Most people view the diptych printing from half-frame camera negatives as a given. Read on as contributor, Mark Sullo, describes the discovery and serendipity of finding these unintentional diptychs that bring two separate pictures together as a dynamic pair.
In the past year or so I have renewed my interest in collecting and, now, dealing in vintage photography, aka snapshot, vernacular, anonymous or found photography. Most collectors, naturally, turn toward themes and an aspect of my own looking has turned toward double images found from the half frame camera. It soon became a realization that my own use of the half frame camera has tuned my eye toward them. Any photographer who is accustomed to working from a contact sheet, more a rarity as time passes, has inevitably been in the habit of working with the juxtaposition of two images on a page. More than a few “art” photographers were intentionally using the Olympus Pen camera, which originated in the 60’s and gave twice as many frames per roll of film, to create diptychs… These were simply created in the darkroom by using the entire opening of a 35mm negative carrier frame while including the outer edge of the film. This practice easily fit into the discipline of sequencing images, an essential element of visual thinking, being offered in photography programs… The half frame camera also became a source for the “happy accident” or serendipity of two frames resulting in an unintended composition. These were often far more interesting and enjoyable than the deliberate attempts at pairing images.
I suppose it never dawned on me until much later, that countless examples of these diptychs were being created automatically in photo labs along with the gazillion other snapshots being produced. Most labs never adjusted for this change in format. Photos came back with two images on one print and perhaps many people just cut them down… or went back to the lab with the preferred image and had it enlarged. I started noticing these fortuitous pairings along with the many elusive gems of anonymous images that are so rewarding to find while engaged in the process of collecting vintage photography. As already pointed out on this blog in prior posts, the accidental and unintentional is often a matter of intrigue while collecting photographs. Many an amateur photographer, however, was clearly aware of the unusual and arty approach they were creating with the hobby of photography. My own fascination is piqued when it’s hard to tell if the photographer was at all aware of the visual satisfaction of their results. Most collectors of vintage photography, especially snapshots, would probably concur that this dividing line can be blurred to the point that all that remains is the beauty of the image itself.
I’ve been particularly amused by the discovery of these unintentional diptychs that bring two separate pictures together as a dynamic pair, while remembering the pleasant surprise of finding one on a contact sheet from the half frame camera, or trying deliberately to create one. It’s also helped me with a realization that the satisfaction of looking for “keepers” and “gems” can rival or outdo the pursuit of my personal artistic photography… mostly due to the charm of an image on paper with a quality that could never be matched intentionally. The fact that this realm of paper imagery, which has changed with some uniformity over the past 150 years or so, will have no identifiable equivalent in the future only fuels the fire…
This essay has been kindly provided by Mark Sullo who has had a lifelong interest in creative photography as well as its history . Over the years he has exhibited his photography and collages. Relatively recently, he returned to an interest in anonymous photography. For more information on Mark see his webpage,, photography blog follow him on Twitter or check out his vintage photograhs for sale
You can also see a great list of half frame cameras here
This article originally appeared in a blog focusing on vintage photograph & ephemera at houseofmirthphotos.blogspot.com