Tag Archives: abstract photography

NATALIE CHEUNG | Interlocutor Magazine

29 Oct


Oct 25

The darkroom orchestrations of NATALIE CHEUNG

Visual ArtistsMultidisciplinary Artists

Intersections of Light #008, 2022, 30 x 38 in. Color pinhole photograph

Morton Fine Art in Washington, DC, is pleased to announce Made of Light, a solo exhibition of alternative process photography and sculpture by the artist Natalie Cheung. Utilizing time, gesture and much technical expertise, the artist captures lived experience directly onto the surface of her photosensitive paper and microplastic sculptures. Cheung’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, Made of Light will be on view through November 12, 2022.

Interview by Interlocutor Magazine

You’re a formally trained photographer but you no longer own a camera. What was the impetus for you to abandon the processing of images shot with a film camera to a state of pure experimentation with the development process itself?

I started to get away from using a camera when the medium of photography was shifting over to full digital. At that point, I was already burned out from toting a camera everywhere, which prevented me from being in the moment—not to mention the weird looks bystanders would give me if I took a picture of a very compelling stain on the ground.

More importantly, I wanted to get away from taking pictures of stuff and instead wished to capture an experience on paper. Using photography to simply document is like saying Harry Potter is just a regular school kid. There has been so much experimentation in photography since the beginning of the medium. I think of photography as solar alchemy.

Untitled 1, 2021, 42 x 85 in. Silver gelatin chemigram on photo paper, (From “Facsimile” series)

In your “Facsimile” series, you play with light intuitively in a free-associative style that results in “riffs” on prior forms, such as the “nautical wash of a Turner landscape to the relaxed staining of Helen Frankenthaler’s abstractions.” What kind of personal parameters (if any) do you set for determining when one of these works is finished and ready to show?

While composition and tonal range are certainly qualities that attract me to a composition, the idea of my “Facsimile” series is that every outcome I make is, was, or will be, a pattern seen somewhere else in the world—whether created unintentionally in nature or created with intent by the human hand, without ever having seen my work. Think infinite monkey theorem: if you give a monkey a typewriter, infinite time, paper, and ink, eventually the monkey will type lines from Shakespeare. So in this regard, every composition that comes out of my process is important to the concept, regardless of the look.

67 Hours, 2018, 42 x 80 in., Cyanotype photogram on paper, (From “Intermediaries” series)

In your “Intermediaries” series, you use “slow-reacting cyanotype to create abstract works that seem to map islands, river deltas, or erosion itself.” This was also the process originally made to use blueprints. What would you say you’re ultimately commenting on with these works in terms of humanity’s long history of trying to control/tame nature?

You can’t control everything, there’s always a give and take in nature. Humans tend to think that they are omnipotent, but there are always unforeseen consequences to what we do. Think about every time we have introduced a foreign species into an ecosystem in order to solve one problem, but in doing so, created an even bigger one. “Intermediaries” simulate the uncertainty of cause and effect. I set up my artwork and let nature take its course in evaporation, and what I am left with is usually very different from what I thought would be the outcome. And that’s the point.

Model Island 7, 2021, 16 x 16 in. Micro nylon fiber, paper, paint & plaster, (From “Reclaim” series)

Your “Reclaim” sculptures are topographic models of islands constructed from nylon flocking. Could you describe what attracted you to this material and why it’s important to the meaning of the pieces that you construct from it?

I have been attracted to this material since I was a child, as many children have. It’s the same material they use for fuzzy stickers. But also being a microplastic, the flocking is an ideal material to use in artwork about climate change. Microplastic wastewater is a huge problem. That stuff ends up in fish and crops and eventually in the food we eat. And microplastics don’t have to start off as micro—larger plastic items get broken down and crushed into microparticles that go everywhere. I created the “Reclaim” sculptures to be seductive eye candy; people are drawn to the bright color and shiny plastic, as we are programmed to be, namely by our need for water, searching out for it by its shiny glimmers in nature. The sculptures speak to the darker side of our nature in hyper-consumerism and what it’s doing to the environment.

07, 2020. Dimensions and medium variable, (From “Rock. Paper. Scissors.” series)

For your “Rock. Paper. Scissors.” series you are influenced by chuāng huā papercuts, made on sheets of printer paper in honor of the Lunar New Year. You place these designs against a darkroom projector, blowing them up to monumental reliefs captured on photographic sheets. What most appeals to you about the process of enlarging these designs and allowing elements of chance to slip through the shapes?

