On a hot, sultry summer day in July of 1888 Kodak opened it’s doors introduced an affordable camera and proceeded to change the world. Photography and the attendant technologies it has spurred, have changed the way we see, broadened the visions we can imagine, enhanced and deepened our understandings of, and, our relationships to nature, to others, to the world and to ourselves . To give an idea just how entranced and/or addicted people become when they take up photography, I found an 1895 article in the San Francisco Chronicle that observed: “when the mania for photography takes hold of a man it is said to exceed in strength the passion for French cooking…the camera with the man as much as the smoker with his tobacco.” The love affair with tobacco is gone and Julia Childs is dead but photography continues to seduce and hypnotize. Since then to now, there have been those who have found after taking up the camera, that photography can be much more than it seems at first sight.
From back then to here and now photographers, engineers, artists, computer scientists, among others have continued to explore the perceptual possibilities unique to this medium. Whether one is engaged in creating new ways of expanding our visual fields through computer based inventions such as HDR and Image Stacking; or exploring new ways to use old ideas photography continues to blow the doors of conventionality off their hinges and affording us new ways of measuring, describing and documenting our life and life itself.
On the other hand… (there is always an “other hand” isn’t there?) There are those whose intent it is to use camera and photo-craft work to explore abstractions, impressions, and expressionistic methods and styles – of what can be called a contemplative approach to photography. I call it dancing in the light – Karr and Wood call it “learning to see.” One aim of this approach is uncovering the world by seeing through our perceptions, and as we do that, we may start to see and experience the world as a mirrored reflection of ourselves. My process and development as a photographer, as a person, as an artist, rests upon multiple sources of inspiration and teachings that I draw upon. We all stand on the shoulders of others who have come before who discovered methods, tools and techniques that we have adopted. We are all students and it behooves us to give credit to those whose work and insights that have benefited us all. Cartier-Bresson taught “the camera always points both ways.” Dorthea Lange helped us see how “the camera can be an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera,” and Minor White drew connections between Zen concepts and photography when he observed “always by accident the lens bends light in such a way that the image can function as a koan” and “once we have seen how the accident works, some chose to repeat it on purpose.”
My first awareness of alternative methods of doing camera work occurred when I stumbled upon a wonderfully titled book: “The Joy of Photography,” by Freeman Patterson. The second I saw Patterson’s work I was hooked and I doubled down on creating what was being whispered about as “Impressionistic Photography” when I came upon Michael Orton’s visionary work using slide sandwiching. Under the heady influence of Patterson and Orton, and recalling the teachings of Minor White, Ernst Haas, and Gordon Parks, I grew very excited. It took no time at all, however to realize that understanding the technique required that I toss what I had learned to be “the right way” and learn how to open to different ways of approaching the subjects I chose as my primary subjects – Flowers, foliage and the occasional brick wall.
Naturally, when I first began to practice creating images through the application of multiply exposed frames, I told myself “I’m just trying to master an effect – learn a technique.” And that was true, as far as I knew. I really knew nothing of what I had gotten into only that it was fun, challenging, and I was seeing and making images unlike anything I’d imagined before. I quickly saw that learning how to create images using this method was going to take time and practice but the potential rewards and possibilities were limited only by imagination. I have not been disappointed.
Getting Started: A forewarning – When you create images in-camera that are composed of more than one layer strange things happen. You will get unexpected color, shifts in saturation and hue. You will also start to see light in very new ways. Be prepared to let go of much of what you know about “how photography is supposed to be done.” Get ready for a perceptual and psychological adventure that if pursued mindfully and with passion, will transform your life!
Camera Equipment: I use Nikon. I chose Nikon for their commitment to photographers, the lenses, and their ability to create in-camera multiple exposures. Mine is a D200. It has been a workhorse and has it’s own peculiarity of function and form. One must learn to understand their camera’s tendencies throroughly both to know how to correct for them and how to creatively use them.
This requires practice. Going out frequently and with an attitude of openness. One needs I think, to move beyond simply knowing how all the elements of exposure theoretically work – and discovering how your own particular camera works. “Say What?” You ask? Yes, I know, this sounds radical if not sacreligeous, blasphemous or at least outright heretical.
I can’t say for you but for me I’ve rarely met or known any two cameras that could capture images exactly alike. Secondly, going out often will encourage one to go beyond composing their images only by looking through the lens and will cultivate one’s abilities to imagine what they can do with the lens and the varying perspectives a good lens brings. I think it is largely through repetition one starts to learn to visualize how our lenses and our camera’s record different subjects, different colors and hues. Repetition, is key, I believe in discovering how to apply the camera to expand awareness, and deepen concentration so that one can also train the eye to see precise differences of focal planes or points.
If you are using Nikon brand pro or advanced DSLR cameras chances are there is feature in the camera menu for setting up the camera’s settings. I use a Nikon D200 and on this camera the menu for the ME settings is under the Tool menu. When you select the ME menu it will ask if you want “auto correction” and you do. It will then ask how many exposures you want – from 2 to 10. I don’t think there is any right number exactly for any given subject. That said if you are trying to do still life’s I would start with 2 and if, on the other hand you want to play with motion and blur then start out with 9 and see what happens. For my work the lens I prefer to use is the Nikon 200mm F4 Micro lens. With the D200 the focal length becomes 300 mm that provides a large working distance range and the glass in the lens is state of the art. If you are going to do serious macro get yourself a crisp dedicated Macro lens. The Nikon is heavy and has a tripod collar which allows more freedom of compositional angles – a freedom you will be glad to have. A second lens I often use is a 70-300 Nikon zoom – the cheap one – with a 45 mm extension tube lends a softer dreamier look to floral work. Finally, I often will wonder around with a 90mm Tamron Macro lens that ends up being a 135 mm focal length lens when on the D200.
Playfulness, patience, and practice in no particular order will determine your ability to learn how to create images that work for you. I will discuss these qualities, their psychological and spiritual components and suggest practical ways to incorporate them into your photographic work flow in a series of posts following (preceding) this one – in posts to follow – I will also be discussing in greater detail the issues of exposure, composition, image registration, post-processing and other facets of creating images using in-camera multiple exposure techniques. The how-to along with my what-for approach to contemplative photography.