Eastern Perspectives

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Bronica SQA, 80mm, 1/2sec, +1 filter, Classic Pan 200asa (10 years out of date) developed with Adox Rodinol, diluted 1/50 for 12 minutes

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West 43rd Street

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.

 

Bronica SQA, Tri-X 400,

Monuments to Greed

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.

Bronica SQa, 50mm, Tri-X 400.

Glory Days?

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.

Back to Basics

Rather than write a load of blather I thought it would explain more if I posted a letter I sent to a photography friend.

Hi Fee, I’ve had an interesting set of experiences the last week. As you may remember from my message I was in Vienna, ostensibly to see a large exhibition of Robert Frank photographs. I originally thought the exhibition was a retrospective but it turned out to the collection of some super rich dude from Switzerland. It was seriously interesting because many of the pictures I have never seen before as prints, especially as old 1950/60 prints. It’s fair to say that despite Franks disdain for convention he was a masterful printer of Black and White photographs. But enough of that, to the point.

As I’ve mentioned in previous missives I’ve been working a lot lately as an event photographer, plus the occasional portrait to keep my hand in. The work is interesting and I enjoy it, but the event stuff in the final analysis, really quite boring.

Engaging on the day, but not really satisfying long term.

I’ve also improved my P.S. skills to a sophisticated level, which means I can do more with a photo and do it fast. Sounds great, but the lack of challenge translates into a dwindling in interest in the everyday world of photography.

Solution, go back to my roots.

Hence I’ve once again taken up film. In fact the only camera I took to Vienna was a film camera.

The difference in picture making is profound. For a start, everything is soooo slow. I’m using my medium format Bronica, which means first taking a light reading, a maximum ISO of 400 and no auto focus assist in low light shots.

And there are only 12 shots to a roll, so one needs to choose what one shoots with care.

I set myself a limit of one roll of film per day, which seemed insignificant compared to the plethora of shots I shoot with my digital camera, but the daily limit proved to be more than I could accomplish.

Instead of indiscriminately pressing the shutter button it was, do I really want this shot, was this the best angle, was the light right, would it print, was there too much/little contrast in the scene and how was it going to look in B&W.

Back in Berlin I had some old chemicals at home so I carefully processed what I considered the most insignificant roll. The chemicals turned out too old to work.

The roll lost.

Despite the knowledge that there wasn’t much of value on the roll, there is still the nagging doubt that there might have been something.

The pain of not knowing is real.

Ya don’t get that sort of emotion with pixels.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not reconverting back to analogue. I love what I can do with my digital cameras, but for a break from reality, film is so engaging,

absorbing,

fraught with risk,

offers so little in the way of reward,

the rewards that come take time to materialize,

which is exciting in it’s own perverse way.

it’s full of surprises. I guess the trick is to let oneself continue to be surprised.

Cheers

Me

Bronco SQA, 80mm, f4, Classic Pan 400ASA( 9years out of date), processed with Adonal Rodinol, 1/50 dilution.

 

Another Street Sign

With the way the talking heads in the media are ranting and frothing at the mouth about religious fundamentalism you would be pardoned if you thought it was a new phenomenon. Of course it’s not, the ebb and flow of violent pious beliefs is a historical fact.

One day’s crackpot is tomorrow’s martyr.

On a lighter note; a sure way of recognizing a photograph shot with a medium format film camera is the so-called waist-level shot – so named because the camera is held just above the waist and you look down into the viewfinder to focus and a fine example of what happens is this picture.

The picture was shot about 22years ago so it is also a fine example of the continuity of religious bigotry.

If there is one thing that I find exceptionally hard to understand it’s the large swaths of angry people who believe that their belief in a loving god demands that they abuse and persecute those who don’t have the same beliefs, when in fact such overweaning narcissism is an anathema to all religious teaching with the possible exception of Satanism.
Bronica SQA, 80mm, Kodak Tri-x, asa 400

A Tale of Resilience

One of the major differences between film and digital photography are the stories one can tell. In the digital realm to tell someone that you underexposed 10 or 12 photos 2 or 3 stops without noticing just means you are not very good at what your doing.

Alternatively, mistakenly putting a 50 ASA film in the camera and metering for a 400ASA film will extract humorous groans from those who have also done it. It becomes an more interesting tale when you compound the mistakes. In this picture which I shot two weeks ago I never noticed that the film was not the much faster HP5 that I thought it to be and I consequently metered and developed it as if it was. But what makes the tale interesting for those who like such things are the extraordinary details. Such as because the film was over ten years out of date I was reluctant to buy new developer and the internet said that Rodinal  film developer could be kept for a few years before it went off. I had an open bottle of it that had been hanging around for about a year and a half so I thought  why not give it a go, even though the chemical’s colour had shifted from light amber to almost black.

The fixer (just as old) smelt a little, but what the hell.

The end result is that the chemicals did their job and properly developed the film , but due to the massive underexposure  when I shot the film the negatives are seriously thin and it took a slow 3200 dpi scan to get a sort of image.

Considering everything, a 4-second handheld exposure, terrible lighting conditions, gross underexposure, old out-of-date film and failing chemicals, I was surprised to get anything and yet I still got a picture. And it looks like a very old photograph  straight out of the camera, which is cool.

Film, it’s amazing stuff.

Bronica SQa, 50mm wide angle, f4, 4 second exposure, Ilford Pan F, ISO 50.