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My name is Dan and I am a compositor. About 5 years ago I got into a debate while having dinner with an art director friend. I described how I was collaborating with an animator to construct images that were part rendered illustration, part photography. His argument was, if I continue to composite photos or CG objects & locales into my images I will only attract clients who didn’t have the means to build props or pay for exotic locations. This concerned me.
At the time I had decided to leave editorial photography and build a portfolio that emphasized photo-illustration. I simply didn’t have the resources, budget or clout to execute some of my more ambitious ideas. For me it was a simple matter of problem solving. I left dinner feeling I was doomed to only work with clients who had no budget or resources. Thankfully this turned out not to be true. And it occurred to me recently that I would work with clients who had one important trait; Imagination.
Often you will hear professional photographers say with an air of hubris, “I prefer to capture everything in camera” belittling Photoshop and digital composites as a crutch for inferior technique. I think this dismissive attitude is dangerous because it restricts creativity. I would hate for a great idea to be left unexplored simply because it was unattainable through conventional means or was bound by the authentic.
What attracted me to the composited image was that I was not beholden to the corporeal. For me it was liberating to know that anything I could imagine could (theoretically) be constructed. Sometimes in studio and, if need be, in post.
What if Salvador Dali never explored the idea of a melting watch because it didn’t or couldn’t exist outside his imagination? Painters have never been impeded by reality, why should photographers?
I first began experimenting with composited images when I was studying at Emily Carr University. Photoshop didn’t even have layers yet. These images were created using a combination of in-camera as well as darkroom “tricks” such as masks, multiple negatives and blending techniques under the enlarger. The process involved was painstaking and mind-numbingly complicated and was extremely expensive. Each print was one of a kind and impossible to duplicate unless you copy-standed them and sacrificed a generation. The only difference between the composites I made then and the ones I make now is that the tools have changed. (If you want to see how much an image was altered before Photoshop look at Richard Avedon’s famous instructions to his printer.) http://manifestphoto-thefstopshere.tumblr.com/post/850283627/richard-avedons-instructions-to-his-printer
Many photographers including myself are deliberately challenging the assumed authenticity of the photograph as document. We’re not journalists. Truth is not always captured, recorded or discovered. For many of us truth is manifested through a process of fabrication and deception.
Compositing or constructed photography is almost as old as photography itself. In 1858 H.P. Robinson created the image Fading Away from five separate negatives. A more famous example is Oscar Rejlander’s The Two Ways of Life from 1857 a composite of approximately thirty different negatives. When I saw a print of The Two Ways of Life in person I was unaware at first that it was a composite. But I was struck by it’s beauty and complexity. http://manifestphoto-thefstopshere.tumblr.com/post/850289857/oscar-gustave-rejlanders-composited-image-the-two
Ultimately I don’t care whether the image is created in post, in the darkroom or shot in camera. I wish people would stop asking me how I made a picture and would start asking me why I made a picture. For me, how I got there doesn’t matter as much as why I chose to embark on that journey in the first place.
150 Years ago Rejlander said; “the time will come when a work will be judged on its merits, not by the method of production…”
The good news is there is room for all kinds of photography. And diversity is good.
More about O.G. Rejlander: http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/rejlande.htm
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