Oscar Gustave Rejlander

Oscar Gustave Rejlander was also on my list of photographers to research for assignment 2. Rejlander was dubbed the father of art photography. He claimed to be self taught, after having received an afternoon’s lesson from Fox Talbot’s assistant on the workings of a camera. However, his developing processes were quite intricate. He had previously studied painting and this influenced his photography to a great extent. He excelled in narrative tableaux, his most famous photograph produced in 1857 was probably being The Two Ways of Life which was created from thirty negatives combined to form one photo. Whoever thought Photoshop was the originator of the manipulated image was clearly wrong.

But I think my favourite Rejlander image is Hard Times
seen below.

Hard Times by Oscar Gustave Rejlander
Hard Times by Oscar Gustave Rejlander

It is a photomontage of a man sitting hunched on a stool with his head resting on his hand, worry clearly evident on his face. Behind him in bed lie his wife and child asleep. But look closely behind his shoulder and we see an image of this man with his arm raised, and over the seated man’s face and body we see his wife standing busy with some task while the child plays at his feet. The edges of these images are not clearly defined leaving us to our imaginations wondering what is going on in the background. Is this a dream or are these thoughts? Is an argument taking place? Is the wife trying to placate her husband? Is he now sitting at the side of the bed thinking back on the argument or conversation? The child’s expression in both occurrences seem the same. Awake and asleep he is totally oblivious to what is bothering his parents. That the man is worried is evident. The image bears the caption Hard Times and we can see that this is so from the makeshift bed with its sparse bedding and the lack of furniture in the room.

I’m just astounded at the finesse with which this image has been made. It looks as if it could be a multiple exposure, but was probably done with layering of a number of negatives to produce a photomontage. I love the ambiguity that this image evokes and it really is an image that makes the viewer work.

Now let’s see if I can replicate something like this in a digital fashion!

Reference List

Rejlander, Oscar Gustav. George Eastman House,
Still Photograph Archive [online]. Available from:  http://www.geh.org/fm/rejlander/HTMLSRC/m197202490042_jpg.html [Accessed 15 September, 2015]

Rejlander, Oscar Gustave (1857). The Two Ways of Life [online]. Luminous-Lint. Available from: http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/image/1995803851972331469807496316/ [Accessed 15 September, 2015]


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