Tag Archives: Ilford FP4 plus

Smoky mountains – the art of forgetting

I made a number of images last year that I’ve only just had developed (mostly by Dan at The Photo Parlour – highly recommended).  One of the advantages of this delay is that I have been discovering the images afresh.  This is something I learnt from Bruce Percy, though I’ve never had such a long wait – there were even images from November 2014 in this batch!

I’m pretty pleased with most of them, and forgetting exactly what was intended makes me see them in a different way to more rapidly processed images.  I have distance to them, and interpret and see them in new ways.  For example, here’s one that I had not remembered until I came to looking at it much more closely once it had been scanned and imported to Lightroom:

July 2015, looking east across Loch Ewe (click to see a slightly larger version)

July 2015, looking east across Loch Ewe (click to see a slightly larger version)

I think these are Glas Mheal Mor – Bidean a’ Ghlas Thuill – Sgurr Creag an Eich – Sail Liath, but in the meantime am not completely sure, and my extant notes simply say ‘smoky mountains’!  Any note I may have had of how I identified them at the time is lost.

What is now more interesting to me than the exact location is that sometime before going north to Loch Ewe I had been reading about distressing negatives – see, for example, this short description – and I have a vague recollection that I deliberately scratched and damaged one of my negatives. In a careless (carefree?) sort of way, I didn’t write down which one that was, but it must be this one – and I love it. At the time I clearly thought through what the image would be, choosing Ilford FP4+ film to emphasise the subtle cloud tones (even though I can’t exactly remember doing that) and the damaging of the negative (that I also only partially remember) accentuates the sense of foreboding and darkness that the weather was creating. In fact, it almost looks as if it was raining heavily – but I know that it was a dry evening.

The art of forgetting takes on a new meaning…!

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Preview: The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

This is not one of the images in the series that some people may be aware I’ve been working on, The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness, but it is the precursor to that series, made near Beauly in Scotland on a trip with Mike Colechin in March this year:

Introductory image - The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

Introductory image – The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

It was made with a large format camera (the series itself is made with a Nikon 35mm camera). It is a negative image, both in terms of what I see it communicating, and the fact that it really is the negative image (i.e. not reversed from the film).

I will upload the series to the page shortly (at the moment, there is just this introductory image on the page, with a short text). Every other image in the series is made using the same lens (28mm) and though shutter speeds change (generally they are very slow), the aperture is kept at f2.8 (wide open…) and the focus is always set to infinity and mostly shot at night (infinite darkness…). Everything about this series is both literal and figurative…

(And if you still think photographs represent some kind of documentary evidence, here’s Mike Colechin’s image of exactly the same bit of ground, made maybe half an hour earlier…)

Normal views and wide views

Many photographers lust after new cameras and lenses.  Indeed, many spend more time lusting after new equipment than they do consummating – err… working on the relationship they have with the cameras and lenses they already own.

For my large format camera I have one lens.  It is a 180mm lens, and that roughly corresponds to a ‘normal lens’, i.e. one that has about the same perspective as the human eye, or, in 35mm terms, it is about the same as a 50mm lens.  It’s a very fine lens, but there are times when I want a lens with a wider view (say, 90mm), and another with a telephoto view, such as a 300mm.  It is simply(!) finances that preclude me from buying these lenses, I lust after them all the same…

So what to do when trying to make an image that would benefit from a wider view?  In July I made a series of photographs on a very foggy morning at Glen More on the Isle of Mull.  I was trying to photograph the glen near the edge of a lochan in the valley, whilst showing something of the scale of the valley – but the 180mm lens only covered about half of the valley.  So one of my studies involved a triple exposure, moving the camera round a little at a time to include one side of the valley, the bottom of the valley, and the other side.  The ground glass of the large format camera includes grids and markers for various purposes, so it was relatively easy to measure this out.  I think the resulting image manages to communicate something of my view of the scene that morning:

Glen More, Isle of Mull (Ilford FP4+, triple exposure)

Glen More, Isle of Mull (Ilford FP4+, triple exposure)

The use of a 90mm lens would have enabled me to capture the entire breadth of the glen, but the image would have been different: is it important that the image doesn’t ‘look like’ the glen did?  For me this communicates what I saw, even though the hills are not really this precise shape.  I would still like to have a wider lens, but my lusting after such a lens has lessened somewhat since seeing the interesting and rather pleasing result that can be achieved with just the 180mm lens that I already have – in this context it was perfectly possible to communicate the image in my head using the equipment I already had.

