Pierre Cordier (born 1933) is a Belgian artist. A former lecturer at the École Nationale des Arts Visuels in Brussels, he is known in the art world through his practice of the chemigram technique. He lives and works in Brussels. After exhibiting at MoMA in New York (1967), the Musée d’Art Moderne in Brussels (1988), the Centre Pompidou in Paris (2008), and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (2010), he is currently having a show of his early photographs of the French poet and singer, Georges Brassens, at the Cité de la Musique in Paris. New York cameraless photographer Douglas Collins recently interviewed Pierre Cordier for photo technique.
D. C. You’re known as the inventor or the father of the chemigram. Could you explain for us what a chemigram is?
P. C. To explain what a chemigram is, the best way is to define it: the chemigram combines the physics of painting (varnish, wax, oil) with the chemistry of photography (photo emulsion, developer, fixer); without a camera, without an enlarger, and in daylight. I’ve refined this definition over a long time, and while it seems complicated, it really isn’t.
Making a chemigram is no more difficult than making an apple turnover.
To decide whether I’m its inventor, you have to recall that in 1839, the Anno Lucis, no fewer than 24 investigators claimed the title of inventor of the photographic process. Years later historians decided it was Nicéphore Niépce who deserved the title. So while it’s true that the German, Edmund Kesting, and the Frenchman, Maurice Tabard, made some images in the 30s and 40s by painting fixer and developer onto photo paper, they didn’t make use of resists. You could say that the inventor is not the first to achieve a result, but the one who develops the technique. The term “inventor” matters little for me—it’s the results obtained that count.
D. C. Why this word “chemigram?”
P. C. To me it seemed useful to give a name to these images that were so different. In 1958, the year I registered the name “chimigramme” in French (and in 1979, the word “chemigram” in English), the word “chemistry” didn’t have the pejorative connotations it has for some today. Since my procedure featured photographic chemistry, I coined the word “chemigram”. Looking back I might have done better to use the word “physico chemigram,” since the way I work grants great importance to the physical phenomena arising from the resists. But that term is too cumbersome.
I have to insist that we’re talking about chemigram with an “i.” If I weren’t so pugnacious in late 80s, there would be two ways of spelling it today, one with an “i” and one with an “o.” Norman Sarachek, a well known American practitioner, sportingly dropped the “o” in favor of the “i.” But it’s clear that I have never intended to patent the technique itself.