A Tale of Two Halves
The relevance of the diptych became vividly apparent to me while I was in Guatapé, Colombia, last year. I was in town just before the annual fiesta and people were busy setting up for the onset of Christmas and the celebrations prior to the big event. In one narrow street a man busied himself at the top of a ladder stringing red, green, and white umbrellas together. It was an impactful installation to mark your arrival at the town that year. I was immediately transfixed by this activity (much to the amusement of his assistant holding the ladder). For a photographer whose primary passion is street, moments like these are gold. Blazing sunlight was streaming into the space and the umbrellas were acting like parasols; the craftsman appearing and disappearing behind the brightly coloured canopies. Sometimes he was seen as a shadow from behind, sometimes as a silhouette in front.
The harsh light had imprinted the entire scene on the whitewashed-walls of the buildings behind me, like a inverse Sunprint or Photogram. Both images were equally compelling, and I had the tricky task of best-capturing both.
The reason I recalled diptychs with these photographs in particular, is because of the mirror image effect of the two together: The left is almost an imprint of the right and vice versa. Historically, diptychs functioned like a two-page book. In medieval times, panels were commonly hinged so that they could be closed and the artworks protected. The separate panels would show different but related scenes.
The word diptych comes from the late Latin and Greek diptukha ‘pair of writing tablets’ and the plural diptkhos ‘folded in two’. From di ‘twice’ plus ptukhē ‘a fold’. Hence the title of my series, Twofold.
Diptychs or triptychs are a fantastic tool for photographic storytelling. They might present two or three images from the same scene or juxtapose images to communicate a bigger idea. Some images simply compliment one another aesthetically, or offer a greater level of detail or context.
The idea of multiple photographs presented as one had me revisiting my archive. I’d been aware of these happenings previously, but had not yet pursued them. I soon discovered many more. There were images from different locations in the same space (an art gallery for example) or different areas of the same city. In some instances a diptych appeared from entirely different locations, connected through distinctive storytelling or my shooting style. Whatever the subject, each image must feed off the other in some way: Maybe it’s the tone of voice, or a connection between attire and body language, or a visual theme in the environment.
What follows is a selection of these photographs in their final diptych arrangements, part of my ongoing series, Twofold.
It’s a reminder not to discount old images in pursuit of the new. There’s always something to be learned or discovered from an archive of work. Sometimes you can learn a lot about your shooting style, photographic preferences, and the way you see the world—your photographic voice—by looking backwards just as much as forwards.