The images in photographer Robert Stivers’ X series were made without using a camera. He created the X-shaped pictures using a chemical process but without the use of film negatives. “I end up painting a lot with the chemistry,” he told Pasatiempo. “I start with a black, exposed sheet of paper. Then I remove the emulsion from the paper using bleach.” Works from the series are often mistaken for photograms, which are also cameraless images, made by placing an object on light-sensitive paper and then exposing the paper to a light source. But the X series was made without objects of any kind. Instead, removing the emulsion from certain parts of the paper resulted in areas of light and dark that defined the image. Works from the series are included in an exhibit of Stivers’ photographs at the Standard Art and Antiques Company, primarily a show of recent images from his book The Art of Ruin, published by Twin Palms.

The X series gives some indication of Stivers’ darkroom practice; even his more traditional photographs (shot by camera) are part of an experimental process in the darkroom. “It’s the best way for me to realize my vision or explore and express what I’m about,” he said. “I try to work on the computer, and I don’t connect with it very well, but I do connect really well in the darkroom. I have a very hard time translating my vision digitally. There was a time when it was tough for me because the digital era was coming of age, and I couldn’t get a show for the life of me. But now, there’s an appreciation for the gelatin silver print again and people are embracing it.”

Stivers’ processes affect the appearance of his gelatin prints. His Portrait of a Young Woman, for instance, has an uneven, painterly texture created by bleaching the surface of the print. The toner, used to enhance the greyscale photograph by giving it a sepia finish, doesn’t take well to the bleach, a fact Stivers discovered by accident. The surface looks worn — like an antique photo. The blurred focus seen in much of his work over the years was also the result of darkroom experimentation, not, as one might expect, the result of a shoot. “It was serendipitous. I was getting tired of making everything in focus and perfect and so I started exploring.”

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