How I Got Here Part Two?

So we’ve established in the beginning, I was interested in what I would call a fine print. Based on the concerns of other photographers who’ve gone before me. Such as Ansel Adam’s Technique, and later, feebly attempting to explore the surreal and philosophical underpinnings of Frederick Sommer’s ideas.

Frederick Sommer Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona1940
Frederick Sommer, Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona
1940, Gelatin silver print,  (20.4 × 25 cm)

The next and final question is how, do you make/get a fine print? When one starts to get serious about your prints, it easier to produce good prints from good negs, plenty of shadow detail, not too blown out in the highlights, with hopefully a long scale of tones, [all based on a well published list of characteristics of materials.]

Long scales of tone, then give you license to manipulate them, the tones. Grain was a no-no, and high contrast was considered bad form, unless you had a good reason for it. Remember this is based on the ideas that the f64 group had pioneered.

black and white print of Dynon Road circa 2015 before the infrastructure came into affect
Dynon Road circa 2015 gelatin silver gelatin print 19 x 19 cms

This necessitated knowing your materials intimately, both film and paper. [I still use the same film today as when I started exploring materials over 30 years ago, but not the same developer or paper.] It also often meant lugging a tripod EVERYWHERE, because like good ol’ Uncle Ansel, you shot at the smallest possible aperture to get the maximum amount of Depth of Field. Usually on Medium Format or Large Format Cameras to help keep grain to a minimum. To keep your images sharp, you not only ALWAYS used a tripod, but a lens hood as well. Depending on your film developer combination*, even on bright sunny days, the best you sometimes could get was 1/8 a second at f22. Being a ‘landscape’ photographer, I never practised hand holding at low speeds, and today I still feel a little weird shooting wide open.
As a consequence I rarely photographed on a whim, and unless I was lucky enough to have a boot full of gear with you at all times, making images required a level of preparation and planning that would make trips to the Himalayas look like a picnic in the park.

Pylons near the Westgate bridge circa 1994
Pylons near the Westgate bridge circa 1994 gelatin silver gelatin print 19 x 19 cms

So; given the effort required to get your gear to the spot and with hopefully good light, you also needed to get the best neg you could, you were always trying to make sure you exposed the negative correctly, and then developed it to it’s full potential, if you were developing your own black and white film. I think I’m pretty good at developing my own b&w, but when compared to the ‘masters’ I learnt from I’ve another 20 years of practice to go.
Bad negatives, and I have plenty of them, were the bane of my life, but often got fewer and further between, as I became more skilled at my craft. Ever wonder what to look for in a bad neg?
Here’s a list of ‘straight photography’ no-no’s unless the idea or the print is enhanced by it**.

  • Camera Shake, not to be confused with poor/incorrect focus
  • Flare
  • Dust and scratches on the Negative/Print
  • Poor/Incorrect focus, neg or print
  • Empty blacks with no detail in a print
  • Highlights with no detail, in your prints unless spectral like chrome
  • Flat or Muddy tonality in your prints
  • Poor tonal separation in your prints
  • Chromatic Aberrations or other lens defects, in your print

The one thing bad negatives taught me, and many other people was, “How to make a good print”.
So how many photographers on any of the social websites out there walk EVERYWHERE with a tripod, a medium or large format camera, have tested their materials and equipment extensively and know their place in the broader history of photography?

Well not me that’s for sure. That’s why I love my mobile phone and my desktop publishing software, and flickr and the web in general.In part three, I will elaborate.

*At one point in my experiments, I used a Developer called pyro, with a recipe for it, that lowered my favourite film down from 400 ISO, to 6 ISO, it gave beautiful long scale negatives, but was very tricky and messy to work with, in the end I settled for, my own hand made D25.  I’m now using a 2 bath developer solution, with a long PH buffer after the developer.
**Artists Like Joel Peter-Witkin and The Starn Twins, took this all to another level, as their work is the antithesis to these ideas, and I admire and respect these artist’s work immensely.

Part one  || Part three

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iPhone turns 15

The iphone turned 15 recently, it has had a profound impact on my practice as an artist, but my experience clearly differs from many photojournalists use of the device.

Two articles dropped in my inbox recently, that demonstrate this. One from the AP News the other The Guardian. Mostly written by photojournalists, they seem either to venerate or denigrate this device. There is some shade of nuance between each extremes, to be fair. Many talk about using the viewfinder as a kind of extension to their seeing. Clearly none have worked with a medium format film camera, or large format film camera which requires the user to step back and take in the whole scene or think about a back to front and or upside down view on ground glass. In the 1950s these were common cameras for the press of the day. The iPhone actually mimics the ground glass of a 5×4 monorail or studio camera in terms of physically moving your face away from the device to compose the picture. This seems to have escaped most of the interviewees in both articles.

A blurred image of a moving car only made possible by a smartphone, in this case an iPhone, caused by shutter roll
A blurred image of a moving car only made possible by a smartphone, in this case an iPhone, caused by shutter roll

This then raises some issues about a professional versus an amateur. I myself have never sold or made an image for a client for money. Yet I have used film cameras of many types and sizes for more than 30 years. I have been an educator specialising in photography in all its forms since 1993. Taking the time to consider what is in the frame forms a large part of what I do all the time, regardless of camera used.

Also, I use a third party app to make pictures with my iPhone, this alone has impacted on my picture making experiences, with this device.  Yet I sense none of the professionals in the articles think this way? This third party app allows me to capture RAW DNG files and process them as I would any other digital capture.

In the early days of phone cameras prior to the iPhone my own experience with phone cameras, was one of being highly experimental . I had no preconceived ideas about what the device could achieve and no expectation that it would replicate the real world in any way shape or form. As I  experienced it. So why should a device with better optics and more resolution, interchangeable lenses amongst other things ever be expected to do this?

These days, having a camera in my pocket at all times is both liberating and exciting. As of todays date I have over 147 thousand iPhone images alone. Are they all earth shattering works of art? No! Is it possible to look back over this archive draw conclusions about what the images can “say”. Yes. The pandemic alone has prompted me to consider photo opportunities themselves. Some may see some light at a future date. Could I have done this without an iPhone? No. Would I ever have contemplated it? No.

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