Monthly Archives: June 2017

First foray into large format

There’s something magical about film.  Maybe its the way it forces you to get it right in the camera with a more considered approach, the tactile nature of it, or the sense of connection to those early pioneers Fox Talbot and Neipce.


The sinar F is a monorail-type large format camera taking 4 x 5 sheet film.  Fitted with a Rodenstock 150mm lens this is broadly equivalent to a standard 50mm lens on a normal camera.


First things I noted:

  • Although not particularly fast at f5.6, the lens stops down to f64 for immense depth of field.  This feature of large format cameras gave its name to Ansel Adams’ famous ‘f64 Club’.
  • Film has to be loaded one sheet at a time in the darkroom at home then slotted into the camera one at a time.  In complete darkeness, it then has to be unloaded again for developing.
  • The camera is fully adjustable on all planes (tilt, swing and rise).  This allows depth of field and perspective to be manipulated in ways impossible for a normal camera.
  • Everything is slow.  Shutters have to be cocked, examining a ground glass under a black sheet is needed to focus the image.
  • Quality is astonishing.  It is impossible to visualise this on screen despite 40Mb scans.

Here’s the first two images I’ve taken, both at f64 with an exposure of 1 second at ISO 125 (Ilford FP4plus).  Notice how the perspective is shifted in the building to eliminate converging verticals by applying some tilt to the front standard / lens board.  No sharpening has been applied nor filters apart from a neutral density grad for the sky:



First impressions:

  • The sense of achievement – of taking just a single photograph – is significant.  This is arguably lost from digital photography.  It takes a lot of forethought, planning and preparation to get an image
  • One slip, one error, and the work is ruined.  With colour film costing around £10 per photograph to buy a sheet of film and develop it (not print) any mistakes are costly.  Black and White is around £2 per sheet and can be developed at home (these were developed by Ilford Labs to provide a benchmark reference point).
  • Quality is outstanding.  There’s a hard to define tonal rendition.  On inspection there seems to be no end ot the detail held in the negatives.  Room-filling images are a possibility and way beyond even the 36megapixel digital camera I use normally.

Study Visit – Cathedral of the Pines, Gregory Crewdson.

Crewdson is known for his meticulously planned, cinematic ‘frames’. This exhibition, Cathedral of the Pines, is said to be his most personal to date.

Up until this point my relationship with Crewdson’s work was mixed.  On one hand it is impossible not to be full of admiration for the depth of planning, choreography and technical quality in each image.

In fact I would describe his work as a Hollywood movie lasting just 1/125th of a second.

But is it too clinical?  How much of Crewdson am I really  seeing here, or is it sanitised and synthesised? Is it so objectively, so precisely, reconstructed that it loses the essence of the original idea?

Looking wider, how much of the recognition should go to his numerous crew instead?  Does it matter that a ‘Director of Photography’ is employed to do a lot of the thinking?

Does it matter whether or not he actually presses the shutter:

There are recurring themes in the works: Bare bulbs; cars with open doors; semi naked ladies staring blankly; sheds or outside toilets.  The holes in the ground – reminiscent of his tales of his his father’s psychotherapist practice on the basement of his childhood home.

There is a curious portrayal of the genders too.  The female is seen in many images as naked, wet hair, staring forward at nothing obvious.  The signifiers are of vulnerability and introspection.  By contrast only one male is shown completely naked, but safely cocooned within the steel shell of his VW Camper.

It is tempting to treat each image as an intellectual puzzle, knowing that each and every element in the image is placed deliberately the brain tries to ‘solve’ the riddle.  I found myself trying to find the reason for every included element like a scene of crime detective.  Like an accountant going over a balance sheet, I felt that everything should be objectified rather than left as a subjective artistic view.

But it dawned on me that the opposite might actually be true.  Since every element is a faithful reproduction of Crewdson’s original vision for the photograph, it could equally be argued that we are seeing a reproduction that is very faithful indeed.  Like a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork – everything uncannily replicated, true to his original idea.

Why the recurring themes like car doors and blankly staring ladies?  Is Crewdson moving the key elements of his mind around, juxtaposing them in different scenarios?  We all have recurring thoughts and dreams that we seek to reconcile as part of our life work.  How therapeutic is it for Crewdson to analyse, dissect and reconstruct these inner thoughts?

