THE BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY. April 2, 1860. p.94
[Read at a Meeting of the Photographic Society of Scotland, March 13th, 1860.]
RATHER more than two thousand years ago Zeuxis, of Heraclea, painted his famous picture of Helena for the people of Crotona, In the composition of which he selected. from five of the most beautiful girls the town could produce, whatever he observed nature had formed most perfect in each, and united them all in one single figure. A reference to the dim traditions of antiquity might perhaps be considered out of date in treating of an art which was discovered only a few years since; but the purpose of the paper I am about to read this evening is to induce you to do in photography something similar to that which the old Greek did in painting, that is, to take the best and most beautiful parts you can obtain suitable for your picture, and join them together into one perfect whole.
I have frequently been requested to give some information on the method I employ in producing photographic prints from two or more negatives: the plan is so simple that I have never before thought it worthy of a written description; however, I have now prepared a few prints, the inspection of which will enable you to understand how these pictures are produced.
It has often been remarked that an artist who would attempt this kind of work must have very great advantages over other photographers--that he must have time to hunt after the scenes of his pictures since it is a matter of chance in finding bits of landscape scenery to suit his figures; also, that few people would take the trouble to carry their models and accessories into the country for the sake of one or two pictures, and the possibility of securing none, as models are sometimes refractory and difficult to arrange. But the truth is, that a great variety of appropriate scenes for figure subjects might be formed on a small piece of ground: the principal parts of most of my photographs containing figures and landscapes combined, were taken in a small birch yard, about fifty feet long by twenty feet wide. In this I have thrown up a bank, and partly covered it with wild flowers and ferns; the other part consists of an imitation of a mountain spring, covered with honeysuckle, brambles, &c. With this arrangement I can get a foreground for almost any variety of landscape: a heath scene, or the top of a mountain, as in Nearing Home; or the side of a river, as in Here they come! and Preparing to cross the Brook; or part of a wheatfield as in Lavinia. At the foot of the bank is a hole, caused by the removal of the earth to make the bank; into this runs the waste water from a print-washing apparatus which forms a river. In this confined space, with the assistance of a spade; and a little ingenuity, a great variety of effects might be produced.
Perhaps the best method of describing double printing will be to take a very simple subject first--although it cannot strictly be called a double print, as only one negative was used. In the picture I have named, Here they come! and for which your society has honoured me with the silver medal, the two figures were placed in position on the bank I have described, and a negative taken of them. At the top of the bank was a brick wall: this was objectionable, and had to be removed from the picture; to do which a print was taken of the plate, but neither toned nor fixed, the figures and bank carefully cut out, and the remaining portion of the paper neatly pasted on the negative. Another print was then taken, in which the sky appeared too white; therefore the print was laid on a board, the figures and bank covered exactly with the impression from which the sky had been cut, a clean glass placed over the whole, and the board was carried into the light and the sky graduated down. This proceeding is very simple, and I have no doubt is known to you all, but it will better enable me to describe that which is to follow.
The next step is to add a landscape to a figure, of which Lavinia and Nearing Home are examples. The same bank has been employed for the figures in these pictures as in Here They Come! but instead of a graduated sky a landscape has been introduced: this is accomplished by taking a landscape negative to suit the subject (which should not be of too important a view so as to overpower the figures, but should rather serve to throw them out in relief), and, cutting out so much of the figure and foreground as will come before the distant view, paste it on the landscape negative: when the negative is printed, it will leave the place for the figures and foreground, plain paper: if the figure negative is now covered over so as to print only in the places which are left for it, the picture will be complete.
At first sight it will appear difficult to place the partly printed pictures in the proper place on the corresponding negative. There are many ways of doing this, and either of which might be chosen to suit the subject: sometimes a needle might be run through some part of the print-- for instance in the angles formed by the joining of the bank to the figure,--and the point being allowed to rest on the corresponding part of the second negative, the print, will then fall in its place at that point: some other point has then to be found at a distance from the first; this might be done by turning up the paper to any known mark on the negative, and allowing it to fall on it: if two points separate from each other are on the right place, all the others must be correct. The printing-frame can then be closed, and placed in the light to print.
