Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Photo Multigraphs

Charles Dana Lewis, Photo by Bostwick, NY. From the Images of the History of Medicine Collection, National Library of Medicine

In the late nineteenth century, a photographic technique emerged, enjoyed limited popularity, and then sank into obscurity. Via the internet, I have been able to learn about this technique, which I find fascinating. The photos are called fivefold portraits or photo multigraphs. Thanks to the web site Uneinsamkeite/Unsolitudes, authored by Herr Heinz-Werner Lawo, many of these mesmerizing photos are now online. The photos were typically made into postcards.

How was it done? With mirrors. The subject was seated in front of two mirrors which intersected at an angle of 65-75 degrees, which resulted in four refections of the subject. The photographer stood behind the subject to capture the image. Usually, the subject faced away from the photographer and toward the mirrors, although he may have been seated in profile or facing the camera. A popular motif was to have the subject seated at a table, appearing to play cards with four clones of himself.

I had to give this a try, so I went out a bought a couple mirrors and set them up to obtain this photo of The Intrepid Explorer, which you may recognize from an earlier post, "Shadow Shot Sunday, #71."

Intrepid Explorer, Photo Multigraph by David Cory, 2009

Rather than launch into a detailed description of the history and technique of photo multigraphs, I will refer the interested reader to an excellent article, "A Multigraph from Montreal," by Irwin Reichstein.

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