Indeed, a fellow student on the visit questioned whether we would similarly challenge a painter, having spent months meticulously working on an oil painting.  Clearly we would not.  On reflection it seems unfair to challenge Crewdson for being so meticulous about his work.

I initially found this exhibition difficult for the reasons outlined.  As well as gaining a much better understanding of his work, I came away with great respect for Crewdson as an individual too, not just for the sheer technical accomplishment, but for the almost obsessive attention to detail to faithfully create what is in his mind.

With this in mind, the work is surely authentic and courageous because I now know that he did not miss out anything at all in what he is showing us about his inner thoughts.  The interpretation is left up me – and I’m not the psychotherapist here.



Assignment 3 Tutor Feedback

• Good feedback on the subject matter, offers an interesting insight into an alternative culture.  Raises personal questions about grief and loss.  The ‘celebration of a life’ angle comes through in the images.

Boy with the flower: would have been good to have had the option of the flower in focus and boy soft. Learning: take more shots and options to choose from later on.


Learning: include the assignment brief at the top of the blog post to help the tutor or assessor.

• Good sequencing of the images.

• While the first image gives context, it’s not the strongest.  To be effective it needs to be displayed large.  Consider: removing it.


Consider: include the image of the altar, the one with the two photographs of the deceased.  Maybe this as the first image?



Image 4 – the lady playing the musical instrument (shruti).  To the uneducated it looks like she’s holding a box to hard to contextualise. Consider: removal.


Consider: adding the photo of the back of three people, arms on shoulders. Poingant and interesting angle on the idea of support and comfort


Consider: inclusion of first image (blue table).  Has a theatricality to it. Tissues are a useful signifier.  However the shadow detail of the dark Ganesh statue is lost – recoverable in post processing? Perhaps between images 10 and 11.


Consider: shot of balloons from below is striking but not helpful to the set.  Perhaps more of a stock image?  Suggest removal and replace with the people holding balloons (the one with the Shruti-playing lady).  Also remove balloons in the air – we can work out what is happening so don’t need to see it and never the best shots.


6. 1/30th at f/7.1. ISO500 35mm



Noted: blue theme and flowers running through the set, good for tying it together and continuity.

Noted: learning log now improved due to additional menus and allowing ideas to develop within it, less linear (additional idea after tutor discussion- may consider converting to WordPress Tags rather than Categories to aid linking and cross referencing of ideas even further).

Noted: finding it helpful to use a paper notebook then transpose best ideas into learning blog.

For Assessment: present ‘before’ and ‘after’ thumbnail sequences so the assessor can clearly see what has changed.

We ran out of time at this point so the next session to focus on the wider use of the learning blog and exercises, not just Assignment specifics.

My Tutor’s feedback report can be found here.

Michael Wolf – Tokyo Compression

this caught my eye and wanted to save it.

Michael Wolf stands on the Tokyo underground platform as the steamed-up windows reveal the commuters that scroll before him. As we look at the disquieting images we might ask why people tolerate this? You can feel the discomfort. The fingers down the condensation-soaked windows look like fingernails against a cell wall.

But we can also see how it feels ‘normal’ to be a commuter in this every day. It is tolerated.  A fascinating insight into what we humans will accept.

The condensation reduces the faces to abstracts, not real people, just shapes and colours behind a window.  We cant see their gaze, their expressions.  It is as though their humanity is suspended while on the train.  Faceless.  Until they arrive at the other end.

At the Flowers Gallery until 1 July.



A response to Mother River by Yan Wang Preston

Inspired by this exhibition at Bradford, i decided to apply a similar methodology to a local walk, taking a photograph at precise intervals of every 1/4 of a mile.

I chose a square format to provide an ‘Instagram’ aesthetic, suggesting snaps taken at intervals along the way.

Key things i learned:

  1. The picturesque wooded areas felt like a significant part of the walk.  The photographs suggest otherwise (the woods only feature in a couple)! Im reminded once again how our selectivity in choosing photpgraphic subjects so often distorts reality. Arguably this is a much more authentic portrayal of the walk.
  2. How much we miss in our everyday lives! There is always something of interest if we care to stop and look.
  3. Im unhappy with the ending, the water.  Does not bring the set to a logical comclusion.  Perhaps a closeup of removed boots or a pot of tea in a cafe would have neen better.