 

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!

This is exciting…

… though probably mostly to me! 🙂

On 5. January this year my wife and I were in Strathpeffer, and in the morning we went to the nearby Rogie Falls.  I decided to go back there in the afternoon on my own and try to capture a scene I had noticed in the morning.  A bit of a miscalculation in terms of timing (err… yes, I know, Scottish winter…!) meant that it was rather late in the day to do this, but I was keen to persevere, so I set up the Chamonix looking down into a little gorge.  I started setting up at about 14:45, had a composition I was vaguely satisfied with at 15:15 bearing in mind the decreasing light levels, and took a series of light readings.  I was mortified to find that any reasonable chance of a decent exposure would necessitate at least 30 minutes by the time I included the film’s reciprocity failure.  ‘Never mind,’ I thought, ‘FP4 has plenty of latitude!’ and went for it.  By 15:45, I could barely see anything in the woods around me.  So I decided that another 15 minutes would do no harm, meaning the exposure was 45 minutes long.  It then also started raining which was a good motivator to move on, and I could only pack up and find all my bits and pieces by getting out the head-torch (one of the most useful things to have in a camera bag!).

I finally managed to get the film to the lab and picked it up today.  The resulting negative is slightly under-exposed (another 5-10 minutes would no doubt have helped), but it is perfectly usable with some relatively minor adjustments to levels and curves:

Rogie Falls, Chamonix, Fujinon 180mm, Ilford FP4, f22, 45 minutes

Rogie Falls, Chamonix, Fujinon 180mm, Ilford FP4, f22, 45 minutes

My first reaction to the image is two-fold.  I think it does represent the balance between tremendous chaos and small signs of order that I felt in the woods: all these twisty branches contrasting with the clear white trunks and branches.  I like the way the whiteness of the tree trunks directs my eyes – I can remember seeing this and wanting to achieve precisely that.  And yet I am not completely happy with the composition: the gorge with the fallen-down tree feels a bit lost as the trees on the left dominate the foreground.  I could crop the image to exclude the large tree on the left, but then the other smaller trees seem a bit irrelevant and the white trunks almost seems less prominent – perhaps the large tree is not so much a dominant tree as a counterweight to the thin white lines?

In any case: this is all very exciting for me, because it is the very first large format image I have taken completely on my own, AND I managed to use tilt and movements successfully in achieving reasonable focus across the frame.  I wanted it to be a technically decent image, and it does enough of that for me to be confident to continue what I’m doing, even if it is not (yet?) that emotionally engaging for me.  It may have taken me half-an-hour to set up, it may have been too late in the day to use a sensible exposure time, and it may not be perfectly composed – but I am very happy!

With my large format camera in the Pentland Hills

The Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh are gentle Scottish hills, certainly when compared to the bigger and more spectacular mountains further north.  But they are my local hills, and I do like spending time in them.  When fellow photographer and Twitter-user Mike Colechin visited Edinburgh for work in September, he brought his camera with him, and on his last day here we went into the hills in the morning before he took the train home again.

Mike is a large format photographer, who very generously gave me some film and lent me some of his equipment so I could take my new large format camera out.  I made three images that morning – the first one by accident!  I didn’t manage to put the dark slide into the camera properly and so half the image is basically white, as light leaked in from the side.  This is the successful version of that scene (slightly underexposed, but as it was on my favourite black and white film, Ilford FP4+,  that’s irrelevant and easily recoverable with a little adjustment of levels and curves in Photoshop):

Castlelaw Hill Fort, Pentland Hills (with a Nikkor-W 150mm lens, f16, 1/4s)

Castlelaw Hill Fort, Pentland Hills (with a Nikkor-W 150mm lens, f16, 1/4s)

