This is one of the five short films commissioned by the V&A as part of the 'Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography' exhibition on display at the V&A from October 2010 to February 2011.

Each film features one of the five international artists featured in the exhibition, showing their studios and places that inspire them. This is a revealing and evocative look at their working environments and an insight into their creative ideas.


The first thing people ask me at conferences, the first is ‘Yes but Mr Cordier, what about chance?’

What they mean, what they think, is ‘This Cordier, he doesn’t do much, he leaves it up to chance.’

My stamp is ‘chemigram.’

I am Mr Chemigram.

Oh yes, Pierre Cordier, Mr Chemigram.

I made my first chemigram during military service in Germany, near to Cologne. I had met a German girl called Erica. I wanted to make her a birthday card. So I took a sheet of photographic paper, I wrote using nail varnish, ‘Happy 21st Erica.’

Then I thought I would do a black background, then I put it in the developing solution, and then I watched as the nail varnish moved and changed form and then I put it in the fixing solution and there was my first Chemigram.

So here I can show you a test of what happens when one uses a ‘localizing’ product. In this case, the ‘localizing’ product is a spread for slices of bread, and it is very good.

And then I put some Liege syrup on the paper, and then I dip it in the developer and fixer. And I obtain a very simple chemigram, just a very simple one.

Brassaï, the famous photographer, wrote to me, saying ‘how diabolical and very beautiful your process is, make sure you never divulge it.’ But several years later I disobeyed Brassaï.

I am very happy that other people do chemigrams, absolutely, and that there are many around the world who do them. Some people say ‘Yes, Cordier was one of the first’ but that doesn’t matter to me, what’s important is that people continue to do them.

I put some distance between myself and the notion of photography, hoping to be welcomed within the world of painting, because in fact I am neither a painter nor a photographer, but a bit of both. But the painting world couldn’t care less about this photographer, Cordier.

To use a good witticism, which Monsieur Degas said of Nadar, ‘Oh you’re just a faux-artiste, a faux-painter, a faux-tograph!’

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