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"Why" The Composite Image
When I go around photographic societies and camera clubs giving lectures, a lot of my pictures that are shown are composites where I have combined several images together to produce the final picture. I have been asked on many occasions why I do this; the answer I give is “When it comes to my photography, in most cases, the picture starts off as an idea or concept in my head. Which then has to be transferred to the print or slide you see in front of you. So I have to be in total control at the taking stage. I can’t leave to chance that something might happen, I have to create it myself”. Now this might mean I set up or arrange the scene by bringing together all the components, ready to be photographed. But this might not be practicable every time for various reasons. So instead I photograph the parts separately and combine them afterwards to produce the final image. Digital manipulation obviously lends itself more to this than the dark room ever did. However in some peoples eyes this is not photography and I do open myself up to a lot of criticism, but as we all know “nothing is new”, so at this stage I would like to introduce you to two photographers who were around in the early years of photography.
Oscar Rejlander (1817 – 1875)
and Henry Peach Robinson (1830 – 1901)
Rejlander was a Swede who studied painting in Italy. He moved to England in about 1840 and turned his energies to photography after being inspired by one of Fox Talbot’s assistants. One of his most famous photographs is called
“The two ways of life”, it depicts a sage type character guiding two young men towards manhood. One young man looks with some eagerness towards gambling, wine, prostitution and idleness, whilst the other looks (with less enthusiasm) towards figures representing religion, hard work, families and good works. When first shown in 1857 at an exhibition it provoked considerable controversy, although Victorians were used to nakedness in paintings and sculptures, they considered photographs were too true to life. But after Queen Victoria purchased a copy for her husband (at ten guineas) the photograph became respectable. Such a picture would have required a large studio and a great amount of light. What makes this photograph such a remarkable piece of work is the fact that it is a composite of no fewer than thirty negatives. It had taken Rejlander and his wife no less than six weeks to produce, they could only print by day light with exposures up to two hours, each very carefully done with masks. Rejlander produced many pictures in this way and in 1858 he read a paper to the Photographic Society (forerunner to the R.P.S.) outlining the method he used, which in turn opened him up to great criticism. Rejlander, a man who was never known to use a word that hurt the feelings of others, was clearly crushed by this reaction, and was heard to say “the time will come when a work will be judged on its merits, not by the method of production”……….
Henry Peach Robinson was a pioneer of pictorialist photography, earning the term “the King of photographic picture-making” and was certainly one of the greatest photographers of his time. The limitations of photography caused him to perfect the method of combination printing (composites), for which he particularly remembered. It is possible that he was first introduced to the technique by Oscar Rejlander, one of his friends. Perhaps the most famous of his pictures is “Fading Away” (1858) a composite of five negatives, in which he depicts a girl dying of consumption and the despair of the other members of the family. This was a controversial photograph, and some felt that the subject was not suitable for photography. But Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert bought a copy and ordered a copy of every composite picture Robinson produced. At a time when the Photographic Society seemed more obsessed with the scientific aspects of photography, Robinson was stressing the need to “see” a picture, advise which still holds good today. In 1862 Robinson was elected to serve on the council of the Photographic Society, and continued to serve until 1891 when, frustrated by the failure of the Society to recognise the artistic dimensions of photography, he resigned. But in 1900 he was awarded an honorary Fellowship by the now Royal Photographic Society, its highest award.
So I would like to conclude, I feel I am just carrying on with the work started so many years ago.
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