HER NEW SHOW, MEASURES, OPENS SATURDAY, JANUARY 8TH
Story by April Buordolone
Photos provided by Amanda Rataj
What is your earliest memory of photography?
My earliest memory of photography is receiving a toy camera from my mum’s friend Laura. It was neon orange and it came from a McDonald’s Happy Meal. It took 110mm film, and I have a very clear memory of taking a picture out the window of our car on the way to the beach.
It was in a high school photography class, when I got my first SLR camera, that I started to really understand image making as something more than pressing the shutter.
Your use of movement in your pieces is quite unique. Where/what do you draw inspiration from?
I draw a lot of inspiration from two of my favorite artists: Sally Mann and Dan Estabrook. Otherwise, I see things in old photographs, in my collections of letters and ephemera, and through reading, writing and thinking that pique my interest in things. Measures was greatly inspired by Étienne-Jules Marey’s photograph “Marey in a Study of Respiration (1894),” that is part of the collection at the AGO.
Marey was the European contemporary of Eadweard Muybridge who made countless studies of the motion of animals and humans through space, and, though he approached image-making as a tool to aid his scientific studies, created poetic images that speak beyond simple documentation.
Some of your images leave traditional print and incorporate textiles and even stop-motion film. What sparked the interest to incorporate these particular materials?
I am really interested in making my photographs into tactile, touchable objects. Photography can be really precious – a little kink will destroy an image, a fleck of dust makes an imperfect print. The final photographic image is often without a single maker’s-mark, but it is the presence of the artist that interests me in artwork. Every single print I make is unique in it’s own way – no two are the same because of the temperamental variables inherent in the process, but that is what makes great images!
Do you have a specific process or practice when creating your works?
During my third year at OCAD I had the opportunity to take a historical photographic processes class with Barbara Astman, where I learned cyanotype and van dyke printing techniques, both of which are early, pre-black and white processes. I had been interested for several years already in pushing the photographic image beyond the point-and-shoot-and-print process of color and black and white photography. These processes allowed me to connect with my images in a new, more material and hands-on way.
While both beautiful, cyanotype and van dyke is a little limiting, and over a I break discovered albumen printing. Invented around 1860 (give or take a few years), albumen paper uses a base of fermented egg whites and a silver nitrate sensitizer, and was the most widely used printing process until black and white silver gelatin took over. It creates a rich, glossy brown image, and quickly became the way that I wanted to create my imagery. It’s complicated, time-consuming, finicky, and sometimes rather smelly (it’s rotten eggs, after all), but I love it!
How would you describe your own personal style? Does it come across in your work?
This question is probably the hardest for me to answer. I suppose I’ve got one, but I find I can’t articulate it – so I asked a few of my girlfriends what they thought my personal style was. I got the following answers: “vintage inspired neutrals,” “Ralph Lauren-like vintage, but not preppy,” “classic and natural.” They all also said that I don’t wear a lot of color, which I think definitely comes across in my work, but as for the other things – I guess that is for you to decide!
Is there a particular artist/photographer whose work you admire?
I love the work of Sally Mann and Dan Estabrook – both use historical photographic processes and make haunting, rich imagery. Dan Estabrook has pointed out that while many artists use 19th Century printing processes, some of these images just wouldn’t be interesting if it wasn’t for that process. His interest lies in making images that are inseparable from their process, that wouldn’t be an image at all without it. I think that that would be a sentiment echoed by Sally Mann, who uses collodion wet-plate glass negatives for her imagery, and who also embraces the many faults and mishaps that come along with using these temperamental processes. Digital photography hasn’t taken over for no reason – it is easy, fast and convenient in comparison – but it is the challenge and beauty of the older processes that I think both Mann and Estabrook respond to, and what makes them so interesting and inspiring.
You will be showing at XPACE on January 8th … can you tell me a little about the show and what we can expect to see from your pieces?
I’ll be showing two stop-motion films I’ve made from albumen still images called Measures. They are looped, life-sized installations of a woman (myself) breathing. It’s an exploration into still and moving images using the moments of a repetitive, universal motion – in this case, the breath – as a starting point.
I’m generally not a big movie or TV person – I like my images to stay put. This was the first time I’ve worked in moving images, and using stop-motion was my compromise between the two. There is a lot in these films besides the imagery – you also see the moving of the paper texture along with the image and the jerkiness of the stop-motion. My intent is that the viewer becomes alert to their own embodied experience of breath while watching the imperfection of the reconstructed stills and the disconnect between all the disparate elements in the work. They’re paper films!
What is next on the horizon for you?
I’m just exploring some new ideas right now, which will probably include some more albumen stop-motion films. I’ll be giving a talk at the Toronto Historical Photography Society in May, and also teaching a another albumen workshop the same week, so I’ve got a lot to look forward to!
Rataj’s exhibition, Measures, runs January 8th -29th, 2011 at XPACE, 58 Ossington Ave, Toronto.