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Q&A/What to SEE/Photography/Visual Art

What to SEE: Chemical magic

6 June 2022

Saturated in colour, Natalie Blom’s photomedia works for her new exhibition ‘Everyday Alchemy” have been submerged in a concoction of liquids, with transformative results.

In her new exhibition “Everday Alchemy”, Boorloo (Perth) based artist Natalie Blom explores the use of film soaks, an alternative analogue photographic technique that changes the chemistry of film.

Blom says that she returned to this technique during the COVID-19 lockdowns, as a way of easing the monotony of using the same locations repeatedly, and playfully utilising the materials available at home.

“Everyday Alchemy” includes 2D photographic prints, as well as short video works and a sculptural installation. The exhibition is showing at NEXTDOOR 24/7 Art Venue, an experimental gallery that is open to its subscribers any time. Read more about the model here.

Nina Levy: Natalie, tell me about your practice – what drives you to make work?

Natalie Blom

Natalie Blom: I am a photomedia artist, working with both digital and analogue photographic processes.

While I am sure it sounds trite, I feel compelled to create things. It feels like the way that I reconcile my life, how I navigate places and things. Like a dialogue with myself that I occasionally have the chance to share with others.

NL: And how did you come to photomedia as your preferred medium? When did you first become interested in photography?

NB: Photography has been a part of my life since childhood. I have memories of the reverence and seriousness of being allowed to take a photo using my family’s film camera during holidays.

I was lucky that my high school had a photography darkroom which allowed me learn the basics of using a camera and developing film. Reflecting back, I remember playing around with solarisation on black and white darkroom prints, so the experimental phase has been long running! I have dabbled with other mediums, but always come back to photography.

NL: In your upcoming exhibition “Everyday Alchemy” you use film soaks to manipulate your images. Firstly, for those who aren’t familiar with the technique of film soaking, can you explain what it is and how it works?

NB: A lot of my artist practice involves using experimental or alternative methods to create work. A film soak is a process where a roll of photographic film is submerged into a concoction of liquids prior to development. This causes changed in the surface of the film emulsion, creating a range of changes but most commonly colour shifts.

Generally speaking, the stronger the liquid, the greater the effect. You have to be careful though as if the mix is too strong and the film is in it too long, the emulsion can melt off the base altogether. This has happened to me before when I used too much bleach.

This photograph looks like something you might see under a microscope, maybe a magnified part of a plant. We can see tiny details, like cilla. It is stained with vibrant colour.
‘My analogue work allows space for the process to impose itself onto the final outcomes in often surprising ways.‘Untitled’ from ‘Everyday Alchemy’ by Natalie Blom

NL: And what made you decide to experiment with this technique?

NB: A lot of my practice is messing around with materials in ways they aren’t designed for. More specifically, I returned to this technique during the start of the pandemic. I didn’t have a lot of work and was trying to walk more within my suburb to help with my mental health. I would often take a camera with me and after a particularly boring roll of mostly power lines I thought, “Why not try out film soaking again?”

Using whatever I could find around the house, I started soaking films with liquids I had on hand, which came up with some fun results.

NL: More broadly, why choose an analogue rather than a digital technique to play with?

A photograph from 'Everyday Alchemy' by Natalie Blom of a flower, maybe an orchid, washed over in magenta with dots of green surrounded by orange. The effect is psychedelic.
‘Not everything is by chance, but just enough.’ Natalie Blom’s ‘everyday alchemy x diuris’

NB: Depending on the project, I use both digital and analogue photography methods. Digital is far more accessible and user friendly for many ideas I have. I still come back to analogue techniques a lot though because it is rare that you will be surprised by an outcome with digital. My analogue work allows space for the process to impose itself onto the final outcomes in often surprising ways.

I enjoy this idea of collaborating with the process rather than being entirely in control. Not everything is by chance, but just enough. There is a lot of trial and error: I observe, I made modifications, I repeat. Art-making, for me, is about the process and while the outcome is still valuable, the most joy for me comes from the doing part of things.

NL: Why did you choose to hold “Everyday Alchemy” at NEXTDOOR?

NB: I have been a member with NEXTDOOR for about a year now and I like the alternative format. NEXTDOOR is a subscriber-based venue which allows members to access the space to view artwork at any time.

As an artist member, it also allows you to display your work in the space as you like, plus can be invited to hold feature exhibitions or contribute works to group shows. I finished studying at the end of last year and wanted to maintain some momentum into my artist practice. NEXTDOOR is run by a great team who are very supportive, which makes holding an exhibition much less intimidating.

NL: What’s next for you?

NB: I am fortunate to be working on some exciting future projects.

I am currently working on some works for a group show with some friends which will be held in the next few months.

In August I will be returning to my Wheatbelt hometown of Merredin to conduct some workshops hosted by the local run arts organisation Meridian Regional Arts Inc. which will be a nice way to share experiences.

In October I am lucky enough to be going down to Beverley for an artist residency with Beverley Station Arts.

“Everyday Alchemy” shows at NEXTDOOR, 11 June – 10 July 2022.

The exhibition opening will be accessible to everyone (register here), after which time it is accessible to NEXTDOOR members or by appointment only.

Pictured top is ‘Rockingham Still’ from ‘Everyday Alchemy’ by Natalie Blom.

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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