Rachel Frank employs the perfect combination between instant photography and surrealism: double exposure. In order to convey the magic of nature and small scale anthropology, she combines snippets of reality that help the viewer escape to realms initially hidden from the naked eye. Her delicate shots of landscapes communicate the almost overwhelming smallness of our existences, yet the persistence of the human element reminds us that our surroundings have meaning merely because we exist to invest them with it. The following interview offers wonderful insight regarding the artist. Her answers are charged with a special kind of familiarity, but also an almost almond scented nostalgia that probably comes naturally when working in a field where you stop time to preserve certain moments.
Interview by Diana Dupu
- Hello, Rachel. What type of camera and film do you use?
For my instant photographs, I typically use a Polaroid SX-70 Alpha-1, Polaroid Spectra and Minolta Pro, Polaroid Land Camera 100, and sometimes my Polaroid Sun 660 camera for shooting 600-type film.
- How early did you become aware of your passion for photography? How did it happen?
I was 18 years old. It was my last year of secondary school and I took a Photography class and later in the year took an internship with a local photography company. My Dad had a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm camera from the 1970s. It was my first camera. This was before digital photography existed. I shot black and white film and printed it in the darkroom at school. I loved to create with it, finding interesting light and subjects. I would take my camera with me everywhere. Back then I had no fear and no inhibition. I didn’t learn anything too technical then, so it was very free flowing. I loved it.
- Do you think every darkroom has a specific atmosphere? How did printing your own work make you feel?
Yes, the darkrooms had a specific atmosphere and specific feeling when I worked in them. It was an atmosphere to create, while watching your photos develop right before your eyes. The feeling of being in a darkroom is hard to describe, since I haven’t been in one in 10 years or so. I remember the smells well and the way silver based paper looked when wet. Red lights illuminated the room.
The process of using an enlarger then making test prints and final prints was exciting. I loved the process of moving the photo from one chemical tray to the other (with tongs!), when the blacks would start to emerge on the paper in the developer. It was all so different. There was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when developing your own film and printing your own photos. At times, I would spend hours in there.
- Do you ever feel compelled to re-take a photo? Is there such a thing as repeating a shot when it comes to instant photography?
I don’t usually retake photos with instant film, but I have had to before. When I did a specific double exposure project I had to reshoot a couple of the photos. In the first try a couple of them didn’t turn out right because the subject wasn’t in the place in the photo. Luckily, the second shot of each photo turned out exactly how I wanted it. I think when doing projects like this, where you have to have more control over the compositions, it calls for a retake, however, if I am just shooting subjects or landscapes, where there is no plan, where I have to go on solely my intuition and follow where the light leads me, I rarely retake a photo.
- Would you say that instant photography is more spontaneous or meditative?
I think instant photography can be both spontaneous and meditative. When I take an instant photo I shoot with my intuition and it can be a very meditative experience. When shooting instant film, you have to slow down and take in all of the moment. It is too expensive to not take your time while shooting. In regards to spontaneity,
I have had experiences when I have least expected to take a photo. For example, I have driven down roads or highways where I see something in the distance and I pull over to shoot a beautiful landscape. I have also driven on random roads and ended up finding magical places, full of lush greenery or a farm in the woods, and then I would do a full photo shoot with a subject. Almost every time it is an intuitive and meditative experience.
- Could you educate me a bit on double exposure? Why is it your medium of choice?
You cannot do double exposures on all types of Polaroid film cameras. I have most experience with using Polaroid Spectra cameras. Double exposures with instant film is when you prevent the film from coming out after you have taken your first shot and then shoot another photo on the same film, thus producing a double exposure. To do it well, you have to make sure you do not over expose the film since you are exposing the film to light two different times (or more if you do more than two exposures). You also have to think about how whites and blacks affect the layering of subjects. It is my medium of choice because I like to create dreamy, surreal-like photographs and I achieve that every time with double exposures. I prefer, when possible, that my photos to look like they are from another world; it is my escape from this world.
- What do you think allows photography to maintain its significance in a world that also keeps a place in its heart for the gathering video footage?
Photographs capture your immediate attention. The motion, the moment in time and in life, has stopped and it has stopped the viewer to experience it, to observe it and that gives it its significance. Or it is a moment that was created. With photographs you can create an image that is otherworldly that can bring you to another place.
- Please describe a landscape you fell in love with, but could not photograph.
I didn’t bring my camera on what is called the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. It was a 4-day trek and I didn’t want to carry the extra weight. It was a truly enchanting experience when climbing the Salkantay peak. As we walked up there was a part that was foggy and there was a small body of water and a baby cow nearby. It felt like a dream!
- If a device that could capture essential, yet immaterial aspects of life existed, do you think you would prefer it to your Polaroid? In what circumstances would you use it?
I am open to using this future device, but I would always prefer my Polaroids for their tangibility.
- Finally, could you recommend a band, a movie and a book?
Instead of a band, I will recommend the DJ group Invisibl Skratch Piklz. Movie, Love Me if You Dare, Book, Cat’s Cradle.
Diana Dupu is a clutz that wrote her dissertation on the ethics of interacting with others. She speaks a bit of Japanese, can’t dance to save her life and sometimes writes to entertain herself. Starting September she will be pursuing her MA in Irish Studies at the Faculty of Letters of Babes Bolyai University.