Tag Archives: frustration

Intentional Film Movement

No, the Intentional Film Movement is not a radical revolutionary brigade, forcing all digital camera users to move to film…! It’s just my play on words in relation to the current trend for ‘intentional camera movement’ (I think ICM – a bit like HDR – is interesting the first few times you see it and then it just gets tedious, mostly because it’s rarely done well, and is often done just for the sake of being able to do it, with little underlying narrative).

Anyway, rant over.  Holidays at home are wonderful: I have been tidying up this week, and came across 19 rolls of film (14 rolls of 35mm and 5 rolls of 120) that I had had developed but then never really looked at. I knew there were some portraits in amongst them that I was somewhat concerned at having lost, but also some experimental images.

Un-Intentional Film Movement - a typical 'accident'

Un-Intentional Film Movement – a typical ‘accident’

My old Rolleiflex, with six decades behind it, works really well. Except for those times it doesn’t. In particular, the film transport mechanism can be a bit dodgy: the film doesn’t always quite engage the way it should, and then the winding mechanism fails: it becomes possible to wind through the whole film without making a single image, as it doesn’t ‘lock’ for each exposure, even though the shutter can be cocked. That has resulted in some rather strange double (triple?!) exposures, in part covering the bottom or top of an image, but I found that when the film fails to engage properly (and in the meantime I can tell when this happens with the first winding of the film to get to the first frame), it also becomes possible to wind the film on whilst having the shutter open. Some of the ‘problem’ images I was getting were like this one here (oops – some of my wife’s family at a celebration last year!).

Intentional Film Movement

Intentional Film Movement

However, this also offers some interesting opportunities. Rather than being annoyed about the film mechanism, I began to experiment, whilst also still making ‘proper’ images in between the experiments (after all, this can easily be done, if you guess how far to wind the film on – does cock the shutter, it just doesn’t move the film on evenly). I tend to used Ilford FP4+ in this camera, which has such a wide latitude that exposure doesn’t really matter – and that makes it ideal for things such as this. I began to try doing two or three things simultaneously to create new images:

  1. using a small aperture, open the shutter
  2. turn the film crank whilst the shutter is open
  3. at the same time, also move the camera.

I was using a tripod (I find that easiest with the Rolleiflex – I struggle to keep the image even vaguely straight without a tripod, and so if it’s important to keep straight, then I need a tripod!), but even doing the first two of these three actions requires a degree of coordination that I struggle with – and moving the camera at the same time becomes much harder! However, the images do then become more interesting.

I tried several experiments with these techniques, using several films, all of them in this pile of unexamined films that I found this week.

Only having seen the negatives, I have been aware of the effect I was generating, and did see how moving the camera also played a role (I didn’t do so for the first roll, and, of course, just ended up with a blur). So here are some of the attempts that have resulted in more interesting shapes.

Intentional Film Movement

Intentional Film Movement

This one, which has a floaty lightness to it, is perhaps my favourite of this group of photographs – it involved a longer exposure, a smaller aperture, and slow consistent movement of the film (I think the darker line is when I stopped winding consistently). I was actually seeking to make a portrait of a friend, but I’ll not give her name here – suffice it to say that the subsequent images of her worked really rather well, even if this one doesn’t actually look anything like her!

Intentional Film Movement - a landscape

Intentional Film Movement – a landscape

I think this last image is interesting for a different reason. I intended to create a ‘cloud’, but this worked exceptionally well: what I am including here is not just the image on the film, but the jagged edge where it has been cut, and the straight line from the scanner’s film-tray. It may be quite hard to see on smaller devices (and perhaps I should have processed this a little more to bring out this contrast – all of these are simply straight from the scanner with no adjustments of any kind), but on a larger screen, I can quite clearly see a night landscape here. The jagged edge is a curved hill, and the lighter areas further up the image are (strange-looking) clouds. Of course, it is not just landscapes that can represent more abstract concepts – abstract concepts can also represent landscapes!

There is a pleasant mix here of images. Creating them involves an element of randomness, but I have tried to create certain kinds of shapes and patterns too, even if I don’t see if they’ve worked until the film has been developed.

Do I think this is going to be something I do more of? Probably not, unless there is a motif that I think might be made more interesting with this technique – AND I happen to have the Rolleiflex with me AND the film hasn’t loaded properly! The one thing I can’t predict is when the Rollleiflex will work properly and when it won’t, so there is a further element of randomness in these kinds of images – most of the time I don’t know when I might (have the opportunity to) create more!

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Not a review of the year…

Of all the constructions we create in the world, I sometimes think that time is the ultimate construction. Such breaks as exist are created by us, whether this be 1/125 of a second, or the end and beginning of a year. These segments are imbued with meaning only if we give them meaning, and in that context I grow very weary of reviews of the year (the only one I’ve read that is really worth reading is this one, by Deborah Parkin). So that’s not what this short posting is.