It’s not a fabulous image, but I do like the valley and the lines on the hillsides that are apparent here.  Perhaps I could have worked on these a little more in Photoshop, but I don’t quite see the point – at the time, we both agreed that this was going to be difficult to work at, and I’d rather leave it to be a little more subtle and hard to follow.  For me, this is what the Pentlands are like: deceptively simple little hills that don’t require very much effort to get up (at least, not when compared to some of the afore-mentioned more northern hills!), but they have something intriguing about them.  This particular area, past Castlelaw Hill Fort heading northwards, is deceptively bland at times, but there is actually so much to see, if only one can be bothered to look.

The third image is not quite what I wanted: I was trying to photograph some grasses, but somehow my focussing didn’t… er… quite work out.  The grasses in the foreground are in focus, but the context is not – it is basically an image that is ok, but could have been made on a medium format or 35mm camera, and not what I intended.

My large format adventures are about to move up a gear: I expect to take delivery of a lens (180mm f5.6 Fujinon-W) this week, as well as some double-dark-slides and a changing bag.  I have some Velvia on order (who knows when that will come!), but what I will buy next is a large batch of FP4+, partly because I feel I need the forgiving nature of exposure errors that this film allows, and partly because I think my composition skills will improve using black and white.  It is all very exciting – if only I didn’t have a day job to distract me! 🙂

Our debt to other photographers

Over the summer I’ve been making several portraits, almost by default just with the Rolleiflex.  This is in part to do with my 1953 project (at the time of writing, I need to add lots of portraits to these pages… I’m way behind with this!), but I’ve also just found it pleasurable to photograph some of the people I’ve encountered.  Here are two of them.

Alex (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

Alex (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

This is Alex, my brother-in-law.  He was somewhat sceptical when I asked him to close his eyes, but I hope he likes this!  I think it softens the portrait considerably: not that he doesn’t photograph well, but I think he looks really relaxed here.

Gwendolin (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

Gwendolin (Rolleiflex, on Ilford FP4+)

And this is Gwendolin, a long-standing friend: my wife met her parents at university, and we first met Gwen when she was a bump!  We’ve seen her almost every two years since then and she even lived with us for a little while some years ago.  Now she makes me feel quite old – she has become an assured, adventurous and beautiful young woman, rather than a toddler running through our flat with her toys muttering ‘ticka, ticka, ticka…’

There are, of course, portraits I have made this summer in which the subjects have their eyes open!  However, the ones I have put here owe their look in part to another photographer: I have been following a fascinating project that Jenny Wicks is pursuing.  Jenny is creating astonishingly striking portraits – and all her subjects have closed their eyes at her request (do click on that link to her work, and maybe read her blog too – I very much admire her use of photography for this kind of social engagement).  Many people do not like being photographed by a large camera, but I have found that by copying Jenny’s idea I can put my subjects at ease, and other portraits – with eyes open – then become more relaxed.  So thank you for that little idea, Jenny!

I mentioned this sort of thing in a blog posting some time ago, but I think it is important to note more explicitly that we should acknowledge our debts to others.  So often as photographers we create images borrowing ideas of technique, composition and form from other photographers, but fail to acknowledge that we have done this, pretending something is entirely our own work.  As more and more people attend photography workshops, this happens ever more frequently: surely there should be some acknowledgement that the workshop leader has (hopefully!) helped in some way with an image, perhaps even stood by and offered suggestions at the time of exposure?  After all, none of us create images in a vacuum!  We are indebted, whether we are aware of it or not, to countless other photographers (and other artists and creators) – and not only is it good to show these other photographers that we appreciate their ideas, but consciously acknowledging our indebtedness also helps us to critically examine our own work and identify what is really distinctive about it.  Of course, if we come to the conclusion that our work is largely derivative rather than distinctive, perhaps we need to re-examine what it is that we are doing…!

P.S. If it is not already obvious, given that ‘Bruce Percy‘ is one of the largest tags in my tag cloud on these pages, I see myself as being substantially indebted to Bruce for what I do photographically.  You can see his incredibly beautiful and engaging work on his website.