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HomeContentsThemes > Early examples of composite prints

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There are differing opinions as to who exactly was the first person to use the merging of multiple photographic images from separate plates together to form a single image but it is early in the history of photography. As early as 1857 Oscar Rejlander was able to create the photographic tableau 'Two Ways of Life' that was a single image.
The Two Ways of Life
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Raphael
School of Athens 
1510-11
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Oscar Gustave Rejlander
Two Ways of Life 
1857
  
This composition by the Swedish born photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1813-1875) clearly owes its layout to the traditions of classical painting with the visual structure being based on Raphael's fresco of the 'School of Athens' (1509-11) that is in the Vatican.
 
To achieve the effect he used actors and photographed different pieces of the overall design and used the negatives to construct the final piece. The scene has the moral theme where the characters in the center have to make a choice between the path of virtue and the path of evil and vice. Thirty two glass negatives were used to create the final image.
 
More recently the Scottish artist and photographer Calum Colvin has explored the same theme.
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George N. Barnard - Retouched images
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George N. Barnard
Battlefield of Atlanta, Ga., 1864 [Original] 
1864
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George N. Barnard
Georgia, Atlanta Battlefield, July 22, 1864 [Retouched] 
1864, 24 July
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George N. Barnard
Confederate lines near Atlanta, Ga., and Potter House [Original] 
1860-1865 (ca)
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George N. Barnard
Georgia, Atlanta, Confederate works in front of [Retouched] 
1862-1865 (ca)
With wet collodion negatives the light sensitivity of the chemicals was such that one could get the correct exposure for the sky or for the landscape but rarely both. The French master of seascapes, Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), got around this by taking two plates each exposed correctly for a part of the shot and then creating a final image that was a composite of the two.
 
With George N. Barnard (1819-1902) during the American Civil War these examples show both the original negative (presumably from a plate) and the retouched version where the clouds are both dramatic and visible. If you look at the skyline on the retouched version of the Potter House image and examine the trees on the right hand side you can clearly see where the two images have been joined.
 
Davis, Keith F., 1990, ‘George N. Barnard: Photographer of Sherman‘s Campaign‘, (Hallmark Cards) [Hardcover] [ISBN: 0875296270]
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