Alison Rossiter (b. 1953; Jackson, MS) creates camera-less photographs on expired, vintage photo paper that harness the untapped material potential of relics from centuries past. Her inspiration to work this way came from a foray into conservation work as a volunteer and appreciative observer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which revealed to her the deep history of materials and supplies as the foundation of photography. Over the past two decades, the artist has assembled a library of photographic papers, with rare and prestigious examples dating back to the 19th century. A profound reverence for these papers is the ultimate motivation behind Rossiter's work: after years or decades in storage, she finally develops these historical samples, activating them after the effects of time have long played out on their surfaces.
In some of her works, Rossiter develops the paper completely, without any intervention in form or value. The papers' chemical coatings still respond when developed, revealing traces of physical damage, mold, or atmospheric pollution, forming latent images that read as minimal abstractions. These subtle effects are themselves the subject matter of the artist's photographs, offering evidence of each paper's material life and endurance across decades. Rossiter employs this method in her Density series, where she assembles the rarest samples of expired paper from the archive, allowing each sheet to emphasize the time in history that it represents.
In other series, Rossiter creates elegant, geometric compositions by selectively developing areas of the paper. The artist utilizes this method in her Fours series, bringing out the paper's wide range of tones by dipping the paper into developer at numerous angles. The resulting, varying tones of black, brown, and white that emerge create illusions of volume and depth that recall the shapes and forms of Minimalist art from the 1970's. The artist adopts the opposite posture for her Pools series, in which she pours liquid developer directly onto the surfaces of her papers, creating nebulous abstractions that vary subtly with each individual sheet of paper. At a time when digital images are quickly consumed and forgotten, Alison Rossiter reminds us of the quiet beauty hidden in overlooked materials. She states, "It is miraculous that any of these expired photographic papers exist today. As darkrooms were dismantled, eBay appeared, and thankfully, these expired photographic papers were there among the preserved treasures."
Alison Rossiter's photographs are in the collections of major public institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; New York Public Library, NY; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA. Rossiter currently lives and works in the New York City metropolitan area.