BY JOHN REUTER
Throughout my nearly 30 years of image-making, I have always sought out techniques that would add an element of chance to the process—not chance for the sake of chance, but rather to stay open to the creative possibilities of image combinations or transformations that I could not have foreseen initially.
When I worked with conventional photographic processes, I favored techniques such as solarization, reticulation, and multiple printing. In the 1970s, I started manipulating Polaroid materials, a move that not only changed my career path, but also greatly influenced my working methods. I was able to embrace the element of chance with Polaroid materials, first in my SX-70 collages and emulsion transfers, and later with Polacolor image transfer.
One does not usually expect a digital technique to permit surprise or chance to influence the flow of image making or construction. But my recent work in Photoshop has been greatly influenced by a technique called Layer Styles Blending. It is based on the relationship of two different layers; using this tool you can selectively affecransparency of image highlights and shadows to create a seamless digital collage of two different images.
There are many filters available that can alter your images. I occasionally find partial use of them exciting by fading or blending them, but I tend to stay away from them because they seem to have an aesthetic of their own. What I love about Layer Styles Blending is that the artist sets up the process by image selection and layer placement. The tool then introduces the same kinds of accidental effects and chance interactions that informed my earliest work with traditional materials.
The following example demonstrates how to use and modify Layer Styles Blending for your own work.
Part 1: Simple Layer Blending
1. Open the two images you wish to blend. Using the Move tool, drag one onto the other to make a layer stack. If you hold down the Shift key as you drag, it will perfectly center the dragged image on the base image. This is most useful if the images are exactly the same size, but if they are not it still gives a center reference.
2. Open the Layer Style dialog box for the top image by double-clicking on its entry in the Layers palette. The dialog box is fairly large; move it as far as you can to one side if it blocks the view of your images.
3. Move the sliders labeled This Layer and Underlaying Layer. On these scales, 0 represents the darkest shadow point and 255 represents the brightest highlight. By moving these slides away from 0 or 255, you make those pixels transparent and allow a view of the image underneath.
4. Pixel dropout is rather rough when you move whole triangles, as in the previous step. If you want more subtlety, move the sliders while holding the Option/Alt keys. This function splits the triangle in half and greatly extends the range of the pixels that drop out.
A wide range of effects is possible, with no right answers. Experiment with the sliders and stop when you see an combination of images that works for you.
5. In this example, suppose you want to see through to the opposite side of the image with the gate by flipping it horizontally. The gate image is the background layer, which you cannot move or flip independently. To do so, you must first convert it to a normal layer.
Double-click on its entry in the Layers palette to open the New Layer dialog box. This may seem counterintuitive, since you are not creating a new layer, but just converting an old one. Type in a new name for the layer, here Calton Cemetery.
6. Select the Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal menu option to flip the image from left to right. Now the portion of the bottom image that you want to see is visible through the top layer.
John Reuter was the director of Polaroid’s 20×24 Studio in New York City, now an independent project. Using the legendary camera for 2 decades, he has worked collaboratively with photographers and artists, from William Wegman and Joyce Tenneson to David Levinthal and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders. Over the same period, Reuter’s personal work and vision has moved in a very different direction. Early collages with Polaroid’s SX-70 instant film gave way to painted Polaroid image transfers in formats ranging from 8″ x 10″ to 5″ x 6″. Now working exclusively in digital imagery, he still draws from painterly influences and outputs his digital collages on canvases up to 40″ x 50″. Reuter regularly teaches workshops in Polaroid Image Transfer, Photoshop, digital collage, and web design. To learn more about John Reuter’s own work, visit his blog.