If you're new to Lomography there's a good chance @agrymony's pictures will have grabbed your attention right away. If you are a seasoned member of our community, you have certainly come across her photos. She is a prolific creator and we are delighted to have her on our magazine again.
When it comes to creativity, Lomographer Monika Mitterdorfer is a remarkable source of inspiration. Her work on experimentation and alteration on films and printing techniques is refreshing and intriguing. Curious about the process behind her images, we had a lovely chat with Monika and we got to find out a bit more about her philosophy and workflow.
Hi Monika, we are happy to have you on our magazine again. What is your artistic process behind an image? And how do you bring it to life?
When I take artistic photographs it is important for me to intentionally abstract what I see through the viewfinder. I find it rather boring to take images in the sense of showing a picture of “reality” which is by the way even not possible in my opinion.
I find my subjects mostly near where I live – I have no car so I roam around the same places again and again. Through my photographic eye I recognize beauty in the little things and the changes through the four seasons, the different weather and times of the day. I see magic almost everywhere and I like to give my images an enchanted look and try to do this with several methods.
I guess the origin of this intention lies in my childhood. When I was a child I once saw a theatre of the fairy-tale “Rumpelstiltskin”. I was so fascinated when the miller’s daughter could spin straw into gold. For me it was real and I asked my mother how this was possible. But even when she told me that it was a trick the actors did on stage I still was convinced that some miracle happened.
To make things visible which were not there before or to conjure something I see on a piece of foil is like magic for me. I know it is a chemical process that makes this possible but even though I am aware of it I still find it fantastic! As a child I believed in wonders and photography is some kind of miracle to me still as an adult.
So the process of taking photographs or working with photosensitive material is something that maybe reminds me of a time when it was possible to spin straw into gold. I think I want to make this kind of magic and the dreamy fantasy I had as a child visible in my photographic works.
That’s why I use multiple exposures, I use experimental color shifting films, I work with blur or get very close to my subjects. I am also fascinated by shadows – some kind of abstraction too. And I love the Daguerreotype Achromat Art Lens – it brings that enchanted touch into my photographs that I like a lot. But I searched and I am still searching for ways to take it further. I thought about processes that I could use additional to the effects I could do with my camera or by choosing special films.
So firstly I started with film manipulation and made some film soups. I never thought I would “destroy” a film on purpose – but never say never! I found some tutorials about film soaking techniques and photos on Lomography, and the internet, and that made me curious to try it myself. For my first film soup I bathed my film in a hot bubble bath and soda. The effect was rather intense – I liked it a lot and so I continued with further film soaking experiments.
Regarding film soup, what are the techniques that you are currently using?
I always soak my films after exposure. Patience is not my best quality so my cameras would be at risk to be damaged because I guess I could not wait until the film is absolutely dry. So after I shoot a roll of film I am searching for ingredients to soak it. Most of the time I use things I have at home like salt, soda, bubble bath tabs, food color, deodorants, and so on. I think most of the effects are caused by the hot water but I am trying to find out if and how additional ingredients cause different effects and how it works on different films.
And with experimental processes, can you tell us which techniques are used for your images?
Near the techniques I mentioned above I also combine photos to diptychs and triptychs, sometimes the same motif, one of which is out of focus. Or I look for two motifs that fit together – e.g. one of which is an abstraction of the other. I appreciate the half frame format of my Olympus Pen FT. It is perfect for that.
Lately I became obsessed with cyano-lumen prints, cyanotypes and other sun print techniques while I was in quarantine for some days. It was a great and very creative time because I could spend so much of it by trying and experimenting. I tried several different sun-print colors like solarfast and cyanotype sensitizer on various surfaces like watercolor paper, silver gelatin paper, printed photographs and instant photos. For some of them - like instant photos – I had to find something I could use as a primer because the surface is too smooth to keep the liquids on. These experiments are still in progress too.
When experimenting, what is the most challenging obstacle to overcome?
For me it is very hard being patient – especially when I know that my time is limited for trying something out. All the studying of the basics of an experiment needs a lot of time. And it also takes time until I am satisfied with the result of the picture. Another thing is that it is important to have enough time for myself to experiment and develop new ideas. I am not very good at multiple tasking and only able to focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise I'm immediately stressed and unfocused. But when I have the time to experiment then I think there are not many obstacles to overcome – I can concentrate on what I am doing and if anything goes wrong I can fix it until it works.
Is there ever an image that doesn't satisfy you?
Yes, there are several images I don’t like. While experimenting lots of mistakes happen and I find it very annoying. This affects my mood and it is better to avoid me then. But luckily I don’t give up easily so I try things until they work. I see mistakes as a chance to learn from them and to develop. When I create an image that does not satisfy me, I use it for further experimenting until I like it or let it be forever. Recently I started to write all my experiences with new experiments in little notebooks and additionally add post-its with notes on my photographic stuff. That helps me to remember what went wrong in case I want to repeat a process in future.
Usually there are two main components that go into making a photograph; the shooting and the developing. With experimental images it's a little different. How much does the technical aspect of experimenting matter to you as an artist and to those images?
On one hand it gives me great pleasure to experiment with various techniques, it is like playing. When you watch children while playing they are completely focused and absorbed in what they do. I think that’s how it feels when I am experimenting, I am totally soaked up in this process and the world around me disappears. On the other hand, it is a way for me to make my photographs more abstract and to push the boundaries of photography.
Always when I start something new I do a lot of reading and research to get to know the basics of a process. It is important for me to understand how a certain technique works. It is also important for me that the results are a little bit like I imagined before. Don’t get me wrong, I am not searching for perfect images. It is the little imperfections that make a photographic work interesting and I love accidents when I am experimenting, but not in the way that everything turns out completely messed up. As I mentioned above, I tried some different groundings to prepare instant photos for cyanotypes. None of them work with negatives I printed out on foil. The images turn out just blue. This is not what I want them to look at. I am still trying to make it work.
What next for you in your artistic practice?
I have so many ideas! I started painting again after decades. My art teacher at school made me dislike painting, he gave me the feeling of being untalented although I loved painting and it helped me through a different time. Now I know that he was just some jerk. Painting became an important part of my life again. I want to find a way to combine these two passions of mine – painting and taking photographs. I think it will take some time to develop this idea and I am looking forward to it.
Additionally, I want to develop my darkroom work. I have been enlarging negatives in black and white and color for a while now and I am still practicing. But this is also something I would like to progress further. I think it could be another way to abstract my photographs and experiment with several techniques to do so. I plan to make lit prints too and I want to try my large format camera finally!
It’s a never-ending story and that’s what I love so much about the artistic side of my life and life in general – to grow and to never stand still!
We are excited to see the latest experimentation that Monika will produce. What are you working on? Share your pictures in our community.