Filled with mesmerizing colors and swirling—borderline celestial—forms, photographer Tatiana Gulenkina’s series Things Merging and Falling Apart entrances the viewer with washes of soft hues and diaphanous shapes. Rather than directly offering a treatise or thesis for digestion, Gulenkina’s series offers space for contemplation and wonderment as well as an appreciation for the act of creation itself.

Untitled #1, Things Merging and Falling Apart, 20” x 20”, 2013 ©Tatiana Gulenkina

“I was initially attracted to the idea of creating something from scratch,” says Gulenkina. “Anyone who’s ever seen the image slowly coming alive in a tray full of developer knows what I’m talking about.” To begin the creation process, Gulenkina stands in complete darkness with a sheet of light-sensitive paper. Arranging different objects on the surface of the paper (plants, dust, hair, broken glass, spiderwebs), she then exposes the paper to light with different color filters in order to create her abstractions.

The objects that Gulenkina uses in her art-making are not random: she deliberately chooses materials that are “fragile” or “organic.” This selection is grounded in her medium of choice. “My interest in camera-less photography came from a desire to capture not a decisive moment, but a time lapse,” she observes. She is drawn to the transformation that occurs when these delicate objects are caught on a light-sensitive surface.

Untitled #15, Things Merging and Falling Apart, 16” x 20”, 2012 ©Tatiana Gulenkina

Transformation lies at the core of Gulenkina’s work. In part, the series is propelled by her interest in recording and observing the mutation of recognizable objects into complete abstractions through the chemical process. This shift speaks to a theme of impermanence and incompleteness that is present throughout her work, a topic that is is—in part—her acknowledgement that images can only capture a part of what they represent. “Essentially, even the sharpest, most beautifully composed glossy image fails to represent reality because it’s trying to hold on to something that’s impossible to grasp,” she says. This focus on transience and continual transformation is especially apparent when Gulenkina discusses one of her visual inspirations for the series. “I watched the making of precious sand mandalas,” she remarks. “The mandalas take days of intense labor and, once completed, are destroyed without any regrets.”

—Coralie Kraft

You can see Gulenkina’s work (and the photographs of many other talented visual storytellers) at Focus on the Story, an international festival taking place from June 7-10, 2018, in Washington D.C.