“Rock. Paper. Scissors.” is everything traditional Chinese paper cutting isn’t, and that’s sort of a reflection of myself. I am American Chinese and, as such, there are expectations from both of those cultural sides and I’m just saying: “No thanks, I’ll find my own way.” The scale of the artworks is large, the shapes are imperfectly cut, but of all my work, R.P.S. is the most intentional artwork I make in terms of the outcome. I carefully lay all my cut shapes onto the photographic paper, but what I can’t predict are all the interactions between the shapes once the light hits the paper. So the outcome does hold an element of surprise for me. Chance is a central theme in all of my artwork, but in the case of R.P.S., it helps illustrate the many unexpected things that happen in our life that ultimately shape our identities.

Intersections of Light #060, 2022, 30 x 38 in. Color pinhole photograph

Since digital has almost entirely taken over the realm of photography, do you view process photography art as a way to maintain the craft of darkroom processing while also transporting it into a medium that both makes it into something new and also pays respect to the long history of film photography?

I have a deep love for the photographic medium. It’s a magic medium that allows people like me (who can’t draw to save my life) a place to be artistic. I think a lot about how photography for me is integrating the process of my darkroom techniques with the concept of my art; it’s not simply the method I chose to print art on. These days, if you print a photograph in the darkroom with traditional subject matter you took with a film camera, there is a certain level of romanticism that is attached to the image, simply because it was created with what is now considered a historical process—and that’s what I’m trying to get away from. The first question I would ask when I see straight photographs printed in the darkroom is: “Why is it important that the photograph was printed in the darkroom?” What I’m trying to get at is thinking beyond photography just as medium; I’m trying to capture its physical experience.

Made of Light will be on view through November 12, 2022 at Morton Fine Art

All images courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

Tyler Nesler

Natalie CheungMorton Fine ArtPhotographersPhotographyProcess PhotographySculptureSculptorsExhibitionsSolo ShowsDC Gallery

NATALIE CHEUNG Interviewed | PetaPixel | Camera-Less Photography

26 Oct

Camera-Less Photographer Creates Beautifully Abstract Cyanotypes

 OCT 25, 2022


Abstract ocean waves blue and white Cyanotype image
57 Hours, 2022 (detail). Cyanotype photogram on paper. Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

In a unique blending of mediums, the works of artist Natalie Cheung invite viewers into a myriad of captured ‘experiences through time and movement’ set onto the surface of photosensitive paper and microplastic sculptures.

With pictures reminiscent of Rorschach tests, Cheung’s captivating ‘camera-less’ photo series Made Of Light, leaves onlookers beguiled yet intrigued by the artist’s map-like aesthetics.

Cheung’s work is influenced by the natural world, as well as created by light, duration, and the chemistry of making a photographic print. Made of Light manages to adeptly pay homage while utilizing the cyanotype technique.

Cyanotype image blue and white (abstract)

“Cyanotype is the earliest form of photography;[…] it’s the same process from which early architectural blueprints were made.” Cheung continues, “One of the bodies of work featured in Made of Light […] is Intermediaries. In Intermediaries, evaporation is my subject. The mappings contemplate the incremental transformations our planet is facing as climate change progresses. It is predicted that warming temperatures around the world will cause coastal areas to become dramatically wetter and inland regions drier. The title of each work indicates the hours in which water took to evaporate completely, and what remains is a blueprint of evaporation. The titles in hours are an homage to the ticking clock (literal and figuratively) we have on our planet to reduce emissions and stave off the point of no return for climate change.” Cheung says, speaking to PetaPixel

Cyanotype sepia and dark beige and brown
Untitled 1, 2021. Silver gelatin chemigram on photo paper. (From the series Facsimile). Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

Cheung hails from a mixed-medium background. At 10 years old, she received an in-box 35mm Minolta film camera from her uncle and fell in love with the discipline then and there. She progressed as an avid film user, favoriting Hasselblad, and Rolleiflex and picking up inspiration from album art from bands such as the Pixies. Particularly, their Doolittle album art.

“The photographs in that album were so textural, rusty, and abandoned. So while other kids in my class were taking pictures of their friends and normal stuff teenagers would take pictures of, I was taking pictures of human teeth in crusty backdrops,” she says.

While studying film photography during the height of the “digital revolution,” and as traditional photography began to gravitate towards pixels, Cheung chose to dabble in the creation of new works in the darkroom without the aid of film images.

Teal and violet image, can see houses in the distance
Intersections of Light #060, 2022. Color pinhole photograph. Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

“When the digital revolution in the photo world took over a few years into my career, I started to think a lot about the essence of the medium: documenting a moment in time with light. I questioned why darkroom photographic processes were still relevant and how I could continue to use them in a contemporary context without my work looking like it was clinging to antiquated romanticism. This is the central idea behind all my work.” Cheung says.

