The photographs in Thomas Dozol’s current show at Tif Sigfrids gallery in New York seem to quiver and pulse on the walls, with a sense of movement suggested but left to the imagination. The eight new works follow from a new multiple-exposure process for Dozol, whose focus in the past has included photo prints that fuse different kinds of portraiture with overlays of geometric abstraction and graphic design. Born in Martinique, educated in Paris, and now based in New York and Berlin, Dozol first exhibited work of the new kind earlier this year at Tif Sigfrids’s location in Athens, Georgia; for the current show in Chinatown, he highlighted works with an increasing sense of dynamism and new intensities of color.
This is a newish mode of work for you. How did you get started on it?
It started during lockdown, when I was revisiting older shoots because I couldn’t see anyone. I wanted to work against the idea of editing a shoot down to one photo, to the decisive moment. Because of the way I shoot, I always felt there was a limitation to that that could be frustrating. I follow the people I shoot, and there’s an exchange—it’s not like trying to grab the essence of someone, or controlling someone. I always wanted to find a way to use multiple images, so I started experimenting when I was in lockdown in Athens, Georgia. Then I started shooting this series properly when I went back to Berlin. Since it was Covid time, it felt very different sharing space with people. In the past I had been shooting people in my studio and erasing the background. But I wanted to do the opposite by going into other people’s spaces. There was a real charge to that.
What does the process for assembling these images entail?
I still shoot analogue, with an old Hasselblad from the ’60s, so I started to work with a process of compressing a roll of film all into one. There are 12 images [in each photo print], but some of them I make so transparent that they’re barely visible. Usually there are between five and nine images that are really noticeable.
How do you then superimpose them? Do you do that on a computer?
Yes. I scan the negatives, and then I stratify and layer them in the same sequence as they were shot. From there I play with the transparency of each, because not all 12 images in a roll are going to be great. Some are just barely visible, or completely transparent. They’re each really completely different. I thought there was going be a system when I first started, but then I realized that every image is completely different.
So there’s a lot of postproduction.
There is, but not in the single images themselves. Every image in a roll of film is treated honestly as a single image, but then they get compiled. I showed some of the first series of these works with Tif Sigrids in Athens in February [in an exhibition titled “In Flux”]. I was trying to stay with a somewhat realistic palette, to keep a kind of neutrality. But then I stopped fighting the fact that the images can change really fast. I didn’t try to compensate, to go against or nullify the process, because certain colors become really strong once you layer them. Layers of blue become more blue. They take on this real intensity. For this show, I just went with it.
It seems like there are some deep wormholes to go down…
I do a lot of them at once. For some, there’ll be like 20 versions. I’ll work on the color on each single one, then they get compiled and I work on the transparency for each. And then once that all comes together, I work on the images and the density and the color again. It’s kind of endless, because you have to make 12 perfect photographs before you even start playing with them.
You mentioned that, before, you more often shot in a studio and then erased backgrounds. What made you want to change from that?
The challenge of it. I shoot on film so it’s limited in terms of the light and everything. I wanted to have to respond to uncontrolled environments. Before, I was abstracting people from their environments to show figures out of context. You would just see the person. But during the pandemic, the idea of home and a sense of place took on a different gravity.
These really seem to ripple and move when you get up close. It’s hard to keep a sense of balance while looking.
There’s a dynamism to the images because the eye is going to try to catch different views. We are trained to recognize faces, so when different ones come at the same time, you see so much more. It’s like things come forward and recede as you travel through. Some of them are kind of lenticular-ish. They’re definitely not fixed.
How did you come up with the title of the show, “What If I Kept Looking”?
I came up with a lot of titles that were a little too analytical or too straightforward. I was trying to find a way to express the idea of duration, of looking not at a single moment but more at the fluidity of longer exposure. My friend Nick Theobald [a painter and sculptor] said it’s kind of like looking at water while being slightly stoned, when things come forward in a succession of moments that come and go. It’s a different experience of time, moving from sequential stop-motion frames and combining them to recreate movement in images. I’m really enjoying it, and I think there’s more to do with this process.