In the lead up to Leap-Second we’ll be helping you get to know our exhibiting artists through their own words. We’re asking each artist a range of questions to try and expose what makes them tick revealing what makes us so excited about this exhibition at the same time.
First up is Nancy (Betty) Clemo; a photographer, turned painter, returned photographer who graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2011. Majoring in Drawing & Painting and minoring in Photography, Nancy completed her BFA over seven years while working full-time as a conservation picture framer, shop manager and gallery assistant. Nancy’s passion for framing can often be seen in the unique presentation of her work which is always framed, by the artist, with archival and conservation materials.
GASKET: Where does your interest in photography come from? What and who are your influences?
Nancy Clemo: My interest in photography originates from the physical processes of film photography and darkrooms. The way a camera works still fascinates me, every time the shutter clicks there is a special feeling. I like to think about the silver & the grains in the film making the image. I first tried the darkroom in high school and really enjoyed the feeling of instant gratification. I was mystified by every step from developing B&W film in a tank (even getting it on the reel was a challenge) to watching my image appear in the developing tray. I enjoy the ongoing challenge of learning all the aspects and technical details of shooting & printing on film. It is a tactile process that does not always end in the expected result.
Ultimately I enjoy the solitude of photography, as I often shoot the land there is a lot of silence and mental communication with what I see. The same silence is mimicked as I stand in the darkroom, isolated in pitch black, waiting for the enlarger to click off.
I am highly influenced by what I see around me and the way the world works especially economics, what industry does to land, factories and protests. Collages and zines as well as many photographers and artists inspire me visually such as Andreas Gursky, Ed Burtynsky, Lucian Freud, Egon Schiele, Shelby Lee Adams, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Hannah Hoch, David Hockney, Banksy & Chuck Close.
G: In your work you use fragmented images and build new images from several image sources. How important is such a practical approach to your project? How have you come to work in this way?
NC: When I photograph the land I capture it in a panoramic swivel from a few vantage points at varying proximity to the subject. When I’m in the darkroom I print some shots taken from all vantage points. Then when I am making the collage they all become part of one hybrid landscape but this causes questionable perspectives and depth of field as the subjects scale and image horizons vary.
Working in this hands on tactile way is very important to my process and my intended vision for my finished photo collages. It is a part of my work to see that it is made by hand. My photos reference the collage process as well as negative film itself in the way an artist’s brushstrokes can speak of their movement over a canvas. Working on film, printing on photo paper and using a darkroom are important to me as well, much of my creative process and positive relation to image making is spurred by these analogue processes and the types of happy accidents they can produce.
I had envisioned making large scale panorama landscapes and had tried many ways to execute my vision from scanning negatives and producing digital panoramas, to physically stitching fine art prints together on a sewing machine. Finally I ended up back in the darkroom and eventually I started cutting my prints and building collages. After experimenting with acrylic gel medium I realized dry mounting was the way to keep it all together and then the incorporation of test prints began to happen naturally through the collage process and my interest in repetition. While printing I began deliberately placing my test strips under the best parts of the negatives to use for collage later. I had finally found my method which I am still using today.
G: Your way of creating images reminds us of installation pieces, or even “2 dimensional sculptures”. This is a way of working that seems to be under-represented in photography, usually we only think in terms of straight photographic prints – one piece framed on a wall. Why have you chosen to work in a collage/sculptural method? Is photography, in the traditional sense, “not enough” to achieve what you are looking for?
NC: There has become a sculptural aspect to the work through the presentation on thick foam board, layering of print pieces and in some cases, mounted print pieces, which make the surface uneven. There are many artists who have manipulated the surfaces of their photographs in many ways playing with the idea of 2 dimensions like Chuck Close, David Hockney, Stev’nn Hall. There has been braiding, weaving, encaustic, collage, scratching, negative scratching, drawing, painting, folding and even building out of prints.
I would say this way of working is not abundant in the photographic community because historically photography holds an idea of purity of documentation, truth and reality. When we see a photograph we feel informed. In some ways the medium is not the message and message (subject matter) has the ability to transcend the medium (photo paper) that holds it. Therefore photography does not need additions or experimentation at all. A simple print on paper has the ability to transport, educate, transcend, travel and relay every finite detail of the human experience. Even though I enjoy photo-collage I do often present my work in a more traditional one framed print on the wall manner as well.
In the case of building what I like to call “mutant landscapes” I believe it is my drawing, painting and collage background that leads me to isolate shapes and forms wanting to repeat/rearrange things creating chaotic compositions. In which case traditional photographic presentation is not enough to achieve my vision without moving into digital realms which change the outcome severely. I like the transparency of process involved in collage, the viewer can see where the prints were cut and joined. These physical aspects of the collage surface mimic the landscapes they portray, all dumped together, experimental, not quite pretty or seamless, different than how it used to be and different from what’s around it, degradation, repurposed. In this case the medium becomes very much part of the message. Especially when the negative rebates are printed we are reminded of film, the process & historical nature of film. Moving outside of the traditional rules of photographic presentation is necessary to achieve the facade under which these created landscapes dwell.
G: In your opinion, what can photography do with regards to time and space?
NC: I believe photography is a great manipulator of time and space. We as a race have high expectations of photography. We cling onto it as necessary and truthful. We trust and value it more than our own voices and memories. We rely on it to take us away from the mundane and ritual. We place values, mores and histories into these pages forgetting that much of what we see is a reflection of ourselves.
Viewing photography leaves us feeling satisfied. We feel as though we have seen all there is to see of Niagra Falls or the Grand Canyon, the Civil War or Native Americans. Photography leaves us feeling informed, educated and content. It leaves us with a profound knowledge and feeling of space. It seems to inform us accurately on times that have passed or events that we missed. In this way photography creates the illusion of a record of time and space but it is really a man made Akasha.
For countless moments voices and histories have been excluded from the official Akasha largely due to the fact that we have no official image, photo or record to bear witness to them. In this way photography and documentaries represent incomplete and fragmented records of time and space leaving the undocumented to fall out of history. Leaving gaps in our collective understanding of history or creating perceived narratives from microcosms.
In contemporary culture it seems that subconsciously many of our strongest childhood memories are rooted in events that we have photographic or video documentation of which we may have seen or watched again in our childhoods. Somehow those memories that we have pictures of can seem more vivid in our minds but are we really remembering more or just remembering the photo or video and how do these man made records compare to the human minds recording capacity.
G: Why photography?
NC: I enjoy the accessibility of photography and how I can easily capture an image while I’m on the go. I enjoy the democracy of photography and how even though there are many places; buildings, properties and lands in my own country, that are not public I can still snap a shot of them from a far. I enjoy the immediacy of photography, the process and the organic nature of capturing light on film.
Photography is a different way of looking at and thinking about the world. When I make a collage I feel like I’m getting my message out there, like I’m exposing my vision and commentary on the world. Whatever people take from it is subjective but I appreciate the relatability of the photographic image and its ability to connect to many viewers.
Photography is a way of life that inspires adventure, travel and change and that is why I have continued the pursuit.
GASKET would like to thank Nancy for being part of Leap-Second and her time answering the questions above. You can find more of Nancy’s work on her website, Madsnapper and if you’d like to see her process in creating Xanadu above, you can find it here.
We’ll be featuring another one of our exhibiting artists soon here, in the meantime don’t forget that we are now accepting applications to the Photographic Compositing Workshop with Helen Saunders.