Scarista Bay

Scarista Bay

Instead, I want to show briefly where I am: this photograph from the Isle of Harris describes my photographic mood at the moment: a wide, apparently empty desert, with minor undulations and seemingly no points of interest (Michael Jackson clearly shows us that no beach is really empty). The mountains in the distance, to which I am more naturally drawn, seem a long way off, but I think I am perhaps also beginning to see much more in the emptiness of the sands and find new ways of expressing myself in such contexts. The move towards large-format photography is, for me, a part of that, and something that I look forward to developing in the coming months.

Vee

Vee, crossing a dark field

At times this is simply about not being alone. In recent months especially, I have felt as if I am walking in the dark with little light, and no idea where I’m going, resulting in much frustration. Often that is quite ok, but at times it can also be rather depressing. But I want to acknowledge all the people who have played a role in keeping me going by engaging in conversation and argument, thereby enabling me to keep going even if there’s not a lot of light. It seems invidious to name people, but… Rob, Lucy, James, Alastair (x2!), Deborah, Alex, Matt, Antonio, Mark, Mabel, Duncan, Mike, Marc, Tom and many more – thank you for the inspiration and motivation to continue exploring different aspects of creativity. A lengthy Twitter conversation with some of these lovely people last night reminded me of how much I value the kind of discussion that enables thinking to be clarified – even if I’m walking in the dark!

In that sense then, happy new year to all…

Working on a series is hard work

As regular readers of my Twitter feed will know, I’m working on a series called ‘What Lies Beneath’.  I want about 12 or 13 images for this, and whilst I don’t want to say more about the series just now (all should be revealed in the next couple of weeks sometime – my final film needs processing first), but I do want to say: it is SO hard to pick images!  I have been working on this series for a little while now (since autumn 2011), and have created quite a number of images – yet whittling it down to a small number is very difficult.  Every image has a story attached to it, but the meta-narrative I want to create necessitates some exclusion and continual re-focussing.  This, as will soon become clear, is an integral part of what the series is, but deciding to discard images is hard – I feel as if I’m cutting away something that I really like.  Perhaps some of the discarded images will find a ‘home’ elsewhere, but for now, they need to be excluded, however frustrating such decisions about narrating a certain kind of creativity might be.  Here is one of the rejects, a photograph I made in Strathconon this summer.  It was early in the morning, and I was standing in the river with my camera carefully set up on the tripod – and just as I was squeezing the cable release I realised the laces on one of my boots had come undone and the water was coming in…

River Meig, Strathconon

River Meig, Strathconon

I’ve spent a while studying and meditating on this photograph, and in discarding it, I feel as if I’m letting an old friend down.  Maybe it belongs back in the series after all, and I should get rid of another one…?

Or perhaps I should just add one more to the series?

Oh, but…

See what I mean? It’s hard to do this stuff!

Allow me to introduce you to…

… my sick camera!

'The sick camera'

'The sick camera'

This is what my 15-year old son, in his elegant way with language, means just now when describing this camera, my Nikon FM2.  A few days after breaking my arm, stuck in the house and going slightly crazy, I decided to get the little FM2 out and document some of my time off due to the broken arm.  So I’ve photographed: items to do with being off, different things I can do, some of the people who have visited me or that I have visited, and so on.  For example, the shot above was preparation for a self-timed image of me typing with both hands, which my physiotherapist has recommended I begin to do.  I can’t remember what film is in the camera – I think it is probably my last roll of Fuji Sensia 100, but it may also be a black and white print film… so that will be interesting.  I’m determined to use all the 36 exposures on this little project – but don’t worry, I’ll not be inflicting images of me typing with both hands on you, even though it’s exciting for me! 🙂

I have also managed to take a couple of images with the much heavier D90 (using just my lovely light little 35mm f1.8 lens).  So here’s a wee portrait of the dog wearing glasses… in my son’s inimitable style, he calls him Professor McDog:

Professor McDog

Professor McDog

At the end of this week, Neil McIlwraith from Beyond Words is intending to drop off part of an order for me, Michael Kenna’s Huangshan – I can’t wait!

Depressing thoughts on photography and copyright

Since I can’t currently take any photographs because of my broken arm, I’ve been reading quite a bit about photography, spending time looking at some of my old photography books, and browsing online, sometimes for several hours a day. Whilst there is a lot of stuff online that is a complete waste of time (I won’t list some of the grimmer photographic corners of the internet here…), it is really lovely to have the time to find some of the gems: stunning imagery, intelligent reflection on the art of photography, and so on. I may yet come back to write about some of that as time goes by, but for now, will add occasionally to my Inspirations page.

