Albuquerque-based Lomographer and visual artist Nick Tauro Jr. a.k.a. nicktaurojr has a unique and special treatment towards his analogue processes that constantly catches the attention of many curators and galleries. He likes to obscure and reshape realities in the negatives, whether manipulated by chemical or physical processes. In return, Nick's abstract works become refined, emotionally-packed paintings from the therapeutic method of manipulating images.
How does Nick create a hauntingly beautiful series such as Print + Cut + Tape + Bleach + Burn? We invited Nick to share his work and process with the series through his own words and photos.
Like everyone else, I had to adjust drastically to the reality of the pandemic lockdown, immediately shifting to working from home, and canceling any photo-related travel I had planned. Luckily I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I have easy access to nature and open spaces. Though I curtailed my time outside in general, I did allow myself a weekly visit to the bosque area near the Rio Grande, which is a wild, undeveloped area that runs through the middle of our city. Visits to this area gave me physical and mental space to deal with isolation. It also allowed me to shoot film on a regular basis, something I’ve been dedicating myself to over the past few years (straight, digital does not inspire me at all.) Photographing out in nature while there was so much social and political and environmental upheaval occurring, these excursions led me to regard nature and life in general in a more precarious, fragile way.
"I think I first started manipulating my negatives: bleaching and burning and scratching them; as a metaphor for how I was feeling about the world. I was also rejecting the sterile sameness of so much photography I was seeing on social media."
So… long story short, I progressed from film manipulation to getting photo prints made from my film negatives, and then hand manipulating those as well. A logical progression to my destructive tendencies!
A Hand-Manipulated Process
After exploring the effects of heat, and bleach, and hand manipulation of my negatives, I really wanted to work with a larger format, so manipulating my prints made sense. Photo paper reacts differently to manipulation than film does, and it also allowed me to do more tearing, cutting, taping, and gluing than I could do on small pieces of film. I generally start with a 4 x 6 print made from a film negative. Either color or black and white doesn’t really matter.
Sometimes I would use a ruler and a sharp blade and cut prints into even squares, and then rearrange them, sort of like a puzzle, taping or gluing them back together. Or I would tear them by hand, sometimes tearing a few prints at once so the rips would line up and I could make new images from several different prints. Often I use rubber cement to protect the specific surface area of the print, and then pour toilet cleaner bleach in the unprotected areas, and rinse some areas of the image away. Or I would apply a heat gun or a cigarette lighter to the prints. The heat gun does interesting things with color shifting, and the bubbles and cracking from the flame is totally unpredictable.
My first results felt very liberating, very freeing. With the prints, I was really excited to be able to see the results right away, as opposed to manipulating the negative and then having to scan them to see the results in a positive form. Plus, I really enjoyed working in a larger format. Even 4 x 6 feels too small now! I want to work with even bigger prints.
I encourage everyone to try hand manipulation, it unpredictable fun, for sure. Just make sure you are doing things safely. Any chemical work I do in a sink, wearing eye protection, gloves, and an apron (I’ve ruined some clothing already!) Any heat or flamework is done safely outside, usually on concrete, away from anything flammable. I keep an extinguisher nearby, although I haven’t had any big flame ups yet. Go slow and you’ll be ok. Also, be prepared for some failure in the process. I’ve quickly gone too far in my manipulation and rendered the print a smoldering, useless mess. But that’s also part of the fun, and it’s really gratifying when I get a final image that I really love.
Lately, I’m putting together a self-published zine of my print manipulations right now and planning on working with even bigger prints. I’d love to do a wall-sized collage with this approach, I think that would look really amazing!