The Creative Black and White Double Exposures of Robin Vandenabeele

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All images by Robin Vandenabeele. Used with permission.

Double exposures take not only lots of technical know-how, but an incredible amount of creative vision to accomplish correctly and to the point where they captivate a viewer. So when Robin Vandenabeele showed us his take on the method, we were simply amazed. Robin has been shooting for the past 15 years with an old Practice MTL5 until moving over to a Pentax Mz-5 SLR camera.

“I love film for it’s grain and I love slide film especially for cross processing, the results of which never cease to amaze me.” says Robin. While cross processing seems to put off lots of other photographers, it’s much different when done with the right processing after that. Robin shoots all his double exposures in the camera, then he cross processes, scans, converts to black and white and then adjusts the exposure and levels.

“I love experimenting and messing things up, just to see a surprising result.”

We talkd to Robin more about Double exposures.

Phoblographer: What first got you into photography?

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Robin: I have always been interested in the visual arts and wanted to create images myself for a long time, but lacking the necessary drawing and painting skills as well as the patience involved for these, I chose the path of photography. I felt photography could be a means of showing people how I saw the world by capturing moments, details, compositions that revealed themselves in everyday life or simply how beautifully things could be lit at certain moments. Things that could not be translated into words, could be communicated in this way I felt.

Phoblographer: Double exposures are really tough for a lot of people to do in camera digitally and we can only imagine how tough it is to do it on film. Technically speaking, how do you do this type of work?

Robin: Double exposures can be really tricky if you don’t have a basic knowledge of how film or an image sensor works. Basically you have to imagine a black canvas on which you paint with (colored) light. It is as if you would erase the black bit by bit by applying light in different intensities and colors until you are left with only white. But instead of using brushes you would be using your composition which is made up of geometrical spaces with varying intensities. To make successful double exposures you need to be able to visualize what overlapping intensities will do. Very simply put where dark spaces overlap the resulting part of the image will also be dark, but where light and dark overlap, the light will erase according to its intensity. Where light and light overlap it will be light on the resulting double exposure. So in order to visualize the end result you really have to know what makes your image, the light or the dark parts. Making a double exposure solely out of greys can be really hard to read I find.

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In a way my double exposures are easy because i frame two identical subject on a single frame. With a little exercise it is not too hard to visualize the end result although there are always surprises popping up in the final picture.

I imagine that when using two different subjects it would be a lot more difficult to visualize the result. (perhaps a quickly drawn sketch or compact camera might prove useful in such a case as a visual hint).

Phoblographer: Creatively speaking, how do you come up with the scenes and ideas of what you want to photograph?

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Robin: I do not have a moodboard or fixed ideas of what I want to achieve when I work on my personal projects. I prefer to wander around and look closely at my surroundings. When I’m on such a stroll I usually think of nothing but potential images and see nothing but possible compositions. Fellow photographers, and perhaps videographers as well, will recognize this adopted habit of ‘looking in frames’, no doubt a product of intensive and passionate photographing over the years. This all seems to happen rather subconciously and I have also found photography to work very therapeutic for myself: when I am distressed or in a foul mood and I go out photographing, the act itself has the ability to clear out my head from negative thoughts and I usually end up with pretty good results at the same time, a win-win situation.

Phoblographer: This obviously takes a lot of trial and error; so how many times do you feel like you fail at creating what you envisioned and how do you learn from your failures?

Robin: Well, because I experiment a whole lot I tend not to see these ‘failures’ as such per se, but rather as the photographic equivalent of brainstorming, that stage of planning in which there are no stupid ideas yet. Any of those failures could be the seed for a next project. Keep in mind that a lot of photographic techniques and consequently great images were born out of so-called ‘failures’ , think of solarization, cross-processing, high-key and low-key images and of course multiple exposures. So in my mind there are no real failures. The trick is to recognize what makes the images unique and try to reproduce that feature while improving the parts of the image that did not work. That said I do admit that I produce my fair share of ‘poor’ pictures, but which artist produces 100% satisfactory work? I tip my hat to that guy or gal.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.