She stuck with the basics, that being Crynotype, and fully committed to a cameraless approach to her images.

“The inspiration for my cameraless photography has shifted over the years. Everybody of work looks very different from the last; even what the artwork is about changes. But the artwork always remains connected by the importance of the process woven into the concept and by the random element of chance that is involved,” She says.

Abstract pink and white cyanotype image with red lines
Intersections of Light #033, 2022. Color pinhole photograph. Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

The conceptualization of her process is almost as abstract as the results of her works. In a controlled environment, Cheung uses slow-reacting cyanotype to yield inky-like images with intriguing shapes, textures, and patterns. While some images resemble a kind of cartography complete with river deltas and signs of erosion, others simply invoke the calm and contemplative, aggressive or panicked ‘mood’ of the artist.

“I think about my process like controlled experiments: there are control elements and there are factors I can play with to create a little chaos. I never know what’s going to happen exactly. Sometimes the artwork is a dud and sometimes it’s wonderful and that is very exciting,” Cheung says.

Sepia colored Abstract image, with lighter and dark blots and waves
Silver gelatin chemigram on photo paper. (From the series Facsimile). Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

The artist allows her mixtures to evaporate naturally, a process that mimics while subtly commenting on the steady passing of time and loss of water that defines humanity’s relationship with the climate crisis. The results are a brilliant merging of mediums, artistry, and social commentary.

“I’m always excited to see the outcome of an artwork. My work is not predictable: you can set everything up, but the image could be a dud…and there are a lot of duds. So when one turns out great, it’s magic. The process is so technical and labor-intensive that anything could go wrong during processing, so I feel super protective about the artwork until it’s dried and stored.”

Natalie Cheung , with long dark brown hair and glasses and polka-dot shirt
Courtesy Natalie Cheung

‘Cameraless photography’ has afforded Cheung an unconventional yet intriguing kind of set-up and work space,

“I don’t use much equipment at all! I use jumbo darkroom trays, chemicals, light, lots of nitrile gloves, and Ilford paper. I keep tagging Ilford in my Instagram posts but have never gotten a nod. I’m sure they are horrified at what I am doing with their product.”

cyanotype image with cloud and water like abstract imagery
57 Hours, 2022. Cyanotype photogram on paper. Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

Without the traditional nuances of digital, it’s tempting to view Cheung’s process and setup as a simplistic form of photography, however life in a darkroom consistently has proven challenging at times for the D.C based artist,

“Everything is a challenge! I like to make large artwork and I’m small, so from cutting giant heavy rolls of paper to backbreaking processing & archival washing to figuring out who is going to help me move a 7-foot framed artwork, it’s all challenging in different ways. I use these huge trays in the darkroom and even moving one of those around, I think I did something weird and tweaked my shoulder once. Another time the darkroom suddenly had no water pressure…that was fun, to say the least. At the end of the day, I personally need to make this artwork and it’s well worth all the hurdles…and I move my trays carefully now.”

Feedback for Cheung’s works has both challenged and amused the camera-less photographer,

blue and white abstract and looks like clouds over a big blue ocean
67 Hours, 2018. Cyanotype photogram on paper. (From the series Intermediaries). Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

“If you’re an artist then you know there’s wildly varying feedback. Of course, I love the complimentary stuff, but I value critical, well-thought-out comments the most. Sometimes the most valuable comments come from the most unlikely people. I also secretly enjoy the weird comments like: “This reminds me of the time I spilled laundry detergent” or “I am confused but interested in this”. It’s like reading internet comments. I know it’s wrong to be so entertained, but I am!

Currently, Cheung is focusing on the Made of Light exhibition at Morton Fine Art, and is busy dreaming of future collaborations with artist Marimekko, or at least “a scientist with a powerful microscope.” In the future, she is staying committed to trying different mediums and assessing the fruits of her labors.

“I recently got into large-scale artworks and I’m kind of in love, so I am going to continue exploring scale. I also started making my reclaim (model islands) sculptures, so I want to see where I can go with those. It baffles even me, how after decades of strictly being a photographer, I just sat down and started carving out a sculpture.”

Abstract Cyanotype teal and orange and yellow image
Intersections of Light #008, 2022. Color pinhole photograph. Courtesy Morton Fine Art and the artist

For more from Cheung, make sure to visit her Website and Instagram

Image credits: All photographs courtesy Natalie Cheung

Available Artwork by NATALIE CHEUNG