When I look at this picture I can see I was always going to be a portraitist.
I shot this image in the studio during my second year at Uni. I don’t remember the unit requirement but I decided to do portraits of people without the metaphorical mask they present to the world. It all had to do with Greek tragedy.
She was a biology major also doing part-time modeling to pay her way through Uni. Her name I found difficult to remember even then, without the distance of the years, and in those days I never kept shoot notes. One thing I learned from those sessions: everybody has a story to tell if they find someone willing to listen.
Hers was one of a harrowing escape from the wars that had ravished the Balkans. A tale of hardship and hope. A story of a young refugee who was alone in Australia making a life for herself who despite her beauty and intelligence was not blind to the many problems that lay ahead.
In the first half of the last decade in the previous century I was in Prague for six weeks and naturally I visited the few galleries exhibiting photographs. Having recently thrown of the stupefying effects of foreign occupation, photography in Czechoslovakia was in the process of realigning itself with western style aesthetics; however, it had not historically had the same love affair with small format street photography that America had had.
The focus was on medium or large format pieces that explored the intrinsic beauty of the everyday, the tonal ranges between black and white and the way light creates form and dimension in a picture.
Both simple and complex at the same time, they tend to be quiet and meditative. Totally at odds with the freneticism of modern photography.
I have retained a long and enduring love for this type of work -, so much that when I once again picked up my larger format film camera, it was almost a fait accompli that I would begin with this style.
Bronica SQA, 80mm, 1/2sec, +1 filter, Classic Pan 200asa (10 years out of date) developed with Adox Rodinol, diluted 1/50 for 12 minutes
During the process of relearning the multitude of things about film and film cameras I’ve forgotten over the past decade (since I went digital), I have stumbled across photographs in the computer that have languished forgotten in obscure folders for years. Pictures like this one, which is terribly underexposed and therefore by today’s rules of engagement, useless. There was no better one taken at the time so the picture was ignored after downloading, lucky in fact not to have be deleted. Found only by accident because it was in a folder with older negative scans
With film I find myself constantly revisiting, reprinting, and reviewing the negatives and when also is reviewing the scans one needs to look closer, it’s more labour intensive, requires more concentration, which is how this one was discovered.
In this instance the gross underexposure has worked (If the truth be known, the image is probably better for the mistake than if it had been correctly exposed) giving it a very W. Eugene Smith kind of aesthetic and I have always admired Smith’s work.
The camera is my old 5D and the lens is a cheap Sigma 28-300mm, which makes the picture a good example of money not being the key to a good image. To add to the lack of professional expertise, it was shot directly into the sun and through the window of our hotel in Gdansk.
Many photographers who shoot in the street like to catch people unawares, the theory being that it gives the image more authenticity. I don’t believe this, in fact I belong to a totally different school of thought. I believe people have the right to know when they’re being photographed and while this can still lead to abuses, it’s usually the photographer who is being abused. It’s this dynamic interplay between the photographer and the street that I believe makes the street photography genre both interesting and exciting. The best example of this school of thought is Dianne Arbus, who went far further than I ever will in engaging with her subjects.
Also, if like me you use a large camera with a waist level viewfinder and a wide-angle lens then you can’t hide and everybody knows what you are doing, which is why I like this format.
The return to film and specifically medium format film has also meant a reevaluation of many old negs that have been waiting patiently for years for a little recognition.
Often the reason they were left waiting was that I simply had no use for them whereas the net gives so many things a platform for display.
The picture was shot down around Wall Street some time around 2002. The distortion also tells me I used the 50mm wide angle, but that’s basically all I know of the technical stuff as I kept inaccurate records at the time.
I liked the framing of the picture because it shows the monumentality of the architecture in NY’s financial district. Also the central point of interest is offering a graphic metaphor to the avarice that built the district.
Plus, if your in New York, the Empire State Building is always a must to photograph.
One would expect to be able to say that as one’s style matures then it would be normal to do more and more unusual stuff. However, as this 2003 picture attests, my framing has slipped back towards the banal instead of seeking new horizons.
If pressed, I would say that the reason I have regressed back towards film (the last two months) is because the ease of digital has robbed me of something important. With film everything requires time and concentration. Each shot has to have something to validate the expense of shooting the frame, consequently composition is very, very important.
Nope, I am much more conservative today than I was yesterday, but that can/will change.
No idea of the technical data of this picture except that the film used was Ortho Classic Pan 200 asa and it was shot with a Canon Eos5 using a 50mm lens.
I’m trying hard not to be paranoid here, but it seems anytime I write about the wall of angry cranes flooding the horizon another one appears.
This is semi suburban Berlin, not some central office utopia, but every day brings more and they are all in a rush to get the buildings built with floodlights blinding the local residents deep into the night.
Really, are there so many desperate rich people out there who want to buy a luxury a apartment so near to us, their much poorer cousins?
As a consolation I do occasionally get this War of the Worlds lighting effect.