Double exposure is the bête noire of photographic history. In the 1860s, artists such as the American photographer William Mumler developed lucrative careers hawking pictures that purported to capture images of relatives from beyond the grave. Coinciding with the rise of Spiritualism, which offered the promise of communicating with the spirit world, Mumler’s work was published in The Herald of Progress as early as 1862. This “spirit photography” was, in fact, a novel trick that involved exposing an image together with a positive glass plate containing an impression of the deceased. In one of Mumler’s boldest works, the phantom of Abraham Lincoln can be seen leaning over a mourning Mary Todd. Mumler was eventually arrested for, and acquitted of, fraud. His trial prompted debates between proponents of natural science and Spiritualism, and provoked a conflict between skeptics and believers. Other photographers used double exposure to create playful, surreal images in which the photographed subject would end up with an identical twin. In one of these images, taken by a photographer in Whalen’s Studio, two identical men can be seen staring at each other in the same frame, a result of the photographer’s deft rotation of the plate.
What makes double exposure threatening or mischievous is the havoc it wreaks on our expectations about the stability of the visual medium. As analog photography gave way to digital photography, artists became able to layer in digitally disparate locations, scenes, images and individuals with ease. Our expectations as viewers of pictures have adjusted to the potential of photography to play such tricks. In my work, I have returned to the medium of traditional film. Unable to predict what the end result would look like, I sought to produce material that was simultaneously realistic and abstract and that would reveal unexpected textures from the natural world. I wanted to stay within one location but walk it over twice to recuperate what I had missed.
These double exposure photographs were shot over two weekends in February 2019 along Seven Lakes Drive, a scenic parkway that begins in Sloatsburg, New York, and stretches for 18 miles north-east until it reaches US 202, on the western bank of the Hudson River. The images were captured on Kodak 35mm Portra Color film using a Pentax K1000 camera. After finishing a roll of film, I would reload and shoot over it. The resulting images as well as the non-overlapping frames visible in some of the shots were semi-planned, felicitous accidents.