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.


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


At the Café de Flore

We’re still in Paris and still with film.

This picture was shot with a Pentax 6×7, an oversized SLR, which at one stage in history was the go-to-camera for interior and design photographers, especially in New York. On this trip I had wrongly supposed it would make a great street camera. Sadly for me, the sheer weight of the thing with a wide-angle lens attached made carrying it through the day a dreary experience.

The picture was taken at Café de Flore, frequented in the past by Picasso, George Bataille and other cultural icons. I was attracted by the women in the hat, she seemed almost to be in a trance, and looked like a tourist with her glittery diamanté New York T-shirt. Her far away dreamy gaze suggesting she was thinking about a time in history, pondering maybe, if only, I. Or is that just me, wishfully thinking, if only, I.

Sadly, this picture needed the software advances of today to isolate her and focus the attention I wanted. In the real world almost everything is in focus when you use a 6×7 with a 55mm wide angle and the subject of interest is a couple of meters away. This made the picture way too busy and she became lost in the plethora of detail. Therefore, by judicious use of the blur option in Photoshop I was able to center the focus of attention I wanted without making the picture look like it had been manipulated.


Pentax 6x7Mk11, 55mm, f3.5, HP5 Plus


Digital to Analogue Dreams

Digital to Analogue Dreams

Concepts and thoughts are beginning to coalesce and form into concrete ideas for future projects with the only limiting factor being my ability to make a body of work that’s visually coherent for the audience.
The pictures under review, like today’s post, are all from a previous era, from the days of film, chemicals and small smelly darkrooms. It seems a bit strange to talk about analogue photography as a past era but it is a reality. I have friends who still only use conventional film and all power to them, but it is now more a craft that has become very, very expensive to experiment with. Having said that, I did try for many years to find a way to print fine-art black and white prints from digital negs in my own darkroom. But the costs were so exorbitantly high that it simply didn’t make any sense. Even now, after going fully digital, if I could have a wish come true it would be for a digital enlarger with which I could make B&W prints in my own darkroom. There is something enormously satisfying about the weight and the texture of the paper as well as the look in a fine-art, fiber-based photographic print that makes the work worth while.
Then why didn’t I continue with analogue film if I like the prints so much?
The easy answer is because it’s the image I’m after, the print is the vehicle for the final product. Therefore to get the picture the way I want requires a computer, which means a to print it oneself a digital enlarger is the only option. When I checked the De Vere’s digital enlargers they were around $20,000, plus installation etc, but that was a few years ago. Still, one day as technology catches up to people’s desires it may be more than a dream to process a photo in a computer and then print at home in a more traditional manner.
Sort of like having your cake and eating it to.

Canon EOS RT, 50mm, Ilford HP5 400asa film, Developed in Rodinol, dilution 1-50.