An Experimental Collage Project with the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic – By Erin O’Leary
I have always been attracted to instant photography ever since my classmate produced a series of Polaroid collages for his senior project back in 2010. I loved his work; however, it was around this time that Polaroid closed the doors to their iconic company and I watched my friends scramble for the last supply of 600 film. It seemed that both Polaroid and instant photography were on the verge of extinction, therefore, investing at the time seemed pointless.
Nearly a decade went by before Fujifilm’s Instax line caught my attention. These cameras were well-designed and cost only a fraction of the price compared to their Polaroid competitor (now back in business).
In May 2019, I bought my first Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic as an early birthday present for myself. I chose this camera because it was both affordable and offered the most creative control – such as shooting double exposures, bulb mode, adjusting lightness and darkness and the ability to turn off the flash.
I took a hiatus from photography for many years, however, purchasing this camera changed everything for me.
From the first moment I clicked the shutter and watched the film develop before my eyes, I was brought back to the darkroom all over again – it was magical – it combined both the technical skills and surprise element of analog with the instant gratification of digital. And thus began my love affair with instant photography.
About a month after I bought the camera, I traveled to Poznan, Poland. I ran all over the city shooting tiny, credit card-sized images, but after a few days I needed a new challenge.
As I stood there in the market square, staring up at the brightly painted façades, I decided to shoot my first collage. I carefully estimated how many shots I needed and how I should position the camera to make up for the parallax error – meaning that what you see isn’t what you get. I snapped three photos in a hurry, worried that if I took too long, I’d overthink the shot. As I watched the images appear before my eyes, I fell in photography all over again. I loved the uniqueness of the uneven alignment, the little repetitions and the fact that each collage was one of a kind.
A few months later, I set off on another trip to visit a friend in Senj, Croatia. I stood at the end of the pier in the late afternoon sun and looked back at the little beach town. The view was stunning and I knew instantly that I wanted to capture the moment with a 360-panorama. Once again, I looked through the viewfinder to line up the shots and guesstimated exactly how many exposures I need to complete the collage.
I mustered up all the patience I had – cautious not to waste too much film – and sat there eagerly awaiting each image to appear before shooting the next one.
It took me over an hour to capture the eight individual frames, but once I completed the collage, I raced back to the apartment, spread the pictures across the coffee table and carefully pieced the images together. As I sat back analyzing my work, I felt excited. Something about shooting these little collages spoke to me creatively; it combined both my photography skills with my love for ripping apart old magazines and creating mixed-media art.
In October 2019, I continued the project while visiting family and friends back in the United States. I got up at sunrise with my dad to shoot the Nashville skyline, which was a challenge due to the rapidly changing light conditions. Unlike in Croatia, where I waited for each image to develop before taking the next one, I had to shoot fast, otherwise the sky would be three shades lighter in the following frame.
A few weeks later, I spent the day in New York City and found myself chasing yet another difficult, golden hour shot. I severely underestimated how much time I had until sunset, which left me running across the Brooklyn Bridge, praying I’d get at least one shot before dark. By the time I reached Brooklyn, the sun was practically gone. I snapped all five photos in a hurry without the help of a tripod. When I looked at the photos later, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. This soon became one of my favorite collages from the trip.
My Life in Lockdown, Berlin, Germany – April 2020Then, in April 2020, the pandemic hit. I was stuck in lockdown with a fresh batch of film and too much time on my hands. After watching one too many YouTube videos about the hunt for toilet paper, I decided to capture my own experience of the pandemic.
I set my camera up on a tripod and planned for my biggest collage yet. This collage would be my first attempt at stacking images on top of each other to create a larger image. I wanted to do a self-portrait of my life in lockdown, shot throughout the day to show the passing of time. This collage proved to be the most challenging and used up a lot of film. In the image, I show myself on a Zoom call, leaving my apartment for a daily run, writing in my journal, and watching Netflix in the evening.
This Instax collage project has been ongoing for about 3.5 years now. I have continued to capture many scenes in Berlin (where I currently live), as well as other cities I’ve visited throughout the years. All the photos in this article are part of my early work shot from May 2019 to 2020. To check out my latest work, you can find me on Instagram @instax_berlin.
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