Saffron Toms

University: Hereford College of Arts

Graduation: 2015

Genre: Fine Art

Website: www.saffrontoms.co.uk

Artist StatementThere are several denominators in my work that allow it to take the shapes it does. I work with natural forms and processes to create images that discuss cycles and highlight the wholeness of being. 

I explore the landscape and the details of it as though I am exploring my own mind. What can be seen, smelt, felt and understood in nature can be brought back to the dark room. It is through this that one begins to then understand themselves. What is outside is inside.

Using time, light and chemical reaction I use analogue processes to respond to a place or feeling. I have a deep emotional connection to my work, this leading to work being not only seen but also felt. It’s about using nature as a metaphor for life in a room that embodies the limitless sense of creativity.

From the series Hollow Earth

From the series Hollow Earth

What are some standout moments from your time at university? Over the course of 3 years there were several moments that caught me. I think the most important one was when I felt that strong shift of feeling so lost and heartbroken with my work, to then suddenly feeling more connected than ever.

During my third year I reached a point where I began to feel incredibly emotional and uncertain of myself. At the heart of these feelings was the way I felt towards my practice and projects at the time - nothing felt like it was working, it wasn’t right and it didn’t feel right. It was sort of, the plight of the creative spirit, and I came to realise that I had to experience this in order to understand it. So I began to reflect a bit more and piece together what had worked previously and why it worked so well. The lessons that I began to learn in doing this were the most important throughout the whole of my time at HCA. 

From the series Hollow Earth

From the series Hollow Earth

I pursued and I kept on going. I stripped my work back to the basics and I began to trust my creative instinct. Don’t let concept get in the way, just ‘do’. So that’s what I did. I changed the music I listened to and tuned into a new way of working, I took frequent breaks where I would sit and look at my work; I tried to listen to what it was trying to tell me. Following these changes I have worked in this way since. I feel as though it was this that put me on a slightly different path and I began to see using the darkroom as a spiritual practice. Everything left me in a state of awe, and I couldn’t tear myself away from the space. I think I realised just how much the tiniest thing can effect your creativity and how important it is to nurture it in just the right way- how fragile and how effected. 

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? If I were to place myself in a genre it would probably be fine art photography. My work has that air of delicateness about it, but also focuses on traditional landscapes and singular natural forms. 

What themes do you explore in your work? The themes I explore in my work have more recently become much more spiritual ones. I have begun to reflect upon ideas that surround life, death and reincarnation. I suppose you could call it ‘consciousness’. I found that feeling of nostalgia once and I have held onto it ever since. 

 
 

I read once that spending so many hours a day in a dark room can benefit you mentally- it changes the chemistry of the body thus affecting the pineal gland (they have special dark room retreats set up at various places around the world). When working in the darkroom you lose one sense and gain a whole ocean of others. It is because of this that I would compare working in this way to being in a meditative state. The mind slips into another state of consciousness and themes that begin to occur are ones that discuss the closeness to nature and how one can explore that relationship through creativity.  

From the series Woodland in Motion

From the series Woodland in Motion

What are the biggest influences on your photography? Hmm. Well influence is everywhere. I think that once you start becoming creative you change the way you look at things. Everything becomes composition, lines, shapes, colours- and when you look at something you connect all of these things together. Of course I look up to other photographers, but I do also feel that experience is something that plays a major part in style and experimenting.

However, in regards to other artists I would say that the first book I ever read that directly influenced my work was Shadow Catchers. The book features artists Gary Fabian Miller, Floris Neususs, Adam Fuss, Pierre Cordier and Susan Derges (my personal favourite). The book was based on an exhibition at the V & A and I read it in the early days of working in the darkroom. I found it incredibly beautiful how each were working in a different way yet there still seemed to be a similar message shared between them all, the under current that brought time, light, space and nature together- harmonised through process. 

From the series Woodland in Motion

From the series Woodland in Motion

Can you tell us about the different processes you use to create your work? I began working in the darkroom using the photogram process. It’s a simple process that uses objects to expose and shadow various areas of the light sensitive paper. From then I began to experiment with negatives, chemigrams and generally combining techniques. Experimenting is how I moved from process to process- sometimes just accidentally. I remember I really missed painting, so I thought why can’t I apply this to the darkroom. And I did. I began painting the chemicals on and as soon as that happened I began to really enjoy seeing the brush strokes and the chemical marks. I really like the idea of there being craftsmanship in the work, being able to look at a piece and see where the artist placed each mark. Gradually I began ripping up pieces of light sensitive paper, covering them in oil, scratching into them, bleaching them, exposing them and not fixing them. I suppose just as you do with life, the number one rule is to just go with it and adapt something until it becomes unique to you. 

Have you got a favourite project that you’ve completed? Can you tell us about it? My favourite project was The Fragility of Being. It’s a project that I felt immensely close to, and one throughout I felt each piece of work intensely. At the time the project became everything to me and still is. A recurring theme in my work is circles and natural forms- using these I combined processes and achieved a level of pure bliss whilst in the confines of four walls. I became the circle and I became whole, my heart and my brain, my soul, my body, mind spirit, experience were all connected.  

I’m still struggling to talk to my work and pin point what it really is about. To this day I’m not 100% sure how I could possibly put the project into words- The Fragility of Being seems to be all the project needs. 

I keep the original prints in my sketchbook, occasionally when I’m rifling through my things and I open my book, I look at the images and they have changed. I didn’t fix any of them properly so each day that passes the project is still developing without me needing to do anything- it was this project that really made me think about what creativity is, if it moves without having to have direct interaction with the artist, then what can it be and what is it to me?

What are your aspirations for the future? Since embarking on my creative journey I have learnt that life is about process. So my aspirations for the future are that I want to continue learning processes and applying them to the darkroom. Combining them and reiterating them. My next step will be to begin working with fabric as a light sensitive material. I also want to continue to experiment with moving image in the darkroom. This is something that I explored during my final project at university and the results were mesmerising. 

I also really enjoy being in an educational environment. Therefore I am currently focusing on beginning a teaching course for Art and Design Secondary level in September. This will also offer me credits of which I hope to use in the future for an MA.