The camera-free photography of Justine Varga

Justine Varga presents a twist on her exploration into camera-less photography with her new exhibition.

While Justine Varga’s latest exhibition (Areola at Hugo Michell Gallery) features camera-less photography it also contains lens-based work. Combining the two, Varga plays with the form of the photograph, questioning what it is and what it can be.

“Even though I have been exhibiting camera-less work pretty much solely over the last few years, I have still been making works with camera,” Varga says. “This is the first time in a while that I will be exhibiting both forms of work.”

There is a relationship between the images (created both ways). Varga is often presenting the same image but in various stages and states, highlighting decisions that have been made in the process of creating the image.

Lattice #2, Justine Varga
Lattice #2, Justine Varga

For example, the image of a window appears in several works. Varga has used the same negative but shows it in different ways.

“Having it in multiple states brings to the audience’s attention the idea that this photograph is something that is made, that there is labour involved and that decisions have been made,” she says.

Even when the audience is looking at an image of a window in Varga’s work, she is asking them to look back at the photograph itself and not just see it as a window to another place.

“When you are looking at the window, it’s as though you are looking through the lens of the camera,” she says. “In a sense, the room you are standing in becomes the housing of the camera. It’s a conceit about the act of looking photographically.”

Leafing #2, Justine Varga
Leafing #2, Justine Varga

Within the camera-less photographs, Varga reworks the negative, making marks on the surface and allowing elements such as light, pigment and, on occasion, her saliva to permeate the image. In these latest works, she has allowed evidence of the process involved in creating the image to be more visible, showing the tape holding the negative in place and revealing the various apparatus involved in their making.

While photography is usually contained in a rectangle, Varga has let the images bleed over into the edges.

“This slippage between where the photograph begins and where it ends complicates what constitutes the photograph,” she says. “I want to reveal what is generally controlled and hidden when we look at photographs, so I decided to harness rather than hinder the light and let photography do its thing.”

Through her practice and the exploration into the processes of photography, Varga’s work speaks back to early photographers such as Henry Fox Talbot whose image of a latticed window is the earliest surviving negative taken in 1835.

The camera-less processes where Varga is mark-making onto the photographic surface draws on the history of cliché verre, a very early photographic technique. “My work is looking back to those early moments in photography and rethinking them in a contemporary context,” Varga says.

The exhibition is titled Areola because Varga’s work is about the idea that photographic surfaces can be seen as a skin: at once porous and resilient.

Inscribing #2, Justine Varga
Inscribing #2, Justine Varga

“There is a tender violence going on when I use these surfaces, and they bear witness to this way of handling, this mode of working: bruising and abrasions are witnesses on skin,” she says. “Also, in this body of work, there is quite literally an imprint of my skin imbedded in a number of works. In this way imprint and material fold and collapse into one another creating a doubling of skin on skin.”

By reworking the same negative a number of times, Varga suggests that there can be many different outcomes from the same image. The different states and stages are just as important as the finished work, in fact, they constitute the work we see in Areola. Varga is focusing on the open-ended notion of photography and pushing it to its limits.

Justine Varga – Areola
Hugo Michell Gallery
Thursday, February 7 to Saturday, March 16

Adelaide In-depth

Get the latest stories, insights and exclusive giveaways delivered straight to your inbox every week.