Malik Dieleman is a Toronto-based photographer and multidisciplinary artist. In this conversation we explore the process behind his fine art print series titled “Days of Creation”. In this conversation Malik explains the historical method of making cyanotype prints. He talks about how that process intersects with the Creation narrative and what it means to be an artist. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!
CC: Hi, Malik! Where are you from?
I was born in southern France to Canadian and American missionaries and later lived in London, Ontario and in Senegal, West Africa. Today, I live in downtown Toronto, having recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Photography from Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U).
What is cyanotype toning?
During my time at OCAD U I discovered a love for the historical process of making cyanotypes. In this alternative photography method, paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals, covered with a negative, and exposed to UV light. Building upon this process, I experiment by applying bleach and a variety of natural dyes to tone the bright blue cyanotype prints into a spectrum of colours, including yellows, browns and reds. From start to finish a final print could take 7+ hours of process work.
Which natural dyes did you use for this series?
The cyanotype chemicals that react with UV light also react with tannin, a chemical compound found in many natural plants (grape seeds and skin, oak and chestnut bark, tea leaves, etc.). By toning prints in a tannin-rich bath, the blues from the cyanotypes are not just darkened or lightened, but altered into new hues. For this series, each of the six prints were made with a separate combination:
Day 1: bleach + wine tannin; Day 2: coffee; Day 3: bleach + black tea; Day 4: wine tannin; Day 5: bleach + green tea; Day 6: green tea.
How did you find inspiration for a story as familiar as Creation?
I sought to create photo-based collages that represented the Creation story in an illustrative yet abstract way. I guess sometimes you read the story all at once and imagine it all quickly coming together. But there’s a mystery in the separation of each day. God could have spoken it all into existence at once but he didn’t. Through these images I imagine how each day would look like before the next happens. I wanted to create a growing sense of God’s creation, so I used an increasing number of source images in each day.
I photographed all these source images throughout my travels around the world as I discovered my love for photography. My international upbringing has given me a greater sense of the vast extent of God’s Creation, from dramatic landscapes to the tiniest birds.
Has this process changed how you approach the story of Creation?
In the beginning (pun intended), I wanted to keep the images as clean as possible. But as I worked with the materials (brushing on the chemicals, dipping prints in and out of toner and wash baths), I grew to love the imperfections of each print. Cyanotypes are notorious for being difficult to control, making it rare for an artist to call them very good, as they virtually all have spots that don’t tone or expose just the way you want. For the final series, I chose to leave the edges of the prints rough and painterly, as a pointer to the physicality of this process. As an artist, I reflect the Creator in my own processes of creating.
Where can people go to see more of your work? Any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
My contact info is listed on malikdieleman.com for ordering prints from the Creation series or other inquiries.
I am eager to get into a darkroom again this year to continue working on cyanotype toning. I will also be co-curating a virtual showcase of Canadian artwork on the themes of Displacement & Belonging. This will exhibit in April 2021 through InterVarsity Canada.