I learn about myself and the world through photography. Going out into the streets with my camera, I move slowly toward truths both big and small. Through the portal of the lens, I find the world renewed, changed somehow. I can see it in a new way. And with experimental photography, I am free to continue pursuing those truths even after the shutter opens and closes.
It begins with inspiration. The world calls my attention to it. I have to find a way to capture it through the camera -- asking questions about framing, lighting, and how to evoke the feeling the moment gives me. And back in my home, there are still so many questions to explore. In manipulation and printing techniques, my journey continues to dig deeper into what I found.
But perhaps the most exciting part of experimental photography is that, because the search for the image is so open, you don't get bored easily. I'm restless, and doing the same thing over and over again quickly tires me out. But in this new genre, I've found a way to endlessly return to the task.
Experimental photography not only keeps me engaged with my work, it also brings me into closer contact with the medium. I'm self-taught, which means I'm always trying to learn new techniques.
My journey started in digital photography -- only switching to analogue a short while ago. Of course, digital photography makes taking pictures so easy, but it separates you from the process. When I began with film photography, I took my pictures and then handed them off to the lab to be processed.
Then I discovered film soup, a development technique that we'll talk more about below. Learning this brought me into an even deeper connection, and I own it all to experimental photography.
Up to this point, I've created three series in the form: Illusion, Crossing Boundaries and Saving Face. Still, I continue to explore. With the new approach for abstract photography, I continue to develop my art and my relationship with the medium. So I thought I'd devote an entire post to it, as it has meant so much to me. And hopefully, it will mean as much to you.
Experimental photography uses the camera and/or development techniques in non-traditional ways. It might pursue abstract shapes and colours rather than strictly representing something. Or, it could represent things in a new, unique style. Simply put, it is a process in which you mix / combine science with art.
When it comes to methods in experimental photography, there is so much to discover. The term is frequently used in darkroom techniques, but it does not end there. It includes film and digital mix, playing with exposure times, and basically anything else you can think of that pushes the boundaries of how we create images with a camera.
To get you thinking about how to create in the genre, I've assembled a short list of examples. Some of these only with film photography, but they can be approximated in a raster graphics editor like Photoshop. For each item, I've included an example from my own work.
This is a process that uses chemicals to change the emulsion of a film image that creates semi-random effects. It works best with colour film photography, but can be used in black-and-white, though it will be more limited. Take a look at my post on Friendship Path to see it in action. You might like to check out this useful tutorial from Shootitwithfilm.com.
Slow Shutter Speed
By slowing down the shutter speed, multiple moments are captured on the same frame. This creates a smearing effect that expresses motion.
Here, you expose the same piece of film more than once. This layers images, allowing two photographs to interact with each other.
You can also combine these and many other techniques in a single photograph. This is where the rubber hits the road, leading you to places you never thought you could go. Consider the image below, where I mixed film soup with slow shutter.
Beyond these, there are countless more printing techniques, cameraless photography (you read that right), and digital manipulation techniques. Experimental photography has no limits, and once you start this path, it seems to fork into more opportunities to create art.
With that in mind, many of these require a lot of trail and error to understand and master. A photographer could dedicate themselves for years to a single method. So take your time and enjoy the process.
Experimental photography breaks through our expectations and assumptions about the medium. It gives the photographer so much more power to express themselves. And it also helps you understand the fundamentals deeper. By experimenting, we learn the true meaning of what our camera settings and choices in the darkroom are doing -- and we carry that understanding with us when working in more traditional forms of photography.
Have fun! Experimental photography will change your art forever. It will unlock new possibilities, empower your eye to see things it never did before, and think about art in a more creative way. It will revitalise yourself and reawaken the world. So go forth and experiment!
Photographer and visual storyteller based in Bangkok
BRYCE Watanasoponwong is a photographer and visual storyteller. He is interested in blending both analogues and digital techniques, resulting in a colourful, experimental aesthetic. He wants his work to evoke emotion and connect people with their mental health... read on