By Ellie Ritter, contributor
For Atlanta photographer Michael Bryant, the subject of his photos doesn’t exist.
Instead, his photos overlay multiple exposures, or shots, to “create something entirely new, an image that utilizes but doesn’t record what was actually there.”
Once, he shot an image of a window fixture at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin. Instead of just taking a single, standard shot, he took four shots of the fixture and combined them, creating a unique perspective of the image.
“The end result was a photo where it wasn’t exactly clear what the subject was,” Bryant said. “If I were to tell someone who was familiar with the museum, they’d be able to recognize the bars and the lights probably, but the details turn out differently. It’s different than what I started with.”
Bryant’s process makes his photography style entirely unique. Even if other photographers used the same steps, the end result would never be the same.
“You could have a professional photographer go and take the same shots and do the same sort of thing but it would never turn out the same way or probably even be very similar,” Bryant said. “It’s just the nature of the process and the camera. And to me, doing something different is much more interesting than doing something anyone could do.”
All of his images are taken on square negatives, meaning that each photo is square. To create long, more panoramic shots, Bryant combines the negatives, which can create a blur in the center with an “abstract effect.” He also prints all of his images on metallic-leafed watercolor paper with wooden frames he makes and stains himself.
Bryant began photography as a child, when his family moved to Kent, England. Seeing the differences between Europe his hometown of Albany, Ga. inspired him to capture the sights.
“Everything there was vastly different from Georgia,” he said, “so I just wanted to take photos of everything that was new.”
He then continued to take photos for his high school yearbook before continuing on to study photography at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Eventually, he picked up a Holga camera and has since been making photos full-time with it.
Made entirely of plastic, Holga cameras are known for their poor quality, Bryant said. Untrained photographers often use them.
“It was cheap in order to be a camera for the masses,” he said. “They sell these cameras at places in the mall like Urban Outfitters so young people can use them, and if you use enough film and shoot a lot, you’ll have at least a decent shot or two.”
But if you want something better than just a “chance shot,” you need to have more experience with the camera and photography as a whole. According to Bryant, it can help to have prior knowledge of light and film.
“It’s best to know how the camera functions,” he said. “Because the lens is plastic, it distorts and vignettes around the edges. If you shoot at an angle, it’ll tend to be distorted more than something if you shoot straight on, and all that’s because the lens is low-quality and plastic. The camera just has one exposure, so you just work around that.”
Every once in a while, Bryant will experiment with other styles of photography or use different types of cameras, like Polaroids. In the end, though, he always comes back to his Holga.
“I sometimes need to get away from Holga so I can feel more creative when I come back,” he said. “When I get back, it always works and I can try something different.”
Although the camera can be cheap and complex to navigate, Bryant believes you can get some of the best photos with it.
“There’s something about these photos that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “And there’s a good number of people who appreciate the work and want to see it.”
In addition to showing his photography at festivals and galleries, Bryant sells some of his work. That, for him, is one of the best feelings.
“Having people buy my work is really nice not just because of the money, but also because it shows their appreciation for what I do,” he said. “They choose to spend the money they’ve earned, which they could go and spend anywhere else, on my photography.”
Still, Bryant finds that some people don’t understand Holga photography. Possibly a result of the prominence of digital cameras instead of film, many are surprised by how Bryant creates his images.
“As time goes by, it seems like fewer people even understand what photography is, let alone a Holga,” he said. “When I tell them my camera is plastic, they look at me like I have two heads or something because they can’t grasp the concept.”
Bryant hopes that film photography will continue to hold its own in the art world.
“This type of photography is truly something great,” he said. “It lets me put out my own personal version of the truth.”
To see more of Bryant’s work, visit: http://www.michael-bryant.com
Bryant’s work will be featured in the Dalton Gallery and Fine Arts Exhibition at Agnes Scott College until June 11. The gallery is on display in the Dana Fine Arts building every day from 2-5 p.m.