John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

Shooting Clones

clones in photographs

Also known as “multiplicity” shots, images involving clones can be comical, intriguing, and even disturbing. As highly self-aware creatures, we humans are fascinated by mirrors and reflections of ourselves, by the idea of having a twin, alter ego, doppleganger, and multiple personalities.

The Many You's

The multiplicity shot is a visual representation of the fact that the psyche is not a homogeneously unified entity. The human personality is made up of various parts that sometimes cooperate with each other, and sometimes not. Clone images capture the various ways these different elements of the psyche might interact - what some psychologists call “intrapsychic dynamics.” For example:

- The hidden, unconscious, or dissociated parts of ourselves that operate behind the scenes or behind our backs, without our even being aware of their existence

- The unconscious self that suddenly and unexpected appears, much to our surprise, delight, or shock

- The self that we wish for or fear to be

- The contradictions, divisions, or opposites within our psyche

- The “evil” or aggressive qualities within, that we usually suppress

- The parts of ourselves that are in conflict with each other, that oppose, thwart or resist each other

- The unknown part of our psyche that acts as a trickster who creates unpredictability in our lives

- The inner wise self that wants to help us, perhaps even the “God within”

- The ability for self acceptance, self love, or narcissism

- Inner confusion and chaos created by ambitions, feelings, and thoughts that are at odds with each other

- The inner parts of our psyche that cooperate with each other, work in unison or in parallel with each other, perhaps aware or unaware of each other’s presence

- The self that is simply aware of itself, perhaps with judgment, or, in a spiritual fashion, without any judgment or evaluation

Capturing the Me's, or not

I intended this photo to playfully represent the idea of trying to capture the many possible me's. The busyness of the scene, with everyone looking in various directions with different body language and cameras, expresses the busyness within our psyches, as well as the complexity of trying to capture all the selves inside us. This image also suggests that it might not be possible to pinpoint all those selves. As the invisible me taking the photo of all the other me's suggests, we can become aware of our various selves, but how do we become aware of the self that is aware of those selves? As playful as this image might seem, it also points to some perplexing philosophical questions about the nature of self-awareness.


Tips on making the image realistic

Multiplicity images tend to be more convincing and intriguing when the clones visibly demonstrate this awareness of and interaction with each other. Otherwise the clones appear as unrelated, somewhat uninteresting duplications of each other. Body language and line of sight can suggest a tangible relationship among them, although direct eye-to-eye contact can be difficult to simulate. Humans are exquisitely sensitive to the eyes, so if the eye connection among clones is off, even just a little, the viewer will notice and feel that the simulation is false. The most convincing clones are those that overlap, touch, or engage each other physically, although this effect requires careful planning in the shooting of the photos and skillful editing of the composite image.

One strategy for creating multiplicity images is rather straightforward. Set the camera on a steady surface, preferably a tripod, and shoot the same scene several times over, each time with the subject in a different pose within that scene and in the spot where you want that subject to appear within the final composite image. In a photo editing program, choose one of the shots as a background, then copy just the subjects from the other shots and paste them into their position in the background photo. The tricky part will be the editing of the edges around the clones so that they blend convincingly into the background photo. Also pay close attention to the shadows cast by the clones. Inconsistent or missing shadows will result in an unrealistic final image. Scenes with even or diffuse, steady light will usually result in fewer complications. Poor edge editing, changing light sources, and problematic shadows will produce anomalous clones that look like they were just pasted into the scene, or viewers will sense that the image just doesn't seem convincing even though they can't verbalize why.

In the image at the top of this page, which clones appear least realistic as natives of that shot, and why? Can you guess which one wasn’t cut and pasted?


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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche