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.
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.
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.
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
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.
In 1998, as part of a larger and very personal quest I flew to Whyalla, in South Australia. I carried a lot of camera gear with me, so much so I was charged excess baggage on the return flight home. I flew all the way to Whyalla via Adelaide and collected a rental car there. I spent a few days exploring the area, and shot a lot of colour negative film. I remember the skies really being dramatic. I tried, in vain to capture this. I used a caravan park in Whyalla as a base and would spend all day out driving and exploring the area. I believe I got as far south as Franklin Harbour.
As I begin scanning my archive I was reminded of this trip. It was the era before the internet burst into the public consciousness. So no blogging, cloud based notes or smartphone to jot down pictorial notes. I vaguely recall borrowing a laptop from work, to write with I assume, but at this stage can only find meagre scribblings in my journals of the era.
It seems I shot about 22 rolls of 120 film on this journey, I’ve yet to count or find the black and white, either 5×4 or roll film. Of these I have edited down to about 20. Despite the problems I encountered processing the film there are still a a handful of images that resonate with me. I have yet to find the 5×4 film I shot on this trip and the one preceding it, in or about 1996 or 1997.
As we reach the end of summer here in Australia, I’ve been exploiting the the effects of La Niña. With the Melbourne Art Book Fair approaching rapidly, I was hesitant to head out to make pictures but this Friday the weather was just right, so I exploited that and made pictures for a couple of hours.
I initially set out to make some pictures as teaching aids, but as I was on a bridge near the ring road, I decided to wander towards an aspect of the Maribrynong river that has always intrigued me.
I started under the EG Whitten bridge. A sad spot in so many ways. So much rubbish just dumped. I am unsure about the status of the land under the bridge as well. I know that the edges of rivers up to the high tide mark are considered crown land, but this land is well above that and also bordered by some private land. The western side of the river seems mostly private. This has been heavily impacted by trail bikes and other uses. This is the part I found most interesting. As the bike riders reshape the topography.
An early influence for me as a student of photography was Joe Deal’s work, The Fault Zone Portfolio, a group of 19 silver gelatin prints that documented suburban life along the San Andreas Fault Line in Southern California. This place reminds me of that except the forces at play are much more human in scale.
I only took digital equipment with me on this occasion. Given what I saw I’m sure a return visit is in order with at least my Hasselblad. It would be no mean feat to cary this equipment in, but more than worth it under the right lighting conditions.
Eight years after I began making the same picture on each day I was at work. Always at 8:30. Always from the same position. The project has now ended.
The changes in the scene that were most notable, were the weather. Others included the tree.
Often the picture made at 8:30 in no way reflected the weather for that day either before or after 8:30. Which isn’t reflected in the imagery itself.
The linchpin, that helped me decide to end it was the removal the tree. The tree had suffered some damage in the storms we had 10 days or so prior, and in the interim someone decided it needed to be removed entirely.
In 1966, Ed Ruscha photographed ‘Every building on the Sunset Strip‘ in Los Angeles. It became a book and the original is highly sought after. I have seen the copy the NGV has in its collection. Such a simple and elegant idea. The book is one long accordion type book. It is small but intriguing. I have attempted my own version of the idea twice now. Once in Yarraville with a small stretch of houses that have since been demolished, for the Regional Rail Link. The ‘album’ is on flickr it is entitled Buckley Street Seddon. It took approximately 40 minutes to make those pictures.
I did the same recently, only this time I walked along Wright Street, Sunshine, from Stanford Street to Hampshire Road.
I started at the Stanford street and walked West, the numbers on that side of the street are even numbers. I excluded the corner houses. The photography component took all of 20 minutes.
There was one empty block primed and ready for redevelopment. And two other blocks with for sale signs on them. Big changes are indeed afoot. What form shape or size they will take remains to be seen I guess?