A panoramic view

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First Posted: 7/29/2014

A quick glance at Nick Shotwell’s work is a clear indication that he doesn’t like to take photographs in an ordinary way.

The Scranton resident specializes in double exposure prints. His portraits are often cropped so that the subject is not easily identifiable. Then he superimposes or photoshops another unrelated image from a separate event onto that photo. So, a woman may have a balloon or tree in her photograph. To understand this better, think of it as a selfie photo and someone is photobombing it.

But, that’s not all. Consider the camera Shotwell uses. The “sprocket rocket” is a panoramic plastic camera. Shotwell also prefers black and white photography over color. And he uses film not a digital camera, so, yes, he processes the 35mm prints the old-fashioned way in a darkroom developing it with chemicals.

Shotwell’s work “Parting Shots” will be on exhibit at Camerawork Gallery, 515 Center St., Scranton. A reception will be held Friday from 6 to 8:15 p.m. The photos will be on display Mondays through Saturdays through Sept. 2 during regular gallery hours.

The display will feature photos that Shotwell has taken of family and friends over the past five years. He calls it “Parting Shots” because the pictures are of people who have come and gone from his life. “It’s like a time capsule of these people,” Shotwell said. “It’s not really a way of saying goodbye yet it’s my take of finally putting out these portraits and moving on.”

The uniquely named “sprocket rocket” camera is essentially a cheap plastic camera by a company called Lomography, which specializes in quirky toy cameras. “It’s fun to use,” he said. “I fell in love with the panoramic format. I was tired of the regular 4 X 6 photo and these are 4 X 12.”

The cameras, which come in a range of fun colors like red and teal, retail for $89, and feature a super-wide lens.

Shotwell finds that his tools, style of photography and presentation has created a real niche for his work. “I really shoot my photos with reckless abandon,” Shotwell said. “I shoot the subject and then randomly other objects. The second photo I don’t really look through the lens, so I don’t know what I will get until I get in the darkroom and develop the print. Sometimes I find real gems. That keeps it interesting to me.”

The photographer hates perfection or the illusion of perfection through photoshopping a subject. That’s why when he snaps a photo of someone, he’ll purpose take it off center or from a wider angle so that the person isn’t easily recognizable. “I don’t edit the picture,” he said. “I don’t make it perfect. I wouldn’t be able to stand by a photo that I had taken and have it photoshopped and say that I did it. That’s not me. There is great beauty in imperfection.”

As for digital photography, he feels that people have abandoned film too quickly and embraced color perhaps too readily all in a quest for perfection. “Black and white photography puts you in a box,” Shotwell said. “Black and white, film and the panoramic camera give you constraints that forces you to be more creative.”

All of the photographs in “Parting Shots” will be available for sale. They will be one-of-a-kind as Shotwell doesn’t plan on reprinting any of them for future shows. Although the photos are portraits of real people, Shotwell explains that since they are taken from a unique angle and then created with double exposure, the persons aren’t readily identifiable. “You’re not really getting a photo of that person, you’re getting a photo that just happens to be of a person,” he said.