The photography work of artist Liz Nielsen has captured the gaze of many mesmerised viewers. There are many reasons for this, but for us it’s her ability to create photographic pieces, just not in the way we’re accustomed to it.
Liz’s work relates to the traditional practice of photography as it’s reactionary. Described as creating a “distinctive place in the photographic tradition of ‘cameraless’ photography,” her pieces are created in the dark room, but rather than just developing a pre-captured image, Liz swaps the usual negative for a designed one built “by collaging coloured transparencies on top of glass”. From here, the photographer prints the work on chromogenic paper featuring her abstractions. “They are what you see in them, and therefore they are many things.”
When viewing Liz’s work huddled round a computer screen, the It’s Nice That team’s gasps were quickly followed by questions of “How on earth has she done this!?” And so, in the run-up to a new show at Black Box Projects in London’s Soho, Liz has kindly shared some of her secrets with us.
Though her works are abstract and appear spontaneous in places, Liz explains she goes into the dark room with a concept in mind: "I start with sketches in my sketchbook. I do a bunch of research on what it is that has inspired me, and then make drawings, then I make the negatives,” she explains. “The negatives are very layered and include transparent coloured gels that are used in photographic/film lighting. When I get into the dark room, there is a plan of how the light is going to be exposed onto the paper. As you’ll likely know, each piece I make is unique so there is just one. In the photographic world this is exciting, as you can’t have a duplicate…”
The abstract tendencies of Liz’s work are known, and appreciated, for their openness to interpretation. Whether they are displayed in a gallery or printed in the pages of various magazines from The New Yorker, ArtSlant and The Wall Street Journal, every viewer has a differing opinion. “The work is made with a lot behind it from my own world, yet the way it is read often comes from what the viewer brings to each piece,” she says. “There are surprises for me sometimes, yet at this point, so much is intentional. My hope for the work is that it opens up a space inside of the person looking at it, and that space is an invitation into a new way of seeing. At its very best, I wish for the viewer to have an ‘ah-ha’ moment, a quantum leap inside the mind.”
Ahead of her part in the Black Box Projects show running from 6-10 March, Liz has been “working with ideas that surround transcendence,” she tells It’s Nice That. This concept culminates in Smoke Signals a series shown below, including “a communication that spreads through signs and signals, and in contemporary time, I like to think of it translated into viral or better stated, universal,” she explains.
Looking to the future, Liz plans to “continue to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I’ve got some ways of working that are steady and other ways that are new, experimental, and unpredictable.” The photographer’s background lists impressive and eclectic accomplishments such as a BA in Philosophy and Spanish from Seattle University, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA in photography from University of Illinois, the photographer points out that her “process is evolving,” she says. “In terms of what I’d like to try, I’d like to get back into printmaking at some point. I started as a printmaker before I became a photographer and I still have the feeling in my gut for it. We’ll see.”