I’m a photographer.
I don’t know how long I have been calling myself that for, and for how long I’ve deserved it — if only I even deserve it. But hey, let’s say I am.
As a photographer, one of the things I pride myself in is seeing the world and looking at it. Actually seeing things, people and what surrounds me, actually looking at it, not just letting my eyes glance over the world but noticing it, gazing at it, trying it out for depth, contrast, aesthetics and meaning.
I think this way of looking around, looking at the world with meaning, makes out a big part of my photographic work. As a photographer who captures most of his pictures in the streets — although not a street photographer, far from it — this skill is very precious to me. As a human being living in a large city and an even larger society, this way of really looking at my surroundings, be it buildings or fellow human beings, makes for a more social, sensitive, open way of thinking.
Sorry if I ramble on with this pseudo-philosophical stuff, but it does have its importance for the series I’m presenting in this submission. It will make sense soon, hang tight 🙂
The idea of being this aware of the world you go through everyday has been growing on me for quite some time, almost unconsciously at first, then nurtured and protected consciously to help me obtain the images I wanted.
And this is the idea I’ve been trying to share with people through my latest photographic works. I’ve been trying to get people to notice things, to see a bit better, look around a bit more. With some success, which really pleased me. People sending me photos that made them think of me, of my work, telling me they see something worth shooting while walking with me on the street, that’s what I looked for and kinda achieved.
Let’s get to it then. I hope you get the feeling I tried to establish, keep it somewhere up there as you read on and look at the collages 😉
« Collages » is my latest series, latest major piece of work, and probably my biggest photographic achievement. It follows, is inspired and builds on my preceding exhibited series which was called « Please Look Up ». As you probably guessed it, the latest was my first attempt at convincing people to actually look up at the world, and featured banal buildings extracted from their environment, focused on geometry and the graphic power of their appearance to show that anything can muster beauty if looked at the right way.
With my collages, I went a step (or more) further in this philosophy. I kept on shooting in the streets, on my everyday commutes, walks and wanderings, with whatever film is in my Olympus XA at the time. There was no real search for a good subject, the subjects appeared by themselves, I just had — have to look to find them.
All I had to do to find the photos, the raw material for the collages work, was walk around as I would have anyway, walk around and look around and shoot whatever felt right to me. Later on, I believe what felt right, this “sensible moment”, is what you’ll be able to share with other people. Not just the photography, the actual rendering of the light on the film, but what you experienced seeing it, thinking it and shooting it.
I talked about raw material for the actual photos I took, and for a reason. « Collages » isn’t only photography but also a graphic arts research and an endeavor to get back to the actual photographic medium and use it as a way to create meaningful images.
The series was thought from the beginning to be an analogue only project. Sure, I worked at it on my computer, but more to assure myself the concept was good and to try out the images and make my selection than to create real collages. The “real” collages are only the ones I get out of my darkroom, as the enlarging and collage process is one of the most important part of the creation of the final images.
The process is quite simple for someone who knows the principle of film enlarging. I only use one negative and one sheet of paper to obtain the collage. There is no collage per se, as everything is done by manipulation of light and the placement of paper.
The key to obtain the symmetry that is the basis of the whole concept, is to expose the negative once on half the paper, then rotate the sheet a full 180° and do a second, strictly identical, exposition of the film on the other half of the paper. This rotation creates the perfect central point symmetry (if I manage to get my paper placements right that is ^^).
Collages – Virgil Roger8
Simple right ? Well try and get it perfectly right, down to the perfect central alignment, down to the perfect continuity of the edges of the images. The very principle of the process is dead simple, but its actual execution is quite tricky, and that’s a good thing ! The final collages are all the more real thanks to their imperfections. The near-perfect, the technical prowess of not only getting the print right but getting the collage right, is to me way more valuable than a pixel-perfect Photoshop assembly.
The collages only come to life and deserve their status once I printed them on nice paper, painstakingly, to the best of my abilities.
To get back to where we started this discussion, « Collages » is a step further down the road of sharing the almost invisible and definitely unseen beauty of the world around us to the public. What I see when I notice a pattern in a wall, a contrasting texture, a line of force in a building, what I see when I really look, I try to transform it to focus all the attention of the public on the feeling, the sensation, the visual strength, power or softness of the object.
The symmetry and the graphical construction of my collages aim at creating abstract, almost pure geometrical, graphical objects that try to speak directly to the imagination of the people I share them with.
Another important idea behind this series is the almost total abstraction from the real world the raw images are stolen from. The collage process and the presentation tend to obfuscate the reality they’re based on, to offer a medium-focused experience. The photographic medium, way more than the object of the photographies takes a central place in the viewing of the real collages. The paper, the contrasts, the frames, the wall holding them all play a role in the way people can approach the work.
Of course, to be coherent with the philosophy that has been driving me for the last few years, after people got their own personal experience with the images, I try to get them to think about what the real world basis of the photos are, but without my intervention one could look at the series as a pure abstraction.
Actually, I met a nice old lady during my last exhibition who thought the collages were abstract drawings. And I loved it. And she loved it when I explained it was all analogue photography and quickly explained the process.
To be fair, the principle I so eagerly describe here is far from obvious, even to me. The earliest collages were lucky accidents. I didn’t even try to frame the photos accordingly at first, just tried to get enough of the essence of the building or scene before me and see what I could create with it afterwards. But I kept this little game up for quite some time, long enough it seems that I found myself able to visualise more and more precisely the images I could achieve — while framing my shot. This effort led to even more abstract images, which fit together way better with themselves. And made me happier.
It wasn’t until I got offered a second show at my favorite bar (which you should all go to if you find yourself in Lyon!) that I really spent enough time on the printing process to truly achieve what I looked for. This exhibition ended up featuring 13 collages, as I spent a couple excruciating months making up, changing and changing my selection again, as I was printing larger formats and trying out fibre based paper for the first time. I left out quite a few prints and tried out new images, until I settled on the final images. I did spend hours in the lab, and hours at my computer, but I think I really ended up with something that was well worth my while!
All right, that’s it for now folks, but it won’t last though as I’m preparing a few new prints which will hit the walls in January 🙂
Collages – Virgil Roger
Collages – Virgil Roger
Collages – Virgil Roger
Collages – Virgil Roger
Share your knowledge, story or project
The transfer of knowledge across the film photography community is the heart of EMULSIVE. You can add your support by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this passion project by heading over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and contributing as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.