In portraiture, often there is little left for the senses when it comes to composition American photographer Jake Wangner pushes that boundary to mesh realism and abstract art through his mastery of the long exposure and multiple exposure techniques on film, rendering portraits that not only depict but also stir the senses. Get to know more about the artist through our interview.
Firstly, welcome to Lomography Magazine, Jake! How's your creative life so far in 2020?
Thank you! I'm excited to be a part of this.
I'm a fan of being creative with limitations. While this is the perfect year for that, the lack of human connection makes it difficult for me to get inspired. Much of my inspiration comes from my face to face interactions with other people. I also mostly photograph people, so I haven't had much opportunity to do that. However, I have found it a convenient time to horde all of my creative energy so that when I am able to let loose it will come flowing in abundance (hopefully).
When and how did you start with film photography?
I got my first film camera in 2013 from an antique store. It was a Yashica Lynx 1000 (pretty much the exact same camera as the Canonet QL17, but much more affordable) and I used it once, realized the light meter was broken, then put it away. In 2014 I picked up a Nikon F2 from a camera shop and used that for a few months until I went broke and couldn't afford to shoot on film anymore. I finally picked it up again in March of 2019 and I've been shooting and developing my own film full time since then.
We are so intrigued by how you use some analogue techniques – may you share with us what draws you to multiple exposure and long exposure?
I've always been interested in how I can use traditional techniques incorrectly to get a creative result. Any time a shoot started to feel stale I would just throw on the flash and set the shutter to 1/8 and have a ball. It was January 2019 while I was brainstorming for the second book that I decided I would use this technique to make unique and abstract photographs that had a certain energy to them. My goal was to create something that someone might feel inclined to display in their home (more than a portrait of a stranger's face at least).
We love how you marry portraiture with long exposure technique – can you give us a hint, how do you pull off these surreal portraits?
To summarize it – I just set the shutter anywhere slower than 1/30, and flick the camera away with my hand. The placement of the lights will determine how successful the technique is. I do it with continuous light normally but you can also do it with strobes to get more of a frozen frame with subtle light streaks.
If you don't mind sharing, what's your tools of the trade? Any favorite camera and film stock that you swear by?
I genuinely don't have an overall favorite. I just have go-to options for different scenarios. A majority of my book was shot on the Nikon F2 and Ektar 100 so that I could print the images larger. But the funny thing is when I was testing different films I also used Lomography Color Negative 100 a couple of times, and those images ended up being my favorites out of everything I shot for the book. This includes the cover image which is one of my most recognizable photos. With all of that said, I've always been a part of the "best camera is the one closest to you" camp. I like working with the limitations and quirks that each film camera/stock has.
Have you tried other film techniques before? May you share with us what they are (if there are any)?
I try to experiment as much as possible. I do light leaks on purpose, light painting, and even mess around with the development sometimes. It depends on the story I want to tell for that shot. I usually get the idea for things I can try when scanning my film. I'll think _"oh, what if I took this same shot but did _____ to mess it up even more."_ Then I'll just store that idea in my head for when the right opportunity to use it comes up.
One specific one that's pretty interesting is a photo I took on BW film and didn't invert the colors, but I inverted the lighting on the subject's hand. So the hand looks like a normal hand in black and white, while the rest of the image looks inverted. See that here.
There was another time where I let the blix dry on the film, and there was also a time when I did a bw monobath without rinsing the film. I just hung it to dry after it was done. I then had the bright idea to lick the negative to clean it off a little, then quickly realized I had just ingested poisonous chemicals. That was a bit of a scare, but it made for a cool scan/story I think.
For your portraiture – what emotion or thought are you trying to evoke from people?
I try to capture the energy of the room at the moment. Whatever that may be. Any time I meet someone I feel the energy they bring with them and I let that guide my decisions. I don't ever do mood boards or planning going into my sessions. I just let it all play out in the moment. With that said, I do always have a swarm of ideas and techniques buzzing around in my head. I just don't pick them out until it feels right – with the right person.
What inspires you to take pictures?
Outside of what I've already mentioned, it's the daily encounters I have with the world around me. My goal is to create a unique world that my photos exist on. One that is inspired by the one we live on, but my own that I have the freedom to bend the rules in. So I study how light passes through and reflects off of clouds, trees, water, and even human skin. I study the colors of the sky and the earth. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can use the same techniques nature uses to produce beautiful light, and add my own twist to it when I'm in my studio.
What are you up to these days?
Right now I'm gearing up for the release of the third edition of my book, alone, together. It's a collection of photos using the long exposure technique and features poems that I wrote. It's available for preorder right now through my website, and the official release day is December 15.
One of my goals this year was to get my work from this collection into galleries, and I even had my first solo exhibition planned back in March, but obviously, that has been on pause for a while now. Other than that I'm still planning and shooting for my future books (I have about 4-5 that I'm working on simultaneously), and I'm still figuring out how to navigate this new world we have all found ourselves in this year.