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Ella Morton explores climate change and the warping of nature though her alt processed prints

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Ella Morton is a Toronto-based visual artist. Originally from Vancouver, she earned a BFA from Parsons School of Design in New York in 2008, and an MFA from York University in Toronto in 2015. Her work has been shown widely, including exhibitions at Walnut Contemporary (Toronto), Galérie AVE (Montréal), Foley Gallery, (New York), Idea Exchange (Cambridge), Viewpoint Gallery (Halifax), Photo Center Northwest (Seattle), The Alternator Centre (Kelowna) and Open Space (Victoria). She has also completed public art projects with Nocturne (Halifax), The Crying Room (Vancouver) and Land-Shape (Denmark). Her work has also been featured in the Untapped Emerging Artists Competition, as part of The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair, and Contact Photography Festival in Toronto.

1. These images were created by a process called Mordancage. Can you explain the process and how you discovered it?

The process was invented in the 1960’s by French photographer Jean-Pierre Sudre and was later adapted by American photographer Elizabeth Opelanik who popularized the “draping effect” of Mordançage. I discovered the process while doing some online research into experimental photographic processes. Mordançage involves soaking a finished silver gelatin print in an acid bath, which lifts the emulsion off the paper in the shadow areas. The print is then redeveloped and the shadows become eerie veils of emulsion while the rest of the image remains intact. The veils are quite delicate, so there is a lot of room for manipulation. Two prints of the same image can look entirely different.

2. All of these photos are of nature. Are nature and the outdoors a big inspiration to you?

Absolutely. I’ve always been interested in landscape as a site where human beings confront the unknown and the sublime. I strive to capture both the beautiful and menacing facets of the land in my photographs. Lately, I have also been addressing climate change in my work. By portraying nature as warped or degraded through analogue film processes, I aim to emphasize the fragility of the land with regards to global warming.

3. How long have you been shooting with film?

I have been shooting film since I was a teenager, but back then film was the norm. It’s interesting to have come of age amidst photography’s transition from analogue to digital. Now that analogue photography is outdated, artists are free to use it more creatively. It’s similar to the transition painting went through when photography was first invented in the 1800’s. Once painting was no longer the dominant way to produce likenesses of reality, painters were free to create movements like impressionism, expressionism and abstraction. I think digital technology has liberated analogue photography processes in the same way.

4. The subject of the photos pairs perfectly with the effect of the Mordancage. Do you plan when you shoot a roll that those images will be printed using the Mordancage process?

Yes, when I’m shooting, I look for scenes with a lot of negative space in anticipation of where the Mordançage veils will be. I look for things like large groupings of trees or big boulders that I can print pure black so that the emulsion will lift off in those areas. Thematically, it’s meant to show the fragility of the landscape- if the trees in a forest are literally dissolving, what does that say about the future of our planet?

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