Progression and Film Work (Part 2 of 2)

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With completion of my Final Major Project looming for my undergraduate degree I have just updated my website to display the images associated with it. As with most of my projects it will remain open ended and I will continue to shoot portraits and landscapes to add to the initial body of work.

The main purpose of this post, as the title suggests, is to follow on from my previous post earlier in the year about my work with film. I read a quote by someone recently on the twitter machine “I shoot digital because I have to and film because I want to”, if it was you and you are reading this then thank you. That quote sums up my practice at present, although I will be making a deliberate transition back to more full frame digital work very soon in order to implement some of the skills I have learned over the last eighteen months or so and save myself some time removing dust from large format scans.

I talked about mentally reframing and the move away from the 35mm ratio in the last post so I’m going to move onto some of the reasons I have chosen shoot a project on the large format camera and my approach to a different way of making pictures. Technically the project has been a huge challenge. The portrait shots in particular had to be kept simple in terms of lighting and composition to achieve an element of consistency. They were not shot in a studio but on location at the subject’s homes and workplaces. One was even shot in the street at ten o’clock at night. The decisions for creating a certain aesthetic in the images were fairly simple but the more complex decisions of how to actually employ the camera changed during a series of test shoots and the course of the first couple of portraits.

I wanted to sit down and talk to people to try and establish their mental triggers in order that I could create an image to represent it. The plan was to set the camera up and then wait until I felt the moment was right to capture the sitter deep in thought about the things they experience on a daily basis that take them back in time. Herein lies the reason I chose the large format camera. Once set up there is no reason, as a photographer, for me to hide behind the apparatus. I wanted to connect with the sitter and talk, almost removing the fact that they were going to have their portrait taken. That never quite came to fruition and I ended up establishing the conversation prior to the camera being set up. I think this was down to the fact that it wasn’t a studio environment and there were too many factors to consider in the short space of time I had with each person. There were multiple missed opportunities for images of people at crucial moments mid-conversation. Sometimes a real sense of emotion as they recalled scenarios or times in their life that meant a lot. That said, the often serious nature of the chat has lead to images that I feel capture the intensity of the people involved, and their stories.

One of the other reasons I chose to shoot with the 5×4 camera was the simple fact that I knew I would only capture a few images of each person. This meant no distracting shutter clicking or faffing with camera settings. A single studio light, meter then focus followed by dry run at the correct settings to ensure the strobe fired. That’s it. All that was required after that was a dark slide insertion, job done. I shot just two frames of colour and a single black and white of each person. I did alter the aperture by a couple of stops between the two colour shots but the main reason for that was just in case the sitter had moved in relation to the camera.

The landscape images were a little simpler to achieve but by no means easy. Representing non-visual triggers proved a challenge and I still have one portrait that doesn’t have a landscape to accompany it. Again a certain aesthetic was required and to achieve this needed particular conditions and camera settings. I did shoot a few images that didn’t make the edit, mainly due to composition and depth of field being incorrect for image consistency. The rejected images are still useable but just not in the context of this project.

Practically I have learned a lot shooting a complete project in this way. I only had three dark slides for the duration of the project and had to shoot all of the portraits, less one, in just two days. Learning how to change film in a bag happened fairly rapidly. Strict management of film/boxes was also crucial to avoid double exposures and losing frames to sloppy procedure. I have learned to home develop sheet film in a Paterson tank although any commercial work I undertake will go to a lab. Post production has been a steep learning curve and I’m probably only half way up it at the minute. I have printed four images from the series for exhibition that have met my expectations. I have tried to be a bit of a purist with two of them and output them as C-type prints that, with hindsight, I shouldn’t have done as the inkjet prints look better due to the paper they are printed onto.

I will continue to shoot with the 5×4 camera as well as my medium format film camera. I find, above all else, that people are far more relaxed in front of camera when they can see my face, so hiding behind a huge Nikon will be reserved for jobs that require it.

Looking ahead I already have an idea for another project in my home town involving an Ordnance Survey map from the mid-sixties that I purchased and there is an exciting opportunity to go to Africa for a month to shoot portraits but more to follow on both.

Here is a low res PDF of the project in it’s current form for you to save and view offline.

At the Bottom of a Well

Thanks for reading