Blending her dual passions for science and art, Kratzer’s new exhibition reflects on the natural landscape
“Historically, the photogram has always provided a playground for experimental artists,” Nadezda Nikolova-Kratzer explains, referring to the likes of László Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, both famous for their darkroom experiments. Nikolova-Kratzer fell in love with the darkroom process following a BA in environmental science and a MA in public policy analysis. Now, exhibiting her photograms in a solo show at HackelBury Fine Art, London, the scientist-turned artist combines her passions, investigating ecology, nature, performance and perception.
Nikolova-Kratzer’s Elemental Forms, Landscape – which closes on 30 October 2021 – comprises new works by the Serbian-born artist. Abstract landscapes, painstakingly created with a rigorous wet plate collodion technique, meditate on “the still point of the turning world,” a quote the artist lifts from T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets. Here, the artist builds on concepts taken from poetry, literature, science, philosophy, and art. The breadth of influences includes Japanese notan design, Matisse paper-cuts, and the organic landscapes of Georgia O’Keefe, as well as more scientific endeavours such as materiality, ecology, and the anthropocene. “An idea that obliquely finds its way into my work is the concept of identity in the face of spiritual and transcendental experiences,” she says. “One readily experiences this in the presence of nature; a sense of a deeper connection and meaning; the felt experience that we are not.”
“Growing up in the eighties and nineties, I felt the heavy burden of natural devastation,” Nikoova-Kratzer explains. This burden, a term known as “Solastalgia,” led to her working as an economic development research analyst in the Global South. “I was in my mid-thirties when a major shift occurred. While painting in my spare time, I also took an interest in photography. When I discovered wet plate collodion, I decided to dedicate all my energy and time to art,” she remembers.
Wet plate collodion “pulled” her in. “The strong smell of chemistry that repulses most people somehow feels familiar and exciting [to me],” she says. The artist dwells in the California Redwood Forest daily, reflecting on her local Oakland surroundings. Then, she returns to the darkroom with sketches, and builds her images with paper cutouts, metal plating, silver nitrate, and various chemicals. She exposes the image again and again, sometimes up to 20 times. The resulting work is an abstract reflection to the natural exterior, realised through a scientific, ritualistic, and performative process. “ I find this part of the process thrilling… sometimes it feels like I’m holding my breath for four minutes – I’m completely in the moment,” she says.
“The photogram offers endless possibilities for exploration,” she explains. “There are no second chances; every decision is final. But when an image emerges from the fixer that makes the heart beat a little faster, the experience is exhilarating,” she says. She compares her darkroom process to watercolour painting, a measured process that still allows for chance, chaos, and spontaneity. For Nikoova-Kratzer, this process is deeply personal, one mirroring the “incredible sadness” present across the world as we edge closer to global ecological catastrophe. “Not giving into despair or distraction, but finding the courage to hope, and to imagine and claim a different future is central in all my works,” she says.
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.