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How Fabrice Ducouret Does Double Exposures With No Photoshop

How Fabrice Ducouret Does Double Exposures With No Photoshop

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My name is Fabrice Ducouret. I’m a French photographer living in California. I’ve been shooting film since I was a teenager and have a real passion for it. I’ve always found the process of shooting with film much more natural and in tune with my personality and interests than digital. I dabbled for a few years and then decided to become more serious and produced a lot of street photography. I was living in Paris, and there were many occasions to capture the life of this exceptional city. I used to use a lot of sub-miniature cameras, such as the Olympus Pen EE and the Minolta SLR 110.

All images and words by Fabrice Ducouret. Used with permission. Want to be featured on our website? Here’s how.

After that, I got really involved in shooting portraits of my friends and family and used an Olympus Pen F and a Pentax ME Super most of the time. After moving to California a few years ago, I kept shooting streets and people, using Pentax Auto 110 and a Pentax ZX-60.

In the past few months, I have started series of double-exposures. They are done entirely in-camera. I use mostly a Minolta X300 and low-ISO color or black and white film. My other everyday camera is a Zenobia folding medium format camera, which also allows me to shoot double-exposures. 

I love experimenting with film photography more than anything in the world. I use a lot of old abandoned formats, such as 16mm for still photography, Disc film, stereoscopy, and enjoy restoring old cameras or building various lens rigs and contraptions for them (adapters, filters, lenses, replacing the damaged leathers with better-looking ones, using anamorphic lenses, prisms, etc.). 

I have also been shooting motion film since a very young age. I love Super-8mm film, and 16mm film the most, but I have also found a really old 35mm film camera I am planning to use in the near future. 

In still film as in motion film, I love to explore the intersection of nature and industrialism, the rare areas where the mundane and the magic intersect. I see the relentless hunt for beauty within our modern world as a noble goal, both as a human and as an artist.

Shooting film is my oldest passion, and I work really hard to create images that will catch the interest of my audience and engage them to feel the world through my eyes.

I think these double-exposures are visually satisfying. They tell something in a soothing way. People recognize shapes, forms that are familiar and yet combined in a way they haven’t seen before. 

This series also capture both natural beauty and cultural identity. Old American cars are a part of the collective subconscious and an important element of the aesthetics of America. It also makes us travel into the past, but in a modern way, visually. Car designs have changed in the past 30 years, and nowadays they all look mostly similar, but they used to be extremely creative and pleasing to the eye. I think that designing things with the intent to please the eye should be back.

Combining the natural with the industrial and how both can coexist within an image has been an ongoing theme in my work. I see these themes come up in a lot of different places – video games, movies, TV shows, etc. 

We live in a time where there are serious conflicts between our natural environment and the industrial world we have created. It’s kind of depressing sometimes, but we can also try to find the beauty within these two opposite things. Not everything from our industrial age is vile. Some can be elevated and admired. 

I also think a lot of people are discovering film photography through my work, and double-exposures are definitely one of the fun possibilities that one can play with when shooting film while doing it in post-production will be a lot less fun and leave zero room for happy accidents. If I can inspire people to shoot film in my work, whether to do their own attempts at double-exposures or anything else they want, it will be worth it.

Why did you get into photography?

I got into photography after I was already shooting Super-8mm short films with my friends. I thought of it as a good way to “catch” something at first. Very soon, it grew to become a lot more than that for me, allowing me to think more deeply about the way I look at the world.

Which photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?

I was really into Cindy Sherman’s work for a long time. Martin Parr as well, who could capture the world around him with such an amazingly unique eye. I love Jeff Mermelstein’s work.

Generally speaking, I am very inspired by artists who are pluri-disciplinary, like Man Ray, Salvador Dalì, or David Lynch. Cinema inspires me a lot as a photographer, and so does illustration. I think that you have to be as open as possible to every form of art and that the synthesis of all these emotional journeys makes one’s work better. 

How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?

I’ve been shooting film regularly since I’ve been around 15. I think I matured a lot in my work. Taking pictures completely changes the way you observe and feel the world around you. It changes your core. Practicing it for several years sharpens your eye and develops your ability to see exactly what you seek in any given situation. Hopefully, I’m getting there.