This operation is easily performed after a little practice; in fact, all my composition pictures are printed by boys.
Another way of joining the negatives is by placing a candle or lamp under the glass of the printing-frame, and throwing a light through the negative and prepared paper; the joining can then be seen and easily adjusted.
These methods can be applied to any number of negatives forming one picture. I exhibit a print of Fading Away, which was printed from five negatives; the joinings are purposely widened to show how they are combined; you will observe that the composition was so arranged that the divisions occupy unimportant places, easily hidden. This was the first picture I ever composed in photography: of course there are many faults in it, which would not appear so conspicuously if I attempted the subject again. I am sorry to say that the negatives, after giving about two hundred impressions, were injured by damp, through the carelessness of as assistant.
It is sometimes necessary to print a single figure from two negatives: Ophelia is an example of this kind. The head was taken from one model, and the figure from another; the print exhibited will show how this is managed: you will here notice that the edges of the two negatives are shaded oft; and allowed to fall over each other.
The mechanical difficulties in this kind of work are nothing--amateurs of small experience might conquer them with a little practice: the great difficulty is the choice of a subject, the selection of models, and the drilling of them into their work. The principal figure in Fading Away had three years' practice in expression for photography before a satisfactory picture was taken.
It is rather singular that so little has been done in this branch of photography. The method has been practised for many years by the gentleman who first brought it into successful practice, Mr. Rejlander. His pictures have been prominently before the public for some years; but I do not know of anyone, except myself, who has attempted to imitate him. It cannot be that we have no artists among us; we cannot all be so devoted to science that we discard art; our exhibitions give good evidence that there are men practising our profession who can group figures together. It is possible that prints from several negatives combined do not, pay so well commercially as proofs from a single glass; but that should not prevent enthusiastic followers of such a pleasing art from pushing it to its greatest extent; and its application to the highest art purposes is certain. But art is thoughtful work for earnest men, and until a photographer devotes his time entirely to a few good pictures each year, we shall never know what artistic effects can be produced. There are other causes which tend to stay the progress of art in photography. Some critics, even in journals which we might expect to encourage any efforts to advance art, have endeavoured to put down the attempts (failures they might be, but they are well meant) of the few who try to get out of the beaten track--the old Portrait of a Gentleman, or Landscape "without" .Figures, so continually recurring in our exhibitions; they are not content with the condemnation of individual efforts, which would be only fair criticism, but their disapprobation extends to the whole system; one even goes so far as to express not only his indifference but his dislike to all attempts to make figure-pieces. It is not the fault of photography that the man has not yet appeared who will make the best use of the abundant materials provided for him.
It has been said that the possession of a good model is a lucky accident; but that is far from being the case. Art can be extracted out of almost anything. A Hunt, inspired by a Ruskin, can make a picture from an oyster-shell. Take any model, find a suitable subject for it, (and here is an occasion to exhibit the art that has been denied to photography; for a subject must be imagined, and imagination is art,) and instruct it well in its position and expression. Do not be discouraged by one failure or a dozen; fix in your mind the idea you mean to express, and persevere until it is represented. It will be found that the less models know of photography the better. Actors are always bad models; they know so much, and allow the operator to know so little, that the result is not an artistic picture, but a theatrical study. I am not before you to-night to preach the crusade of art in photography; I have long expected abler men to do that. Every meeting produces speakers on lenses, and cameras, and processes, but very little is said about the application of these necessary instruments and discoveries,. I think we are now as perfect as possible in manipulation, as far as black and white are concerned. We want to apply these discoveries to higher purposes than we have hither to done. The means of producing pictures in our art are as good as those of producing paintings in Raphael's time; and nothing but a deep and earnest study is required to make our pictures rank, with the works of the most famous men.