Advertising executive Stephen McMennamy has bent minds with his thought-provoking photography mashups. Called combophotos, McMennamy aims to inject a "just a bit of joy" in everyone's life with his creations.
Shami Sivasubramanian

29 Jan 2016 - 3:36 PM  UPDATED 29 Jan 2016 - 3:39 PM

Just as Salvador Dali enjoyed blurring the lines between reality and illusion, so does American Instagrammer and ad agency executive Stephen McMennamy.

His pet project, combophotos, fuses two disparate images, which meet at the centre of the frame to form one seamlessly blended photograph.

"Before [combophotos] truly began, I noticed a few people on Instagram using apps that allowed you to post multiple images at once," McMennamy shared with SBS.

"I saw one in particular where the individual had removed the border between the images which resulted in cleaner look that had an aesthetic that really appealed to me. Then one day I was rummaging through old photos from my 5-year-old's birthday; there was a picture of her smiling and a pink balloon, and I decided to play off the shape of her head and the shape of the balloon. I combined the two and that's pretty much where it all began," he said.

McMennamy describes the process of finding the perfect images to combine "an exercise in observation", and attributes his success to persistent trial and error.

"There’s so much experimentation it’s crazy. I’m in the process of trying something with a highly reflective object and it’s a pain in my ass, but I’m hell bent on making it work. I rarely give up right away. I’ll keep pushing on an idea until I feel like I’ve exhausted all my options. When those struggles pay off, I find those combophotos to be the most rewarding,” he said.

To McMennamy’s credit, he uses no stock images and takes all his photographs himself, mostly on his Sony A6000.

“I try to use my iPhone as little as possible, but in a pinch that damn phone is so impressive and powerful,” he said.

He “cleans up” his combo photos on Photoshop, but colour grades on his iPhone with the VSCOcam and Instagram apps.

McMennamy, who is an advertising executive for BBDO in Atlanta, Georgia, calls his combophotos endeavour “extracurricular”. But that hasn't stopped brands from asking to use his work for their campaigns.

“My clients haven't asked to use my images, but I've been approached by a few brands that have expressed an interest. At this point I've declined those offers,” he said.

Advertising also requires the ability to creatively manipulate perceptions, which is why McMennamy’s combophotos do so well. However, he is convinced the difference between advertising and what he does is a big one. 

“Advertising messaging can get pretty weighted down with clutter. That said, it's made me want to keep the visuals clean and simple. This has allowed me to keep tinkering and experimenting while staying in control of the final product. I love my day job, but this little photo experiment has definitely become an extracurricular therapeutic exercise for me," he said.

Not that any two images can form a combo photo. Though McMennamy swears by test shots and running his ideas past his wife and kids before sharing them on Instagram, sometimes his combinations just don't work out.

He shares his failed mash-ups on the combophotofail Instagram page, as wel asl behind the scenes images of successful combophotos. But when explaining why some images don’t make the cut, McMennamy said “most likely it's my own scrutiny/insecurity”.

“Some I fear are too dull or simple in their execution. But I think I'm going to start using the @combophotofail page as more of a sounding board to get people to help me decide on images I struggle with. I have put one to a vote. It was the "seagull + airplane". I couldn't decide which airplane tail to go with, so I put it to a vote. I loved it. It was highly interactive and I really loved hearing all the varying opinions. After 24 hours of voting, I removed the least favourite and kept the winner on my feed," he said.

You can see all of McMennamy’s combophotos here.