Tell us about your photographic identity. You have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that person as a photographer.

I think my identity as a photographer comes from the many sources of inspiration that I have. From expressionist German cinema of the early XXth century to modern illustration and painting, and even music in a certain way. I think my day job also really plays a part in helping me define what I want in my work (I’m a Graphic Designer). It helps me think about colors and shapes and framing and what makes something dynamic or balanced.

I think my eye likes images that are easy to read, composed of elements that stand out visually and immediately speak to the viewer. Legibility is important in my work, and I think photography is an amazing tool to turn the world around us into fractions of this world that are both legible and aesthetic.

Tell us about the gear you’re using.

As people who follow me on Instagram will see in my photos’ captions, I use a lot of different equipment. Cycling through my collection of cameras allows me to diversify my experience and the pleasure I take as a photographer, as well as make sure that my cameras feel my love on a regular basis – loving your cameras and using them regularly is a good way to make sure they don’t get jammed!

My main everyday camera these days is a medium format camera called Zenobia “Gold Edition.” I call it the “Gold Edition” myself because the leatherette coverings had been greatly damaged, and I replaced them with golden paper. In the beginning, I was a bit afraid of not being able to nail the focus or the exposures with an all-manual camera. So I added a small rangefinder attachment to the hotshot, and it makes it really fast to take pictures with it. As far as the exposures go, I’ve been playing it by ear (or eye?), and as it turned out, medium format is an extremely forgiving medium. 

The camera I use (mostly) for double-exposures is a Minolta X300 with an f1.4 lens. It’s probably my favorite full-frame 35mm setup. I just love shooting with automatic shutter speed and trying to shoot at the widest exposure I can get away with to get a thin slice of sharpness in my picture.

It’s been a bit of a process to align my double-exposures properly, but I’m aligning them perfectly now.

And my third most beloved camera is the Pentax Auto 110. I feel that a lot of people think that the 110 format is going to give them too much grain, but it’s not true. It greatly depends on which film you use. I’m not a fan of the Lomography film – very grainy, the colors aren’t very good. But the 110 Fuji film – if one can get their hands on it – produces results that can definitely surpass 400 speed 35mm film in many ways in terms of clarity.

I love that I can always take the Pentax out with me even if I don’t have a bag on me because it’ll literally fit anywhere. A jacket pocket, a jean pocket if they’re a little loose. And I really try never to be anywhere without a camera. Real photographers ALWAYS have their cameras on them!

Other cameras I love using on a regular basis:

Olympus Pen F. I’ve had this camera and loved it for over 15 years. What I love about it is that it’s a half-frame camera but also an SLR. So you can really shoot a few different exposures of the same thing if you want to try different angles without risking using up all your film. It encourages you to take more risks in that way. One or two “risky” shots won’t waste too much film, so you can try a few different things and choose later.

Bronica ETRS. Amazing reflex medium format camera, but kind of tricky. It’s full of electronics that can be more or less reliable after all these years. Relies on a battery, and it’s a bit greedy, so you have to make sure you have an extra one, or you might luck out while shooting. I built a back for the camera that accepts Instax film, it was a bit of a challenge, but in the end, it allows me to shoot better photos on Instax film than the Instax cameras usually do. That being said, the ETRS deserves a better film than Instax film 😉 

Bolsey Jubilee. It’s a really small, really fun rangefinder camera. Extremely sturdy. I love cameras that don’t use batteries. It also kind of looks like a plane. There are little “wings” on the focussing barrel. It’s a lot of fun to use it.

Narciss KMZ. This one is a 16mm reflex. It’s kind of difficult to find and 16mm film is also difficult to find nowadays, but as I’ve said earlier I love tiny film SLRs. I wish I had occasions to use it more, but it’s small and feels very fragile so I only use it when I come upon 16mm film. 

Kodak Stereo camera. The stereo format is kind of fascinating. I have these little glasses that I can view the photos with after I’ve edited them. You have to take pictures of subjects that are close to you for maximum effect. When you view them, the subject really pops out! And the combination of the two photos is amazing because it makes the image look more real that real life. My last roll with it was black and white and the results were really entertaining. 

