UK-based analogue photography collective London Alt Photo have been sharing some of their artists and community members with us. In this article we talked to artist and lecturer Dafna Talmor, who cuts and collages fragments of film negatives. She talked to us about the process of creating her art and how the humble film negative is sometimes overlooked.
Hello Dafna, please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an artist and lecturer based in London. I was born in Tel-Aviv, raised in Venezuela and have lived in London since the late 90s, when I moved here to study Fine Art at Goldsmiths College. Although the course was interdisciplinary, I found myself primarily using photography during my BA, so I went on to do my MA in Fine Art Photography at the Royal College of Art.
Photography has always been at the core of what I do, even though my practice has also included video, events, publications, collaborations and spatial interventions. Besides teaching part-time alongside my practice, I also run shared color and B&W darkroom facilities in East London, set up in late 2008 with artist and friend, Lucy Levene (that I met at the RCA).
Tell us a bit about the process of making your collages from negatives. How do you start to create and formulate these pieces?
I always say that if we hadn’t set up our darkroom, I’m not sure I would have started collaging my negatives. This way of working coincided with having regular access to the color darkroom and being able to experiment freely. The way I collage my negatives has evolved since I started my Constructed Landscapes series in 2009. The work consists of three volumes to date. Initially, it involved combining two medium format negatives that had been shot across different locations, and collaging one element from one layer of negative, to create a hybrid imaginary space.
In 2014 the process shifted to focusing on reconfiguring one location and conflating multiple perspectives, by using fragments of negatives shot on the same roll of film, to construct an image. The most recent work has shifted further, by breaking the traditional format of a photographic frame, splitting the frame into diptychs, triptychs and producing 3D objects. The process of constructing the negatives is very lo-fi and involves basic tools such as a scalpel, tape, tweezers and a permanent marker. It’s a bit surgical and forensic, as it’s done on such a small scale, with only the contact sheet as a visual reference. What all volumes have in common is that anything that is very obviously human-made is what tends to be cut out initially from the negatives.
Why do you choose to start with a film negative when you have such a wealth of images to choose from online? Is this a conscious part of your working process?
My Constructed Landscapes series relies on using film negatives, which I perceive as a space of endless possibilities. There’s an element of blindness when cutting my negatives that I find liberating. It allows me not to be too precious about the original source material from my personal archive. In contrast, color printing in the darkroom plays an intrinsic role in the process as it enables me to see what I’m doing and opens up another realm of subjective decision-making, transferring the traditional notion of the ‘decisive moment’ to a series of decisions that unfold in the darkroom. I’m really fascinated by the relationship between the negative and the positive, and am currently reading Geoffrey Batchen’s Negative/Positive, which explores the history of photography by addressing the complexity of the photographic negative, an object which he suggests is generally overlooked, in spite of being “a foundational element of analogue photography.”
How important is the physical object in art? And do you think the rise of the NFT may change people’s attitudes to what we call a physical piece of art?
I think the physical experience and encounter one has with art objects is very particular, and something I think about a lot in terms of the viewer when considering certain aspects of the work such as material, form and scale. However, I am not a purist in any sense and think there’s space for work that manifests across a range of virtual and physical environments. There’s something incredibly fascinating about the idea of an abstract object, one that only exists as a series of codes, and how it affects notions of authenticity, ownership and value. There is still a lot to learn and understand about the ramifications of the rise of NFTs but I don’t think their prominence will ever replace or threaten a more traditional idea of what art is and can be, in the same way that there’s equal space and validity for analogue and digital technology. They are merely tools that can be employed and aligned conceptually with ideas that get played out through the work.
Anything coming up in 2022?
I currently have a solo show Constructed Landscapes (vol. iii) in Budapest at TOBE Gallery running until the 21st of May and am looking forward to developing new work for a collaborative duo show, with the artist Hannah Hughes, at Sid Motion Gallery, opening in December, as well as other upcoming shows later this year.
You can see some of Dafna's work at Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection at the V&A until November 2022. To find out more about these amazing artists do follow London Alt Photo and check out Dafna Talmor's Instagram page.
Have you ever used collage with your analogue photos? Tells us in the comments below.