Christoffer Relander

Christoffer Relander

Nov 01/2012
by Kris Samraj

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It is remarkable how fresh and striking Christoffer Relander’s multiple exposure photographs are. Considering the volume of photographs and media 

we are inundated with lately, it takes something truly original to stand out. Photographers have experimented with multiple exposures before, but without Relander’s masterful composition and expert control over a technique that is too easily misused. Bodies become ethereal vessels holding trees and forests. The effect is magical.

Born in 1986, Relander only came into photography in 2008 while serving with the Finnish Marines. “I had done a two-week course of photography basics in my graphic design school in 2007, so I happened to be the closest they could get to a photographer,” says Relander.

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Relander was hooked from the outset. Back in civilian life, Relander bought himself a DSLR and began to experiment. Photography became such an obsession that Relander began carrying his camera everywhere he went because he couldn’t bear to leave it at home. That passion sustained him as he learned the craft through trial and error. “I learned to shoot manually in the military and perhaps fully controlled it when I got my own camera,” says Relander. “But photography is about so much more than just understanding camera settings. It’s about finding a suitable light, communicating with models, knowing your equipment, and post production.” For a self-taught photographer the learning curve is steep. The myriad technical details make it easy to lose the forest for the trees. It takes time and experience to gain comfort with the technical side.

Photography gave Relander a new perspective and a desire to capture the world around him. Capturing subjects was equally as powerful a motivator as was his technical experimentation. Nature and people became Relander’s favorite subjects early on. “My earlier interests in graphic design, drawing and painting are also in many ways similar to photography – it’s all about illustrating,” says Relander. 

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The multiple exposures experiment began in 2010, though the early iterations bore little resemblance to the current polished results. The technique slowly developed and Relander still tinkers with the process to keep learning. Practice has made it easier. While his first collection of multiple exposure portraits took two years to create, the sequel was shot in one week. The images in Multiple Exposure Portraits are tentative in comparison with the sequel collection We Are Nature. Relander limits the elements in the latter to people and trees. This simplification elevates the beauty of his technique and ties the pieces with a common thread. 

Anything sufficiently advanced will appear to be magic. The non-photographer may assume there is some secret to his art, but Relander insists there isn’t. He uses a full-frame Nikon D700 with a multiple exposure feature. This tool allows up to nine separate exposures to be combined in-camera as he shoots. Similar to exposing film twice, Relander scrolls back and overlays the second exposure on the same section of film. The same process is repeated until the multiple exposures he wants are combined into one single image. Relander uses the overexposed areas in the multiple exposure process as a mask for subsequent images. This creates the graphical look and is the trickiest part of the process. 

Relander’s distinctive style has resonated with people. People have asked him to recreate this style with particular images they supply. Relander has resisted these contracts because they would require digital manipulation to create the final image, rather than creating everything in-camera. If a large assignment requiring image manipulation came up, Relander claims he would take it on but that he wouldn’t use it in his portfolio because it’s not the work he enjoys. Part pragmatist, part idealist, he takes pride in the fact that he has never digitally manipulated anything in his multiple exposures. If people want a personalized Relander photograph, Relander would have to come over and shoot it himself. Or they could to travel Finland.

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Relander grew up outside the town of Ekenäs in Southern Finland and spent much of his childhood in the woods. Relander and friends would fish, swim and trek over hills, walking around exploring. Trees consistently appear as the background in We Are Nature. With Finland’s low population density, I imagine nature plays an important role for the Finnish people. But Relander’s use of trees is more pragmatic than symbolic. “It’s as much about the aesthetic forms and textures I get by combining trees with people. I need a bright background for my textured images; therefore trees are easy to work with.” He continues, “In the South of Finland we aren’t as close with nature as they are in the North. It’s actually quite a big difference, but then again it all depends on what you compare it with.”

On this note, Relander concludes, “I think nature is very beautiful and interesting in many ways, as are we people. By combining them the way I do I want the viewer to feel a sense of timelessness and contemplation.”

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