Tay Tallis: Silver and Light

Tay Tallis manipulates photographic production processes to draw attention to the physical and the rural.

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With the ubiquity of image-sharing social media platforms, the wide accessibility of digital photography has led to a fundamental change in how we think about image creation. Our experiences and environments are captured purely for representational purposes, without the consideration of the tangible photograph as an art object itself. There is a lack of physical interaction, and also an emphasis on digital image manipulation. But what are the possibilities of merging physical photographs with digital manipulation? With technical skill and conceptual insight, Tay Tallis is able to explore the nature of celluloid photography, and what effect its physical manipulations may bring.

In Tay’s studio, dozens of 6×4 inch prints, made of silver and light, are strewn across tables and stuck upon the walls. Tays concern with process theory shines through their work, as their unique method of image creation challenges the traditional idea that photography should be obsessed with depicting the real. Tay physically tampers with the prints as they are being developed, in ways that will effectively damage the photograph, ending up with a macabre final product. The project’s goal is to add a physicality to the photographic process, and to the photographs themselves. The final print is no longer a purely representational piece, as the image has been diluted by its texture, so the shape of the subject matter is no longer totally discernable. What is left to comprehend is the physical print itself, allowing it to be appreciated as an art object itself.

“Because we’re so used to thinking about photographs as representational pieces, we don’t value the photograph in itself,” writes Tay.

Unlike most digitally manipulated photographs found on social media, this process of manipulation does not seek to idealise the subject matter. The end goal is to damage it, and in doing this, Tay has been able to draw attention away from it, and make comments about celluloid photography as an art form. But is there a point in drawing attention to an appreciation of the physical? Tay suggests that there is a certain intimacy created between the viewer and the photograph when they hold it in their hands. The object is small and one-of-a-kind, and you have to get really close to experience it. You are its only audience for that brief moment. This may differ from work that is large and impersonal, or can be digitally experienced by many people at once through social media.

“There’s something nice about holding something, for it to be tangible.”

The second element to Tays practice is an engagement with the moving image. In their animated work SOUNDFOG, they present a sequence of distorted black and white photographs showcasing the rural environment they grew up in. The viewer can only just make out a deserted country road, lined with trees and shrubbery. There is a droning, computer generated buzz that lingers in the background, rising and falling in intensity. Its tone can be compared to the ringing you may experience in your ears after a very loud noise, or a manifestation of what people mean when they describe an environment as ‘deafeningly silent’. The end result is an ominous scene, showcasing the “weird rural sublime” that Tay experiences when they are out in the bush. In the country, there isn’t much in terms of artificial stimulants, such as signage, traffic, or street lights. It is also a very open space compared to the urban environment. It is this omission of noise and lack of confinement that creates the rural experience, and Tay explains that this is at the core of why they use the rural as their subject matter, and is part of what they hope to communicate.

“…because how often are we quiet, unless we are locked in a room? Whereas out there you are quiet, in an open space.”