Multiple Exposures

The photographic multiple exposure – intentionally taking more than one image on the same frame of film (or digital image, today) – has fairly limited “serious” use, though it’s fun to play around with. In photojournalism circles, it’s generally frowned upon, though I’m unclear on why; it’s either because it’s an “untrue” representation of “reality”, or because it’s a kind of trite, one-trick pony. Still, that wasn’t always the case, it seems, as some photos from the LIFE Magazine archives attest.

The electronic strobe (as opposed to the flashbulb) came into being around 1940 or so; the early units were not portable, nor mountable to cameras, the way modern flashes are. Still, they did allow the creation of the sorts of photographs that would otherwise have been unobtainable, like this trick pool shot:

I don’t know that Life made much use of these multiple-exposure photos over the years – a quick look through the archive suggests that just one photographer, the famous Gjon Mili, made most of the “stroboscopic” pictures in their collection – but he certainly found a variety of subjects to use the technique on, like this juggler:

Or this delightfully risque study of an underwear-clad model with a jump-rope:

Weirdly, one of my personal favorite uses of multiple exposures is for portraiture; the how-to details were (and still are, I guess) found in most photographic how-to guides of the ’30s and ’50s. Today, digital imagery and tools like Photoshop make the production of “composites” a relatively simple task, and they’re still in vogue in some specialist types of photography, but way back when, almost all multiple-exposure shots were made in camera, which of course required both planning and skill

I couldn’t find many interesting multiple-exposure portraits from Mili in the Life archive, but I did find this interesting photo of FBI agent Del Bryce, taken by Mili in 1945:

Aside from being a pretty cool photo – what gun-nut today wouldn’t like a similar composition of themself? – it’s a really neat look at the “G-Men” of yesteryear, when image was everything to the Bureau, and they spent untold effort maintaining the aura and mystique that surrounded the Special Agents who “always got their man”. The FBI’s reputation today is rather different than it was a half-century ago, and as far as I can tell, the Bureau doesn’t really care; their self-promotional efforts these days lag, among federal law-enforcement agencies, behind those of pretty much everyone except Postal Inspectors…

Given the current economic conditions, I’m almost tempted – almost! – to try and apply for grant funding to photograph some of today’s Special Agents in a similar fashion; the Bureau, being 100 years old, is, however temporarily, taking an interest in their history at the moment, so might even go for it. Of course, merely suggesting taking photos of FBI agents is enough to get one on a watch list these days, and I’m sure that bringing a camera into a Field Office probably entails a full body-cavity search. I guess I don’t need money that badly right now, but don’t let my squeamishness stop you from such an endeavour…

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on December 10th, 2008| Comments Off on Multiple Exposures

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