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Bronica SQA, 80mm, 1/2sec, +1 filter, Classic Pan 200asa (10 years out of date) developed with Adox Rodinol, diluted 1/50 for 12 minutes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

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

On Film, Ism’s and Rituals

Once a site of resistance, the Peace Wall in Prague is now a place where insignificant individuals desecrate symbols of resistance for reasons of narcissism. Let’s face it, the mass of tourists who feel a need to write on walls such as the John Lennon Peace Wall are those who come late to history via a homogenized journey but want others to think they would have risked life and limb if only they had been born earlier, or in a less salubrious location, or under an oppressive regime, or didn’t have to go to uni, or….

The folk law version I heard from the locals back in the mid 1990s was that during the communist era someone did the original graffiti/paintings and the authorities painted over them, and then more were done, the authorities would removed them and back and forth it went. Finally someone who was caught repainting the J.L. mural was badly beaten, which resulted in the violent protests of record.

Ironically, Wikipedia gives a different, more homogenized and palatable version, but by the 1990s tourists had begun to do what organized oppression could not, they were taking the wall away piece by piece, paint chip by paint chip as souvenirs to put away and forget or were tagging what was left with rather stupid minutia.

The wall looks much different today, I guess because it’s now a site of entertainment, an ode to the corrosive power of any dominant ism no matter the label

The reason for these pictures is that I have begun to regress and have once again fallen in love with film. Not for the nostalgic reasons so popular today or because film is better, but for the ritual of loading film, taking light meter readings and being restricted to the amount of shots (12 in the case of this camera) to a roll of film. These actions slow everything down, makes me more selective and contemplative about composition and why I want to shoot the image. It also costs 30 to 50 cents a shot and a lot of work goes into making the final picture so each image is important. The process is therapeutic you might say, in its own odd way.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lennon_Wall

Bronica SQA, 80mm, Ilford HP5, developed in Rodinol. 1994

Experimental Accidents

Doing experiments like the one currently under discussion is more often than not boring for those with a less technical interest in photography than myself, but such experiments in fact make life as a photographer so much easier.

This picture was shot on Friday night under terrible conditions. The lighting in the room is tungsten, flat, and I deliberately underexposed by three and a half stops, in this and other photographs I shot during the evening. The results from this exercise were mixed, ranging from the just plain awful to this image, which, while I like it a lot, is the result of an accident rather than careful planned execution.

The grain/noise in this image is undetectably the same as film I’ve shot in this location over the years and it was achieved primarily in camera. A minimal amount of post-processing was done with Silver Effex Pro, free B&W software from Google.

Why is this important? Because I am once again resurrecting the book project that is/was Unreliable Truths, but this time I will have the help of a friend who will edit it and try and knock it into better shape, which means all new pictures will need to look the same as those shot ten years ago. Yes, I could manage it in Photoshop if I had the patience to endlessly experiment to get the right look, but it’s simply easier to get it right in the camera….

 

35mm, f2.5, 1/20sec, ISO400 (3.65stops underexposed)