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Photographic cubism by Stephen McNally

  • 3 min read

Stephen McNally is an England-based fine art photographer, specializing in landscape photography and street photography. He creates dynamic photo collages using his Lensbaby Composer with Double Glass Optic, some quality time with Photoshop, lots of patience and a strong creative vision.


Albert Dock I

You use your lensbaby to create composite images called Photographic Cubism - can you explain what that means and where the term comes from?

The name Photographic Cubism comes from trying to use multiple images like a cubist artist to create an image. The term comes from the artist David Hockney.


Liverpool Bus

What inspired you to start working in this way?

I admire Hockney's work and I visited his gallery in the UK where I saw his photographic collages. He inspired me to try the technique. Also I admire L. S. Lowry, another English artist, who painted match stick type people in street scenes as he went around in his daily life. So, I try and combine both people and street scenes in my images.


Bling (left) and Playhouse (right)

Which lensbaby products are you using to make these images and why?

I shoot with a Lensbaby Composer with Double Glass Optic with an f/4 aperture disk. I came across Lensbaby on Flickr while researching a place to shoot. I said, "How did he take that shot?" In his tags was "lensbaby." The reason I use the Lensbaby is that I can get a different image from the same shot by moving the lens around - the creativity of the lens gives me multiple options.


John Lewis

Can you discuss your photographic vision - why do you like to bring painterly gestures into your photography?

I am not a photographer that points the camera and clicks. I use the camera as a tool in making a picture which may be in-camera movement, cubism or black and white long exposure - I suppose I don't like boring pictures. I follow the rules of photography in composition but I like to create a picture that an artist would create on a canvas like the impressionist painters of the 19th century or Turner. I want someone to say, "How did you do that?"


Pizza Wheel (left) and Rainford Square (right)

The number of separate photographs used to create one final image looks mind boggling - how do you go about composing shots and breaking down the creation process for the final product?

In shooting an image, I stand in the same spot for a few hours. I have a scene in my mind so I shoot the buildings and objects that don't move, moving the lensbaby to distort the buildings etc. I shoot over a hundred different shots. Then, I shoot the people I want to put in the picture as they pass by, again changing focus, angle etc. -- blurring people. In post-production, I assemble the picture by hand in Photoshop - over lapping images, building the image as I go along placing people in the scene where I want them. I also shoot textures from the buildings to use at the end of the picture with different blending modes to get my final image.


The Tourist

On the one hand, you create fine art black and white landscapes in the tradition of Ansel Adams while the cubist work seems to be the total opposite in terms of content, execution and style. Is it challenging to switch back and forth? Do you see any connections between the two bodies of work?

I came to try photographic cubism when the weather was too bad to do any black and white long exposures. I went on a photo street walk looking at what I could shoot hand held. I don't find it challenging; it is a different way of thinking about what you are going to produce at the end. In my photography, I try and produce an image that the human eye can't see. With both bodies of work I capture time over a period which can be a minute exposure in time with the long exposures or over the course of several hours with the cubist work. So, the two bodies of work are connected.


Red Ship (left) and Defence II (right)



Ready to follow your own creative vision?

Pick up a Composer Pro with Double Glass Optic before December 31st and get a free Accessory Kit - it's a great time to start experimenting with tilt-focus and playing with photography.

Which artists give you photographic inspiration? Let us know in the comments.

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