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Deconstructing Photography

Updated: May 29, 2022

With Mark Tamer

Mark Tamer is an experimental photographer working with both analogue and digital mediums. He's looking to find a balance between chance and control, and between; construction and destruction, signal and noise and ultimately, life and death. He embraces the accidents and errors as they not only remind us how vulnerable and delicate we are, they can often show us something new. It is at the point of breakdown that the medium begins to reveal itself. Mark believes that through glitches and mistakes we get to see the base elements, the very construction of the material that creates those illusions of reality, the apparatus of photography itself.

Your practice has a diverse range of experimental approaches to analog photography. What inspires this experimentation within your creative process? I think it’s just a natural curiosity to find out what happens if you do this or that. And I’m also interested in how photography works, what it is and how we make sense of the world through it so it seems natural to pull it apart and see what makes it tick.

There is a common theme within your work of reconstructing analog photographic processes, through the deconstruction of the original process. Do you consider this an integral part of experimenting with analog photography? Yes I think so. I remember as a kid taking the family record player apart and then reassembling it. It wasn’t enough to listen to the record, I wanted to know how it worked. It’s more complicated nowadays as most things are digital, sealed in a small box away from prying eyes. I guess we should be deconstructing the algorithms that govern so much of our experience now, what we see and how we see. In a sense I’m working with an old medium, one where you can touch it or smell it. That reassures me. Analogue processes also leave room for the unexpected, the accident, the mistake that sometimes lead to magic. Digital has become too precise for this. Most often it’s great to have perfect focus and exposure but if you’re trying to get under the surface of something those “mistakes” often reveal more than perfect image.

What has been your favorite and least favorite process so far, and what challenges did you come across? I’ve made some Polaroid collages that I loved putting together so I’m intending to go back to these with some new ideas and approaches. Most of the processes I’ve tried have given me something. The final image might not be great but the creating itself can be fun. Conversely the process might not be nice - I’m thinking of the strong smelling lacquer I’ve used for my chemigrams that stink the house out for a few days, but the end result is pleasing. Each of these process has its challenges. It’s usually how to tease an image from something or how to line up different photographs together. One of the perks of being an “experimental photographer” is that there’s rarely an unusable image. It’s part of a process so it’s always contributing something and if it’s out of focus or over-exposed that doesn’t bother me in the least.

What advice would you give someone wanting to start experimenting with analog photography, and what process would you recommend as the most accessible for beginner? I’d say just dive in. There’s loads of advice and help online if you need it, but you can get a small point-and-shoot camera for next to nothing and just see what happens. If you are coming from the precision of digital photography it can be wonderfully freeing to point the camera in the general direction of something and then have no idea what you’ve got until much later. Alternatively, a really accessible and fun process to try is chemigrams. You don’t need a darkroom, just a some photo paper, some chemicals and some imagination.

Tell us a bit more about what you are currently working on?

I tend to have a number of projects on the go at all times. I’ve been shooting with black and white film on my toy plastic camera for the last ten years. The winding mechanism is broken which leads to some unusual and unpredictable overlaps. I’m putting these together to form a photo book.

I’ve also got a number of old images - 35mm film, Polaroids, paper photographs etc that I’m recycling and applying different chemicals to see where this takes me.

Author: Martha Gray. Photos by courtesy of the artist.

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