There are photographers who want to capture every moment as it truly happened, and then there are those who want to add their own perspective and sense of style. If you fall into the latter group, experimental photography might be just the genre for you. Luckily, this category of photography is broad enough to have something for almost every type of artist.
What is Experimental Photography?
There are several different types of experimental photography, but they all have a few things in common. All involve using the realistic images provided by film, but modifying them to capture an artist’s vision. This usually means using alternative process techniques. This type of photography became common during the mid twentieth century and has been growing and developing ever since. There are a few different subgenres of experimental photography that have since emerged. Here are just a few of the popular types of experimental photography we are seeing in modern times.
Photomontage is a style of experimental photography in which the photographer makes a photograph by combining several different photographs. Before digital technology, this was often done with scissors and glue. The end result was then photographed and processed to get a seamless image. However, in modern times this is easier to accomplish simply by using photo editing software.
Photomontage allows artists to splice together different scenes to make a statement. Elements of different photographs can be combined to create contrast, increase the beauty of an image, or even to make a social or political statement. A photographer can use their own photographs or those taken by someone else, although using someone else’s work will require getting their permission and agreeing on terms.
Also known as camera-less photography, this subgenre involves arranging items on photosensitive paper or other material and then exposing them to light. This creates ghostly white outline images on a dark gray background, an appearance that many of us associate with an x-ray. This type of experimental photography is interesting to work with, but many photographers find the constrictions frustrating.
This style is related to photograms, although it takes the concept one step further and uses images taken with cameras. In this method, a print (usually black and white) is treated so that all or part of it takes on the opposite tone. That is, light areas appear dark and dark areas appear light. This is usually done by extreme overexposure, although certain post-processing techniques can also accomplish it. Solarization is most interesting when a single portion of a photograph is treated with this effect, while the rest remains traditional. It often takes viewers a long time to figure out exactly what is wrong with the image they are viewing.
This style of experimental photography also involved darkroom processes rather than the way in which the photograph is taken. They usually involve using light sensitive dichromates to add colors one by one. This gives the artist complete control over the levels of color and they way that they develop. The finished results are usually multi-layered and unreal, more similar to a painting than to a standard photograph.
Performance Art Photography
There are times when photography overlaps with performance art, often with beautiful results. Although the photographer was once considered the capturer of a scene rather than a part of it, genres such as light painting make it clear that this is no longer the case. The use of digital media, new advancements in photography technology, and a generally higher level of creativity are expanding photography to a performance art as well as a type of media.
Nontraditional Light Sources
More and more photographers are becoming interested in the way other kids of light can be used to create interesting photographs. For example, infrared and ultraviolet photography are both genres that are increasing in photography. Not only will these give your photographs a different kind of feeling, they often capture different shapes and lines due to the very different spectrums of light involved. Many ghost hunters and paranormal experts also claim that these light sources can reveal entities not seen by the naked eye, although whether you believe this is up to you.
Many types of experimental photography fall under this category. After all, if you want to change a photograph, changing the camera is a powerful way of accomplishing this. Toy cameras were once thought of an inferior machines, but creative types soon realized that their simple nature made it easy to produce certain effects, such as bending light. Pinhole cameras are another type of nontraditional camera typically seen in experimental photography. The unique images created by these were popular with Dadaist photographers.
These nontraditional cameras are popular for experimentation for several reasons. First, they are cheap enough that photographers don’t worry about ruining them. Second, the mechanisms by which they work are simple enough that an experienced photographer can identify different parts and modify them as desired.
Transfer Printing Processes
Dye transfer printing can produce brighter colors than other types of printing while also giving an expanded range. In fact, this type of photography may be considered experimental, but it is the same technique used for well known Technicolor films. It involves using absorbent gel matrices to transfer each of the three basic color tones, one at a time. Although Eastman Kodak, the creator of the method, stopped making supplies for this technique more than fifteen years ago, many photographers are using similar methods with homemade or alternative materials. The result is interesting and eye catching color effects that give a whole new life to the photograph in question.
These are not the only types of experimental photography. It is impossible to mention even a small percentage of the different ways of capturing a photographic subject in a unique and artistic manner in an article of this size. Hopefully this sampling of experimental photography techniques will give you an idea of what appeals most to you and get you started in creating art of your design.