A mistake, a glitch – this was the original conception of multiple exposures on film. This fault usually occurs when an analogue photographer has neglected to wind the film ahead before shooting the next frame. The outcome of this is a number of images superimposed over one another, creating mysterious, often dreamlike compositions.
Although these photographs were typically deemed useless and set aside, it was the Surrealists who originally embraced the visual effects that multiple exposures could produce. Spanning out from the theories of Sigmund Freud and André Breton, Surrealist artists sought to transport the subconscious imagination into reality. Man Ray was a particular artist who made use of double exposures in his work. For example, his 1922 portrait of Marchesa Luisa Casati created an eerie appearance of a woman with four eyes, forming a eulogy to the Surrealist notion of the uncanny.
In the age of the digital camera, photographs became more reliable and predictable and as a result, this sort of technical fault no longer occurred. In recent years, however, a sense of nostalgia for film photography has emerged and people have now come to appreciate the arbitrary quirks that come with it. This has led contemporary photographers to experiment with layering exposures, producing stunning visual effects. Fashion photographers, perhaps most famously Paolo Roversi and Mark Borthwick, have adopted this technique in order to create delicately ethereal results in their work.
What is truly special about the use of multiple exposures in contemporary photography is that it allows artists to produce images that are truly unique and cannot be recreated. With analogue cameras, photographers have greater creative freedom and can experiment with light and colour in their work. This is what makes double exposures so alluring and spectacular.
Article by Katherine Beckwith
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