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The Querist of Forms

Seeing Double: Two Kinds of Double-Exposures with Polaroid Cameras

Ever since I got my Polaroid Spectra, I've been experimenting diligently with various "guerrilla" techniques for making and altering instant photos.  One of those techniques, the double exposure, is particularly wonderful for adventurous people who want to make equally adventurous images. The exciting truth is that these methods allow you to set up a double-exposure--combining subjects and textures and lighting conditions using your imagination & experience--without completely controlling the results!  If you like the sound of that, read on!

Boris the Spectra

The basic method of creating double exposures using a Spectra series camera is demonstrated in this excellent video produced by The Impossible Project. I used that as a basic jumping off point, but I found that I could get some nice results by using IP's SilverShade PZ600 film, not the ColorShade the guys are using in the video. 

As always with Impossible Project films, you will want to be extremely conscientious about protecting the picture from light RIGHT after it emerges from your camera! The Spectra ejects its photos face-up, which means the potential for overexposure is built-in.  There are many ways of working with this issue, and Impossible Project outlines several on its website and in videos. For these next pictures, I just postponed ejecting each photo until I was in a dark, windowless room.  I then placed the images face-down to develop, as recommended. 

This picture was almost a complete mistake, as I accidentally started the timer process for the second exposure before I was ready--I hadn't even picked out my second subject. Not knowing what else to do, I just held Boris above my head, pointed at the sky, as the timer beeped ominously (like a targeting alert on a ship under fire)!  I was surprised and pleased by the result, especially the funny complementary diagonals created by the wiring ducts on the wall and the edges of the buildings that frame the sky.




Here's a nice approach to portraiture using double exposure.  Here I used my familiarity with my subject to determine some elements of the picture, enlisting a well-used "prop" to serve as a kind of secondary portrait.  My first exposure was the bicycle, and the second the actual person.  If I do this one over, I might see what happens if I do it in reverse order.  The "ghostly" figure is not usually what people want in a portrait, even if it does look cool.






Here I am using the classic "hold camera at arm's length and stare into the lens" method of self-portraiture.  It usually works astonishingly well for me, and in this case it seems moderately successful.  The interesting thing here is that the two exposures do not use the same spatial orientation, so the overlapping picture planes create a visual tension within the image.  Keep that idea in mind as you look at the next three doubles...




Jesse: Big Swinger

I also recently purchased a vintage Polaroid that uses only black and white "packfilm"--the kind you peel apart after it develops, to reveal your photo and a negative image (rich with additional possibilities for picture-making, in our digitally enhanced age).  It's a "Big Swinger" model, first manufactured in 1968, so the camera and I are about the same age--and that's vintage, baby.  Anyway, its compatible film is still being made by Fuji, and that makes it a very accessible tool for the classic instant-photo enthusiast.  Here's a bad digital photo of a very good Jesse: 










Packfilm instant cameras work very differently from the more recent (and iconic) styles of instant cameras--the ones that spit out the photo. The Big Swinger is one of the models of Polaroid that require the photographer's own muscle power to start the development process and to get the picture out of the camera.  The operation is so basic that it can feel almost anticlimactic.  But that very simplicity of operation makes room for so much versatility in picture-making!  The pull-out pictures make the Swinger family (and its relatives) damn near perfect for double-exposures.  All you have to do is not pull out the picture after the first exposure!


This image is the first one in which I experimented with photographing parts of my body in the second exposure.  I was intrigued here with how readable the hand was in relation to the fallen slats of the first exposure.  It looks like some giant grasping to pick up the boards--and it was not intentional!  A great example of the interaction between different scales or spatial relationships.


This is the definitive "competing picture planes" image.  What the heck is going on here?  Giants practicing hapkido on antique furniture?  These pictures invite viewer participation through the narrative impulse.  We want to make up stories to explain or illuminate what we see.







This is the most bizarre self-portrait I've ever made.  I'm emerging from the wall, behind a stylized solar disk created by the brightly-lit chair seat and back.  The two exposures use different orientations as well as different planar locations, creating a fascinating and disorienting setting for this highly symbolic portrait.  What is my relationship to my environment?  What is yours?

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