Exercise 1.1: The Layered Image

Using the list of artists given as inspiration, create a series of six to eight images using layering techniques. To accompany your final images, also produce a 500-word blog post on the work of one contemporary artist-photographer who uses layering techniques.

My approach to this project was to first come up with some ideas about how I might experiment with layering images before beginning my research into the artists cited in the course notes. I decided to attempt to produce a series of portraits by overlaying similar shots of the same sitter. Interestingly, the work I made was similar to that of Idris Khan and Corrine Vionnet – I suspect if I had followed my usual of system of conducting research before the exercise I would not have chosen to layer images the way I have here as I would have found the approach too derivative of these artists.

Notes on the artists cited in the course notes can be found here:

Alexa Wright

Idris Khan

Helen Sear

Nancy Burson

Esther Teichmann

Corinne Vionnet

I produced two variations on the same theme, the first, composite images of head and shoulders portraits of my children and the second, layered images of still shots from the film ‘Taxi Driver’.

Sixty Second Portraits:

One of the things I find intriguing about photography is the way that a still image can capture an individual at a particular moment and how portraits of the same person can sometimes appear totally different. Much has been considered about how to capture the essence of a person photographically. When the camera is pointed towards a subject it is likely the sitter will attempt to put up a barrier, be nervous and attempt to present a ‘preferred’ version of themselves – something that can appear false. One way to negate this is to shoot candidly without the subject being aware, although there are obvious ethical dilemmas involved with this approach. Another is to spend time with the person to put them at ease, and achieve a photograph that is authentic representation – that is assuming you believe it is possible to achieve authenticity at all in a photograph. I decided to photograph a sequence of images of my three children, the camera fixed on a tripod in front of them and the shutter set to trip every second for 1 minute. While the camera worked I spoke to each of them as a way of encouraging them to behave in a natural unguarded way. I was interested to see how the images differed from each other and how these would look when layered on top of each other – would the overlap between parts of the photograph that were the same, and the emphasis this would make on the overall image, provide some sort of truthful representation?

Firstly, I made a composite with the frames aligned exactly as they had been shot. I decided to convert the images to black and white in order to eliminate any differences in tonality and colour balance and emphasise form. I changed the opacity of the individual layers to 10% to allow each one to be seen. This gave a ghostly effect and surprisingly showed how much movement there was during the process.

Amy-composite 1

The resulting image was not as I had envisaged, so for my next attempt I realigned each image around the left eye of the sitter. I found this matched what I had previsualised much more closely, although I was still surprised by the results and not quite sure if I liked the effect:

Amy-composite 2



The images are most closely reminiscent of the work of Idris Khan, particularly because they are black and white. In my research Khan states that he does not use every part of each image employing selection and masking techniques to accentuate or detract from particular elements. He does not go into detail on how he does this, but it appears to me to be the difference between his images and mine. However, if I made this choice for this set however it would go against my initial concept.

After conducting my research, I decided to experiment by making a Nancy Burson style composite of all three children put together, similar to her approach here and here. The resulting image is quite rough and ready as I have not spent a huge amount of time on it. The effect is quite off putting – perhaps emphasised by the fact that being my children I know the subjects well.

Caitlin-Thomas-Amy Composite

Taxi Driver Composites:

As film is literally a series of still images displayed in sequence to give the illusion of movement, I began to think about the possibility of showing an entire feature film as one image. (Jason Schulman is an artist I came across some time ago that experiments with this idea, although his approach is to make one exposure of the entire film rather than layer together individual stills. See article here, and Shulman’s version of ‘Taxi Driver’ here.)

‘Taxi Driver’ seemed to be an ideal subject for this approach as it is almost entirely a first person narrative shown from the point of view of the main protagonist Travis Bickle. I initially tried to take screen shots of the film on my computer but was thwarted by the anti piracy measures built into the streaming services I attempted this with. Next, I placed the camera on a tripod in front of the screen and set the interval timer to shoot every 1 minute – this would give me around two hundred individual shots to work with. My first attempt was to layer all of these images together which produced this effect:

Taxi Driver Composite.jpg

Next I tried masking individual parts of each image to concentrate attention:

Taxi Driver Composite 2.jpg

This has the effect of making individual parts of the image stand out more clearly, and, because there are less overlapping parts of the image in the composite, saturation and contrast are increased.

Next, I experimented with selecting images that just contained Travis and again, masked out parts of the image that were unnecessary. I also moved the layers around:

Travis composite 1 (20%)

Lastly, I tried the same technique again but with the layers arranged in different alignments:

Travis composite 2.jpg

At the time of completing these experiments I was more interested in the experimentation itself rather than the end result. Looking back, both approaches could have potential for further exploration, particularly the film approach.