GP: Do you think of yourself as working in a similar way to how a painter might?
DT: I’m really interested in how the work hopefully points to, suggests or is in conversation with a wide range of disciplines and practices. Painting is definitely one of them. There’s also something sculptural about the work, then there’s the element of drawing (through the residue of lines made with a felt-tip marker to outline the incisions) and collage. At the same time the work is very consciously in conversation with photography as a medium. On the one hand it embraces its inherent qualities and on the other there’s a kind of playful defiance of certain traditional photographic standards that photography tends to comply with.
GP: What about this idea of the void, and the lines or cracks in the work. I’m interested in their significance and how you see the ‘negative’ spaces.
DT: I hope they leave space for the viewer to fill in or read those gaps in different ways. On one level they point to the manual process, literally the manual intervention. When I started making the work I was trying to cut out and leave as negative space any human-made elements that somehow interrupted the so-called purity of the landscape, but what I became aware of very quickly was that by trying to remove those interruptions, I was paradoxically replacing them with new human-made interruptions – the incisions I was making created over-exposed areas that left black blots on the photographic paper. That’s what I thought the black voids were pointing to initially. They’d left physical spaces within the frame, which could also be read as interruptions in the composition. In addition, they flattened parts of the image, signalling or triggering a conceptual warning that pointed to their fabrication. I tend to think of voids as openings and closings at the same time – they block something from view whilst opening up that space. How those voids or black spaces function conceptually is quite different from Volume I to Volume II. In the earlier work there was still something underneath - one layer of negative - that was being obstructed, and therefore concealing that view. In the recent work there are gaps between the fragments of negatives where the light starts to bounce within the enlarger and spills over, creating flares, leaks and imperfections.
GP: It almost looks as though you set fire to some of the images. They look scorched.
DT: I’m interested in their potential to be read in multiple ways visually as well as conceptually. For example, the gaps can be read as elements of landscape in themselves. I also think when we talk about voids we tend to think about black space but actually you can have white voids too, in this context the overlaps where due to exposure variations the paper goes completely white. The void also tends to, through its absence, define what is around it or beyond it, so in that relational sense it seems really fitting in terms of photography as a medium.
GP: I wanted to ask how far you feel your work is a reaction or challenge to the belief that photography points to reality or is a faithful documentation of its subject?
DT: There is certainly an acknowledgment of the indexical nature of the image. There is a certain link to ‘reality’ embedded within each image evident through the elements that are recognisable as belonging to specific environments or locations. Simultaneously there’s an acknowledgment that it’s purely a construction. All photographs are on some level a construction it’s just that some are more obvious than others. Hopefully there is a balance between these oppositions, a constant push and pull that gets played out through the work in what I have referred to as an imaginary space rooted in reality.
GP: You’ve spoken before about how your work blurs or brings together place, memory and time – how does that play out in the work?
DT: Something I’ve thought about again recently is this notion of the decisive moment – how there’s this ‘one click’ where supposedly everything magically comes together to create the perfect image. The work, in a way, responds to or rejects the idea that there is one pure moment. Instead, there are multiple moments. Time and space collide because each image is made up of different points in time and different positions, which are brought together into one frame. If we’re talking in relation to painting, in a kind of cubist sense, it’s attempting to conflate these multiple positions, multiple realities.
In terms of memory, there are the multiple memories associated with being in particular locations, but there is also the experience of making the image and the thought processes that happen. So when I’m looking at the work I’m not only thinking about how I felt when I was in a place originally, I’m thinking about the making of the piece itself and all of the decisions that were made along the way. As much as I think about where the images originated, the constructed landscapes really do, for me, become somewhere else. Hopefully the work enables the viewer to think more generally not just about how one might view or experience a landscape, but also how one might experience or view an image of a landscape, a landscape that has been mediated. A lot of landscape images attempt to draw people in or get lost in the image whereas I want people to remain very conscious of their point of view, of their position, and this act of looking. I hope it’s a very active way of looking.
GP: Has it become easier over time to cut into the negatives or is there still a sense of, “Is this going to work”?
DT: Every time I make a new image I ask myself whether it’s going to work and whether I can make something interesting out of these ‘failed’ images. As long as I can still feel challenged when doing so, there is still work to do. There are so many right or wrong decisions – it’s not the case that there’s one. When I struggle, I say to myself, “It’s fine, there isn’t one way to do this, just do what makes sense now and work with what you have. See where it takes you, respond to what you’re looking at rather than trying to visualise or anticipate what it’ll look like”. That ultimately allows me to keep going. What’s important when I make my work is for there to be a kind of internal logic to the decisions being made so they’re not arbitrary. The ‘visual effects’ that come about through the process are mostly a result of practical reasons rather than purely aesthetic choices. For example, I started to draw onto the negatives with a felt-tip pen to make an outline I could follow when cutting them, and when I printed the images I noticed traces of those marks. I became interested in how the residues could be read in different ways, visually as well as conceptually.
GP: Where do you see the work going next?
DT: I’ve been thinking about how to push the work beyond its current parameters. For example, the studies and process material included in the book and in the form of architectural site-specific interventions I’ve been making in exhibition contexts that take it beyond the two-dimensional photographic analogue image. Although the work has been predominantly analogue, for me it’s never been a case of establishing any kind of hierarchy. Film and digital are merely tools that open up the space to conceptualise things in different ways. While I feel certain elements of this work can only be made using film, other elements I want to experiment with further require digital technology. It’s about exploring all possibilities and trying to push the work beyond its current scope.