Based in Minneapolis and New York City, Martin Blanco is a director, cinematographer, and analog photographer originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela. Fascinated by the intersection of identity, memory, and context, Martin’s photography series, “Echoes,” explores these ideas through enchanting multiple exposures.
How did you get into film photography in the first place?
I had never owned a personal camera until about two years or so ago. Growing up, I would always sneak out with my stepmom’s DSLR or ask friends to borrow their's, wandering about the backwoods and undeveloped roads of my Minnesota town while cherishing every single second with the gear. When I moved to New York for film school, however, all of that went away, and though cinematic equipment became available for film productions, the resources for photography became slim. And then, almost two years ago, a friend of mine loaned me her dad’s old Canon AE-1 Program. I had always dreamed of film, of its grain, of its faded hues. So when the opportunity finally presented itself, I dove head first and started carrying a camera with me everywhere I went. No rules, no expectations. Just experimenting, thinking, and discovering. A few months later, on my birthday, my friend surprised me and gifted me the camera for real. And from then on, I guess the rest is history!
We love your multiple exposure series. Please tell us a little bit about how that came about.
In that initial period of experimentation, I played a lot with various [film] stocks, in-camera effects, and experimental techniques (one of them being multi-exposures). I even remember the first one I took. It was the last frame at the end of a roll. I am really cheap when it comes to film, so I hate shooting the same thing twice or taking a photo that I am completely uncertain about. But hey, I figured I needed to shoot out the thing anyways, so I gave it a go! Needless to say, even the menial risks pay off.
What fascinates you about this particular method?
Thinking back to those conceptual ideas of memory, identity, and context, I was quickly fascinated by how, through a combination of portraiture and landscape within the same frame, not only was I able to achieve the illusion of seeing the two elements at once, but I also realized the marvel created through the combination. It was like an ethereal window to an in-between dimension. Like a half-remembered dream, these fusions brought about a certain loss to the specific details of each separate image, and, instead, in their combination, they invoked the magical feeling that pushed me to pursue both photographs in the first place. So I needed to shoot more!
Speaking specifically about this photo collection, "Echoes" proved to be a deeper examination into the trio of memory, identity, and context, and how the three applied, even subconsciously, to myself. By looking back and examining my multi-exposure work of the past two years, I realized certain perspectives on composition and color were reincarnating, resurfacing with new subjects, new places, and new twists. Being that multi-exposures already presented themselves as more surreal photographs in that they illustrate a headspace or thought, seeing this work together encouraged me to ask questions about those specific perspectives and how they pertain to past memories and future possibilities. If anything, they’re a reminder that the two do not exist independent of each other and that nothing is ever gone. In the future, we will find our past, and in our past, our future.
What are you shooting with and how do you go about shooting the double exposures? Do you create an idea of the final image in your head beforehand or do you shoot one frame first without knowing what the second one will be?
I am still shooting on the AE-1 Program my friend gifted me some years ago. To my luck, the camera still proves to be one of the most intuitive prosumer SLRs, and its ability to override the frame-skip function greatly facilitates multi-exposures. Keeping this in mind, I only shoot one frame at a time without much consideration of what the second or third elements will be. The deciding factor is always the Moment: the specific sights or feelings experienced in that instance. Usually, I finish the multi-exposure shot within a few hours of when I took the original frame, but honestly, it can go on for days or even weeks!
Any advice for people who want to start experimenting with multiple exposures?
The biggest thing—and, honestly, what I need to do more of myself—is to trust your gut. Don’t waste time thinking “What if it doesn’t turn out?” or “What if this doesn’t mean anything?”. Don’t think. Take the photo! Experience shows that even if in the moment you can’t tell why it sticks out to you, or whether it’ll work, or whether you’ll like it in the first place, you might find yourself weeks, months, even years removed from that instance and finally be thankful for that picture.
With more technical elements of multi-exposures, I can only speak to what works for me. The first thing to note is that there are multiple processes, which mainly differ from shooting an exposure at a time or shooting out an entire roll only to shoot over it once again. Find what works for you and what allows you to experiment!
If pursuing the one-at-a-time method, then the most important things to keep in mind are 1) underexpose slightly and 2) keep track of your shadows. If you underexpose—even by half a stop—you create new pockets for that second image to shine through, new ways to be surprised once the roll is processed and scanned! And then, if you keep track of the shadows in your original frame, you can then position your second or third photos with intention, introducing texture, color, and patterns that elevate the previous photo.
One last thing—if you can find it, cling onto Lomography CN 800! It has beautiful, paint-like grain that is exquisite in multi-exposures. Plus, the ability to use it in both daylight and nighttime is perfect.