Community member Nick Tauro Jr.'s (@nicktaurojr) Burn Diaries: Saguaro experiment saw him bleach and burn negatives of photos he took of the saguaro cactus, native to the Sonoran Desert in North America. The results give off an eerie and mysterious vibe, and paint a surprisingly unique picture of a familiar landscape.
We asked Nick a few questions about his project and he gave some tips for fellow film photographers interested in replicating his experimental process. Let's dive into it!
Can you tell us a bit about your album Burn Diaries: Saguaro? What made you choose the subjects and subsequently experiment with the film roll?
The origin of the project began almost five years ago. I traveled to the desert outside of Tucson, Arizona, which is home to the very unique Saguaro cactus. I made numerous trips to the destination at various times of the year, to see how seasonal changes affected the appearance of the surroundings.
Eventually, I realized I had created hundreds of photographs from this project, but many of them did not look too different from the many photos taken by others of the same subject. I wanted my photographs to feel more unique, so I employed a variety of film and print manipulations to create “one of a kind” images of the cacti and the desert.
Which cameras and film stocks did you use for the experiment?
Many cameras. Holga Wide Pinhole Camera, Canon EOS 650, Leica R6 and ActionSampler. Various films, too.
Can you walk us through your experimental process?
Since the Covid pandemic started, I have felt a strong need to dive deeper into my creative life. This includes the idea of hand manipulating both my rolls of film and the prints I produce afterwards. Sometimes I simply double expose my film, which is easy to do with a camera like the Sprocket Rocket or a Holga. Sometimes I will cut into the roll of film before I develop it, so there are additional light leaks and damage to the negatives.
Sometimes I will develop my film, and then spray some household bleach cleaner on the negatives. Sometimes I melt the negatives before I scan them, creating wild bends and distortions on the images. Lately, I’ve been getting prints of my negatives made from a lab, and then manipulating the prints with ink, bleach, fire, razors, sandpaper…you name it! I never have a plan beforehand and I never know what the results are going to look like.
What was your reaction when you saw the results?
Most of the time, I am excited by the results of my experimentation. I have no idea what things will look like while I’m in the middle of the process, so it’s always a surprise. Of course, along with the element of surprise come disappointments. Many experiments don’t work as I hope, or I end up going too far, completely obliterating the image. But failure is part of the process.
Do you have a favorite photo in the album and why that photo in particular?
My favorite photo from this album is a shot of a distant mountain in the desert. I actually put a drinking glass in front of the camera lens before I took the photo, which created the large circle pattern. The bleaching created such beautiful color shifts on the print, and the bubbles and cracking from burning adds just enough texture for me.
Any tips for people who maybe want to play around with your same process for this album?
Don’t be afraid to fail. Experimentation will always lead to frustration and disappointment, but it also leads to surprise and joy and pleasure, too. Some images won’t look good, but some will look more amazing than you ever expected. Also, be extra careful working with bleach and blades and flame. Work in a safe place with protective gloves and eyewear and an apron, too. I can’t tell you how many shirts I’ve ruined with splashes of bleach!
Do you have any projects in or outside of film photography that you want to share with us?
I love photography so much that last year I started my own podcast on the subject. It’s called Right Eye Dominant and I produce a new episode every two weeks. I talk about the art and craft of photography in a deep way. I’d be happy if the Lomography community gave it a listen!