London Alt Photo is a UK-based collective set up in 2013 by Melanie King. It is now co-directed by Melanie King, Hannah Fletcher and Diego Valente. The collective is open and consists of a large group of artists who all work with alternative and experimental areas of analogue photography. They run talks, events and workshops and have recently developed a sustainable darkroom project in which they use environmentally friendly methods to process film.
In this new series, London Alt Photo share with us some of their artists and community members. In this article, we talked to Aliki Braine, a London-based artist who creates photos from cutting and folding negatives.
Hello Aliki, please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m French by birth (born Paris 1976), but was brought up in Greece, Algeria, Germany and the Netherlands due to my father’s work – it was a very nomadic childhood and I eventually came to England in my teens to finish my education and never left. I trained at the Ruskin School of Fine Art in Oxford and then at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Once I left art school, I started earning my living teaching for museum collections and spent 20 years working for the National Gallery. Having always had a great interest in the history of western European painting, I eventually went back to university to study art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art. I've run my working life in parallel between being an art historian and an artist.
Tell us a bit about your work and how film photography links into this?
As an undergraduate, I was initially making work in the sculpture department and have always been interested in the photograph as an object. Despite photography's amazing ability to document the world, its physical properties are often invisible; I’m interested in pointing to the physical nature of the photographic image; a photograph is paper, chemistry, dyes, it is an object with a front and a back.
In order to point to its physical status, I've been attacking my negatives in various ways for many years… I hole-punch, fold, sticker, cut and rearrange my negatives. It is an iconoclastic strategy because it destroys or obscures part of my images but in the process I hope to reveal something about the nature and materiality of photography.
How do your photos start life, for example, the photos used in the confetti series, where did you source those images?
Art history really shapes my practice; one of the other running themes in my work (along with materiality) is its interest in precedence and in how images, whether painted or photographic, are constructed. New bodies of work usually begin with a reference to historical images, especially images of western European Landscapes. I then seek, travel and photograph specific natural spaces and motifs. Once back in my studio, I rework the negatives and make prints. My works entitled Homage à Corot and Where Two Seas Meet were photographed in France and Skagen (Denmark) respectively, where I was seeking particular landscape features which would bisect the composition. Once the 120 film was developed I creased and folded the negatives before making prints. The result are images that partly refuse to fit within the determined shape or format of photography which is typically rectangular. The image spills over the edges, acknowledging the constraints of the format and in doing so, creates fresh areas of white space.
The series A Thousand Falling Petals, Pieces of Sky, Pieces of Water and Entr’acte, are all made by using small circular negative ‘confetti’ and again challenge the traditional straight edges of most photographic images. This body of work was begun in 2019 after a trip to Japan where I had, like so, so many before me, photographed the celebrated Sakura cherry blossom. Imitating the inevitable transient nature of the subject, I made hundreds of tiny discs of my negatives which I then scattered on the darkroom enlarger to make a print which echoed the fall of the flower petals.
What do you think has fuelled this new interest in film photography?
My own choice of using negative film comes from a desire to get physical with the photographic print and its negative source. I think I would find it much less satisfying to produce the same visual results digitally. I also would need so much new technical knowledge! I use really simple and playful strategies to make my work. My tools and strategies have more in common with the content of a child’s arts and craft box than the technology of photography. Perhaps it's the possible immediacy, visibility and, in my case, the ability to fully understand the process of analogue photography, which makes it so appealing?
What’s coming up in 2022?
I am currently working on a new body of work using woven negatives… watch this space. I will also be showing at the London Art Fair this April.
Have you ever tried to fold or manipulate your own negatives? Share your experiences in the comments below.