Objects Appear To Float In Mid-Air In These Stunning (And Photoshop-Free) Pictures

Charlie Kitchen’s collage-like photographs with superimposed shapes were taken entirely using an analog camera and a clever method of exposure.

When was the last time you spent an hour taking a picture?


Chances are, never. But the photographer Charlie Kitchen does it all the time. Kitchen crafts a single shot by using a film camera and carefully layering exposures on top of each other to create 3D, geometric shapes that pop out of his images.

It might look like Photoshop, but Kitchen only uses the digital editing tool to color correct the film once its developed. The superimposed shapes are formed by using stencils, which he calls “masks.” Instead of exposing the whole sheet of large format film, he inserts a sheet of black paper with a shape cut out of it in order to capture just a portion of the image. Then, Kitchen adds a different paper with the next shape to expose the next element of the picture, and so on until he finally exposes the background.

He calls it a “deconstructed way of approaching photography,” and finds a satisfying visual juxtaposition in the tension between the manmade shapes and the gorgeous natural landscapes he shoots. The work also explores the relationship between photography and geometry.

“Photography, it’s a flawless version of the human eye that’s able to record a scene with perfect integrity or fidelity,” he says. “Geometry is also in a sense, the same, in that it’s not really attainable. It’s almost theoretical. The human hand isn’t capable of attaining perfect geometry.”

Before he even begins to shoot, Kitchen plays around with 3D shapes in the modeling program Google Sketchup. Once he’s decided on a form, he’ll print it out as a template and cut out the masks. From there, he goes looking for a place to shoot. His last series was taken on a road trip from Texas, where he’s from, to Colorado. Many of his images focus in on natural elements like water or tree branches.

“I guess you could call them textures, focusing in on one photographic referent and getting different perspectives of the same thing,” Kitchen says. The exposure process takes about an hour per image–the whole process, which includes creating the masks, processing and scanning the film, and touching up the digital files until they’re ready to be viewed, can take two weeks for a set of images.


The works have started to get attention in the art world. Kitchen works at Artpace, an international artist residency organization, as a building and events coordinator, and his work has been shown around San Antonio, where he lives. A series of his images will be at Dreambox in Brooklyn in November.

[All Photos: Charlie Kitchen]


About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.