The process behind Nadezda Nikolova’s work is truly remarkable. Found in the world of “camera-less photography”, the artworks take us on an enthralling adventure, encompassing landscapes that are equal parts ethereal and grounding.
Hailing from former Yugoslavia, Nadezda pursued ecology and policy analysis before discovering the history of photographic processes. Drawn to art-making by wet plate collodion (a quick process, popular in the mid 1800s, that allows for multiple prints to be developed from one negative, and is described as a “portable darkroom”), it spoke to her on many levels: for play and experimentation; its aesthetic and tactile nature; and the way it allows her to combine her love for photography, collage and at times, sculpture. “The medium felt at once curiously familiar while also acting as a portal for the mysterious and otherworldly,” she tells us.
The process of finding the subjects for her imagery comes by processing her emotions and thoughts, usually on walks and during her time spent in nature. “My artmaking is an extension of my daily routine. On one level, the imagery represents my experience as a form in the landscape, registering it through my senses,” she tells us. Throughout her series Elemental Forms, you can see her reckoning with the elements she witnesses on her journeys. Among them is the recurring theme of portals, exposing the stars and stratosphere surrounded by her recurring textural allusions to waves. “These openings, doorways or portals appear after the aftermath of great ruptures like a global pandemic, inviting us to leave behind old paradigms that call us to fearlessly step into the unknown,” she adds.
Working in darkroom conditions, Nadezda uses cut or torn paper, wet collodion chemistry, engraved aluminium, light, brushes, cliché verre (glass plate) and solarisation (a process that includes partially exposing a photograph to light, creating a halo-like effect), so each panel is based on multiple exposures. “As I gradually build layers by selectively exposing the sensitised collodion emulsion using paper masks, I introduce artefacts and gestures manipulating the print both chemically and physically.” As the process can be somewhat unpredictable, as the chemicals react to age, use and environmental factors, she opens herself up to the “spontaneity and magic,” that can also be found amidst her subject matter.
For Nadezda, creating with intention affects every fraction of a second of every exposure; every gesture and movement of the mask; and every single processing choice. As such, when you look at her works, they have the pensive breadth of an oil landscape and the feeling of a photograph’s crucial second. “I have only three minutes to complete multiple exposures – often a dozen or more – use brushes to fling and spray chemicals, gravity to move it on the plate, and float paper using multiple masks with one hand, while flicking the light on and off with another,” she tells us. But, Nadezda still finds opportunity to embrace the limitations of the process, referring to it as “liberating”. She adds: “There’s a thrill to it, anticipation, excitement. It’s never stale. So much is happening at the same time, I’m fully immersed in the moment, holding my breath and relying on my intuition.”
It is difficult to capture the breadth of nature, the hills, the valleys, the waves and sun in all their picturesque glory. Nadezda manages all of this though, as well as a balance between ‘opposing’ forces that has become synonymous with her oeuvre – the physical and metaphysical, movement and stillness, time and timelessness, and singular and universal. With her book in collaboration with HackelBury Fine Art having come out earlier this year, each page brings us closer to the textures she masterfully assembles in her works. And in turn, each of these images bring us that little bit closer to the wonders of nature.
One Picture Book Two #33 : Elemental Forms is published by Nazraeli Press, you can find out more here.
Nadezda Nikolova: Immanent Forms, Waves, Light Plays Between the Molecules (Copyright © Nadezda Nikolova, Courtesy of Esther Woerdehoff Gallery, 2022)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is a staff writer at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.