The layered image

Exercise 1.1 Digital Image and Culture pg.21

Create a series of six to eight images using layering techniques

I started this exercise by looking at the recommended photographers and doing a mind map of some of the topics I might work with. The list was pretty extensive so I was reasonably comfortable I would find something interesting to develop. Through Graphic Design 1 I found my best way of working is to have at least two concepts on the go at once so that if one doesn’t work out as anticipated I have something else to develop.

I started with the 8 million series as this is an area I have done some work in before. It is based on the issue of at least 8 million tons of plastic entering the oceans from the land every year (National Geographic). I wanted to use the layering to show the different elements of marine life, water and plastics. As I developed the work the series became more simplified, finishing with just the image of the plastic bottle beneath the water.

I was not sure they had become a coherent series or if this was what was meant by the use of layering. In some ways I found it a confusing concept as layering is an inherent part of the way I work in Photoshop anyway, that does not necessarily mean the layers are as overt as in the recommended photographers.

I decided to carry on and work with another theme. This seemed necessary as I thought further about layers, their possible purpose and intention as part of an image’s system of meaning. I considered the kind of messages the layers might convey – different emotions, different actions, comparisons between themes or issues, layers of identity and so on. I had been thinking about doing some work with fairytales or myths and this reminded me of Pandora’s Box. So the myth goes, on opening the box Pandora unleashes evils on the world, leaving one thing ‘hope’ in the box. One version talks about biting moths that attack Pandora and that Hope is seen in the form of a dragonfly. I thought I would play with these motifs and ideas of darkness and light, hope and despair and so on.

I think the five landscape versions are experiments on the way to version six of Pandora, by this version I was starting to think more about the layers. The three flies are significant in that the atomic weight of Lithium is three and Lithium is regarded as an element that could help resolve our issues of energy sustainability. However, Lithium also has a shadow side in the environmental impacts associated with its mining. Like Pandora’s Box it is an image of light and shade, hope and despair.  While I was happy with the final image I was not sure it could be developed further into a series, other than by altering the number of flies and relating them to different elements. Once more I moved on.

I took the Pandora series to one of our regular Thames Valley Photography Group meetings and got some very useful responses in terms of reactions to the images. I described my bemusement about the value and purpose of working with overt layers. This prompted a helpful conversation about what the layers might add and that unlike a composite (covert layers), making the layers visible served a particular purpose in terms of being able to see through them to what lies beneath. This led me to reflect on what meaning this could create, I thought about the layers referring to passing time and created the following autobiographical series. Each has a base layer of 1960s wallpaper on top of which I have added other images that have personal meaning from that period and later. In every image there is also a small reference to the present.

As someone used to working with composites this exercise turned out to be more troublesome than I had imagined. Having experimented with different concepts I felt I did eventually find an approach that worked in relation to the layers creating meaning in their own right.