Natural light or artificial light? Why?

I love natural light the most. Most of the time when I see people using artificial light, it looks… well, artificial. Natural light is one of the most beautiful and versatile things in our natural world, and there’s only so little time in one lifetime to try and capture it as best as possible. 

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

I think it’s important to me because I feel the most emotions when I observe the world around me. It’s like my eyes are wired to my heart. Seeing the world around me, observing its details, its shapes, its colors, its wonders… it can put me in a trance sometimes. Just looking at what’s in front of me.

Do you feel you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?

I feel like I’m more of a creator. I do document the world around me, but only very small fractions of it that I have deemed were worth capturing. Even though I take very few self-portraits, the images I capture reflect my inner self rather than present the world around me. 

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

To be honest, I try to follow my visual emotion. If I’m seeing something that catches my visual attention, it’s a powerful feeling. Like an electric shock, but much more positive! I freeze, and I let me eyes and my mind wrap around what I have seen, and why it caught my gaze. Several thoughts go through my head – is it picturesque? How should it be framed? Can I visualize what the final picture will look like given the camera I am using? Does this result confirm my first thought? What is it that compels me, colors, shapes, meanings, beauty? 

After this flow of thoughts has come through my mind, I have to still question whether I will act upon it and take the picture. 

If I do, the mechanical process is actually very quick. I focus, measure the light, frame. Then I wait a couple of seconds because it’s an important moment, just before pressing the trigger. Am I aligning the camera correctly? Am I still enough? Is the result really going to be worth it? 

Sometimes at this point I put the camera away. The emotion didn’t pass all the checkpoints.

But most of the times, I fire.

Please walk us through your processing techniques.

I have Samy’s Cameras process my photos and I scan them at home using a V500 scanner and Epson Scan. I get great results with Epson Scan, but with they made Epson brand 110 film holders. I’ve tried VueScan and Silverfast, and thought they were a UX nightmare, and the results looked like a digital camera shooting HDR, an aesthetic I do not like.

I don’t use Photoshop for my film photography. Maybe I’ll remove some dust that got scanned by mistake or realign the scan if it’s a bit slanted, but that’s generally about it. Or if I’m using old expired film I might use Auto Contrast or Levels to “resurrect” the film’s properties.

But I try to do as little editing as possible. That’s what I love about shooting film – not having to look at screens too much. 

Tell us about the project or portfolio you’re pitching to us.

I’m pitching my double exposures of vintage American cars with flowers. 

I moved during lockdown, and as I didn’t feel as free to move as much as before, my options to explore the world became more limited. This period was difficult for a lot of artists, I think. One day while being outside with the Bronica ETRS, I had a problem with the camera and it wouldn’t fire. But when I switched its little multi-exposure lever, I was able to take a picture. When I got the roll back, I had accidentally superimposed an old black vintage car with white roses and the result was really pleasing.

I immediately realized that it would be good to think about more complex technical processes through lockdown. I had done multiple exposures in the past, so I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would want to go about it, and in the end when I found the process that I thought was the best I could come up with, I started shooting a lot of old cars and flowers, until I learned from my mistakes and was able to refine and refine and refine. 

There were many challenges, from the difficulty to find pretty flower bushes in my neighborhood, to the difficulty to find vintage cars in my neighborhood, to mastering the art of perfectly aligning the photos each time. 

But now I feel really good about it and I have created a massive collection of these double-exposures. I sell some of them in my shop and people can request prints through my direct messages. 

And I feel that I am ready to try different subjects soon!

What made you want to get into your genre?

Accidentally. The Bronica’s electronic-everything made my camera very fussy. Only when the multiple-exposure lever was down would the shutter fire, and flowers came up on top of a picture of a car. I decided to do it intentionally and give it a lot more thought.

What motivates you to shoot?

The need to create something that is new. When you create something that is new, that has absolutely never existed before, and that satisfies the mind as well as the heart, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. I wish there was less vanity and less greed in the world and more searching for beauty…

Follow Fabrice Ducouret on his Instagram.