But one thing I have been – perhaps naively – shocked by as I roam online is the level of copyright infringement, even of images that are not particularly good or not by professionals, which means that all photographers should be concerned by these issues.  I always knew this happened and it is something many photographers struggle with, but the sheer level of copyright infringement is astonishing.  For example, the most recent and outrageous case I’ve come across is that of John Goldsmith, who has basically had his copyrighted image stolen by a photography gallery’s architect – and then used by the gallery!  Now, I’ve been to the Photographer’s Gallery in London and I didn’t think it was that great, but for an institution that claims to be supporting photographers to use an image in this way is just outrageous.  I’ve come across his photography before, and really like it: and that image of the beautiful woman in the window is wonderful.

I occasionally use things like TinEye, but it’s hard to know how to deal with these issues in a really systematic way – after all, Mr Goldsmith only found out about his image being used (on another continent!) because a friend happened to recognise his photo!  Overall, this sorry saga just leaves me rather sad: it seems that we should almost expect some ignorant and possibly malevolent person to steal our work at some point…

On patience and time in processing

Stephanie: an intimate moment

Stephanie: an intimate moment

This is not going to be a long piece about patience and time (I have neither the patience nor the time for that – haha!).  Rather, it’s about taking the time in certain contexts, specifically when it comes to editing.  On looking at the tag cloud on this blog, I notice that I’ve written several times about the need to take time when seeking to capture images, but yesterday I found that after much time I had finally managed to get an image edited the way I wanted it to be – an image that I took in June 2009.  Now, 15 months later, and after several different attempts at edits, I’m finally happy with the end result (a previous version that I still like, but isn’t quite ‘right’, is here).

Sometimes, I just need to leave an image alone for a while, sometimes different edits need to be tried out, sometimes it will take a long, long, long time to get it right.  I can remember taking this image ‘in-between’ shots – Stephanie wasn’t really posing as such, but this seemed to me to be a gentle moment of some intimacy, and I wanted that to be reflected in the processing… and to my mind, that is reflected in this final (for now…) edit.

Read the manual! And…

After much deliberation and a recommendation from Bruce Percy, I recently bought a Sekonic L-758D lightmeter.  It is fiendishly complicated to try and understand all the features, but I do now understand the basics, and it is a fantastic device (and I will probably never need to use all the features anyway).  I’ve read the manual through, and remembered thinking how cleverly designed everything about it was.  Even the pouch it came in had a little pocket for a spare battery.  The manual encouraged carrying a spare, just in case the battery in the meter ran out – and explicitly said the battery that was supplied may have been in the device for a while and that a spare should be bought promptly.  Very clever.

I find the meter most useful in determining the differences in dynamic range, and then using graduated filters to reduce the range, thereby creating a usable image.  This evening, I was wanting to capture a lovely ruin in the evening light, and just knew the shadows would be too dark or the highlights blown out without use of a grad filter.  So I dug the light meter out of my bag, turned it on – and the battery was flat.

Of course, I had thought when reading the manual that the idea of buying a spare battery was very sensible, but I hadn’t acted on it.

Kaiserswerth 1

Kaiserswerth - with dark shadows

So I thought I’d try the shot anyway.  It was rubbish, as you can see here – the shadows are almost completely black, and whilst the sky and bricks are fairly rich in tone, the overall image is lousy.  So I tried using the camera’s spot meter and working out the difference between the shadow area and the lighter wall.  Rather improbably, my mental arithmetic from thinking through the variant shutter speeds at my chosen aperture came up with 8 stops – quite high, I thought.  But I went with my calculations, and used a 9-stop grad.  And this second image is the result – flat and boring.

Kaiserswerth 2

Kaiserswerth - flat and boring

Yes, I could have tried a 6- or a 3-stop grad (I later worked out it was a 4 or 5 stop difference), but I was so put off and annoyed by the whole experience that I just didn’t bother.  I walked back to the town centre to an electrical store to buy the special battery needed (it takes a CR123A, not just a normal AA battery!), and then went back to the ruin.  Of course the light was gone.  Pah.

Lesson for today: Read the manual.  And when the clever people who designed such a clever device make a recommendation in their manual, I should act on it.  I’ll try and do so from now on, promise.

PS I did only buy one battery, in case you’re wondering.  I’d recommend that when buying one as a spare, especially of a more exotic kind, you buy it from another shop so you are more likely to not end up with two batteries that go flat at the same time.  So tomorrow or the next day I’m going to find another battery retailer…

PPS I’m aware I could have tried to create an HDR image – but 99% of the time, the resultant images repulse me, so I wasn’t going to start going down that route.  I’d rather learn the lesson and lose the image than end up spending a lot of time on an image I’d hate in the end anyway, given that I’ve never tried my hand at HDR manipulation…

There’s always another day, another photograph…