Barbara Kasten

Photogenic Painting, Untitled 74/3


Sorry, no image available

Not on display

Barbara Kasten born 1936
Photograph, cyanotype print on paper
Support: 540 × 755 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2019


This is one of three photograms in Tate’s collection from the American artist Barbara Kasten’s series Photogenic Painting 1974–6 (see also Untitled 74/5 1974, Tate T15269, and Untitled 74/13 1974, Tate T15267). The series comprises twelve cyanotypes that each feature abstract shapes and patterns of varying degrees of translucency against a blue paper ground. To create these camera-less photographs, Kasten painted onto a stretched fibreglass window screening, a synthetic material usually used to trap debris. She then laid this onto a light-sensitised sheet of paper before exposing the paper to sunlight. The cyanotype process meant that where light fell on the paper it turned blue; where protected by the material it remained white. The weave of the fibreglass, and Kasten’s moving of the material during exposure, resulted in patterns of varying intensity and in some areas a rippled, moiré effect. The title Photogenic Painting refers to William Henry Fox Talbot’s (1800–1877) discovery in 1833 of what he called ‘photogenic drawing’, otherwise known as the photogram: an image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto paper coated with a light-sensitive solution. The series Photographic Painting represents Kasten’s earliest work with the experimental, camera-less still life, an approach that she developed in the 1970s and which has remained at the core of her practice ever since. Also in Tate’s collection are examples from Kasten’s slightly later series of photograms, Amalgam 1979 (Untitled 11 1979, Tate L03804, and Untitled 13 1979, Tate L03805).
Kasten’s photography has always been informed by other artistic disciplines, as suggested in the title of this series. She trained in painting and textiles, and cites Bauhaus-educated textile designer Trude Guermonprez (1910–1976), her tutor at the California College of Arts, as a major influence in guiding her to work across these media to photography and sculpture (Kasten 2018, accessed 11 July 2018). László Moholy-Nagy’s (1895–1946) use of photograms to identify, abstract and transform often mundane objects (especially industrial materials) has also long been a touchstone for Kasten. Describing the Photogenic Painting series, she has observed that ‘the result was ephemeral and surreal, even though the material itself was bland and meant for practical purposes’ (Kasten 2018, accessed 11 July 2018).
While Bauhaus pedagogy shaped Kasten’s interdisciplinary approach, it was the experimentation of artists associated with the Light and Space movement in California during the 1970s, such as Robert Irwin (born 1928) and James Turrell (born 1943), that prompted her interest in the phenomena of light and the capture of light with various materials, a concern she has sustained for nearly four decades. Kasten has described how she saw photography, and particularly the photogram technique, as a means of exploring transparency, light and structure, and the ways in which a three-dimensional construction can be resolved on a two-dimensional plane (Kasten 2009, accessed 11 July 2018).
Following Photogenic Painting, Kasten expanded the scale of her photograms and experimented with the addition of oil stick and oil paint to create ‘hybrid’ painting-photographs. Since the 1980s, however, she has largely focused on constructs – sculptural forms built to be photographed. These have varied dramatically in scale, form, and palette – from large-scale theatrical tableaux in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, printed in vibrant, electric tones, to the more muted and minimal photographs of recent years. Yet her core concern remains the one that she asserted with the Photogenic Paintings: exploring how photography can be used with other media to make light, and therefore photography itself, the subject of the work. On this mode of abstraction she has said: ‘I’m not so interested in photography that looks like a painting as I am photography that has structure to it, that has a more interesting motivation for making it, and [is] not just an extraction of real life.’ (Kasten 2009, accessed 11 July 2018.)

A number of the photograms from Photographic Painting, including this one, were included in the exhibition The Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern, London in 2018.

Further reading
Barbara Kasten, ‘The Edge of Vision Interview Series’, Aperture, 2009,, accessed 11 July 2018.
Barbara Kasten, ‘Through the Lens of Abstraction’, Tate ETC, 9 May 2018,, accessed 11 July 2018.

Emma Lewis
July 2018

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like

In the shop