obtain a chemigram-like image; in 1725, he produced such a work using opaque paper and a bottle of silver salts. Hippolyte Bayard produced another chemigram-like image during sensitization tests he conducted in 1839.[2] In the 1930s and 1940s, the German Edmund Kesting and the French Maurice Tabard produced pictures by painting with developer and fixer on photographic paper. It is the Belgian artist Pierre Cordier (born 1933), however, who has been most responsible for developing and exploring chemigrams.[3] From his early days, in 1956, he was one of its rare practitioners, and contributed to its development by expanding its technical and esthetic possibilities. He adopted the name chimigramme in French in 1958 (chemigram in English and Dutch, Chemigramm in German, chimigramma in Italian, and quimigrama in Spanish and Portuguese), the most widely accepted designation today.[3]Alternative photographer Mark D. Roberts has advanced the process by incorporating actual photographs in the chemigram while exploring such topics as lost manuscripts and his body of work entitled "Vanished" which deals with the Holocaust.[4]


First page of the Bayard album, photosensitization test, 1839, collection of the Société française de photographie.

The chemigram is a combination of both painting and photography, and lies within the general domain of experimentation in the visual arts. It requires the use of materials from silver halide-based photography (light-sensitive paper, developer, and fixer), but it is not a photograph. Like the photogram, the chemigram is made without a camera, yet it is created in full light instead of in the darkness of the darkroom. For this reason it is not "light that writes" (photo graphein in the Greek) but rather "chemistry that writes".

Chemigrams can be made solely with photo paper, developer, and fixer, with results that will somewhat resemble watercolor. The possibilities can be multiplied by using materials from painting (such as varnish, wax, or oil),[5] These kinds of experiments are akin to those of Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Antoni Tàpies.


  1. "-gram". The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.).
  2. Cordier, Pierre (Autumn 1982). "Chemigram: A New Approach to Lensless Photography" (PDF). Leonardo. 15 (4): 268. JSTOR 1574733.
  3. 1 2 "Definition". Pierre Cordier.
  4. "Online Gallery of Mark Roberts and Denise Rouleau".
  5. Cordier, Pierre (Autumn 1982). "Chemigram: A new approach to lensless photography". Leonardo. The MIT Press. 15 (4): 262–268. JSTOR 1574733.


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