The Sublime in Bits: Dafna Talmor’s Constructed Landscapes

No new images until all the old ones have been used up – Joachim Schmid

Frustrated that her photographs did not match her expectations, Dafna Talmor began to cut up her negatives. Beginning in 2009, Talmor’s collection of medium format colour negatives of un-peopled landscapes – accrued over years of life and travel – went under the knife in an intrepid act of auto-appropriation. The artist began to dissect her archive for connections, piecing puzzles.

The works chosen for Constructed Landscapes document a decade of immersion in a relentless anti-nostalgia of creation through destruction. The yield: a collection of nowheres, unstable vistas, hybrid realities – new terrain. Yet how hard the brain works to cohere these interrupted fragments into something plausible.

In the book’s first section, two negatives from two different places are juxtaposed around a single excision and then hand-printed from the subsequent composite negative. In the second section, Talmor arranges elements from up to eight different negatives, all shot at the same location, again hand-printing the results.

As we move through the book, we witness ever more confidence in cuts, ever more complexity, ever more void. Negative of the negative, light unfiltered, the darkness grows. Yet the joints and seams remain rough, irregular, and asymmetric, as a blend of control and chance drives the cutting edge.

For reference, a copious index pulls back the curtain on Talmor’s process and methodology, the skin and bones of her works on unashamed display. Here we are able to see the source images used for each composite, and track the changes the fragments went through on their journey to becoming ‘right.’ 

The negative occupies a particular place in the photographic psyche: a carefully concealed source and seldom-seen means to an end – something valuable, and to be protected. Opposing this, Talmor’s method requires that destruction occur in order that creation might.

The works chosen for Constructed Landscapes document a decade of immersion in a relentless anti-nostalgia of creation through destruction.

It’s a commonplace to suggest that the ease with which digital photographs can be manipulated has driven a renewed interest in ‘authentic’ analogue processes, yet photographers have never not been manipulating their negatives. Whenever memory or technology has refused to give them what they want, they have set to work. In Constructed Landscapes, we see this process pushed to extremes – no surprise that the windows through which we look are fractured, broken.

Talmor’s manipulation of the building blocks of analogue photography also reminds us that no landscape lies beyond the grasp of the human hand. With care and without, we have rearranged the land around us. At the same time, the landscape itself is mutable and ever shifting. Violence is done to and by the land and sea.

In these images overwhelmed by possibility, the sublime is in bits. Linear perspective, foreground and background, the rule of thirds: none of the traditional regulations of western landscape photography and painting apply here. Talmor has taught herself a language that didn’t exist. No blend. No way back. No undo.

Fw:Books 2020

All Rights Reserved: Text © Nick Scammell; Images © Dafna Talmor/Fw:Books unless otherwise noted