top of page

Redefinition of the Photographic Chemicals

Redefinition of the Photographic Chemicals, 2023, Lexy Liangzi Xiao

From left to right, The Description of the Photographic Chemicals, Colour Film Bleach, Colour Film Developer Starter, Colour Film Developer, B&W Paper Fix, B&W Film Developer

Nudge it – Kick it – Prod it – Push it –, Bergen Kunshall, 2023

Silver gelatin prints, 10 x 24 inch each

Crystals in Petri dishes, ø10cm

Handwriting with the specific photographic chemicals on a light sensitive photographic paper, 4 x 5 inch

Jan 2023 ongoing project

I selected the photographic chemicals related to analogue photography as my subjects for this project, to re-visualize, reshape and describe them, in order to provide a new way of seeing and interpreting the chemicals, which leads to the semiotics of photography, in this digital dominated age. Generally, either the content of the image or the process of making the image is emphasized, but the photographic chemicals which contribute to the images, processes and techniques, e.g. developer and fix, making all the visual results emerged and fixed for analogue photography, they are neglected. Moreover, the photographic chemicals are liquid or powders in bottles, tanks or bags; I would like to make them a bit attractive to others too.


I am always inspired by Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs. Thus I intended to redefine the photographic chemicals as new objects by the three parts, the image, the object and the description. I have been experimenting on growing the fractals and crystals from the photographic chemicals. The images of the fractal patterns made by cameraless photography and silver mirroring deterioration are the portraits of the individual chemicals. The crystals are the reshaped objects of the chemicals. The description includes the names of the selected chemicals written with the specific chemicals on a light sensitive photographic paper. The portrait, the crystal and the description together redefine a certain photographic chemical.


There is a metallic sheen on the prints of the chemicals’ portraits, which is a chemical deterioration called silver mirroring; none hopes for it, since it is a natural flaw by the storage environment and the duration of time. However, with the metallic sheen, I can perceive the sense of the silver metal in the paper even further than a properly processed print, which is just black and white; I intend to bring the silver back to the surface by deliberately distressing the prints. From the functional perspective, the crystals of the photographic chemicals are the deterioration of the chemical products as well. The deterioration is not supposed to be in an ‘exquisite’ artwork, while the deterioration of the prints and the products compose the so called exquisite artwork. I intend to bring the deterioration of the artworks back to the artworks, since to some extent we over protect the artworks from decay; it is not a solution to seal the time of the artworks just because we desire them to be permanent. I intend to show the beauty of deterioration- it is a representation of life- the mortality and the decay that make us treasure and care. For me, the artworks are alive and active; they are like any living beings; they grow and fade, experiencing their own journeys in the world.


Due to the reason this project focuses on the material reality of analogue photography, I combined the chromoskedasic technique to exactly deteriorate the portraits of the chemicals with the silver mirroring effect, in order to bring the sense of silver metal back to the surface of the prints. The mediums become the subject; then I do not have to skip the material reality of the photographs to look at the narratives which are not there. The portraits of the photographic chemicals and the silver mirroring are built on the chemicals in the paper; I can look at the materials of analogue photography on the photographic material, to return to the material reality beyond the photographic images.


In theory, the material should be the most real part in the world, more real than the documented images. However, by accentuating the chemistry between and of the substances, the material conversely provides more abstract visuality. Funnily, this abstraction oppositely provides more sense of reality for me.

Details of the portraits and the crystals of the photographic chemicals

The Description of the Photographic Chemicals, 2023
Photographed from the beginning to the end of the exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall

Redefinition of the Photographic Chemicals, 2023, Lexy Liangzi Xiao
Flex Point, Entreé and Northing, 2023