LIMEHOUSE CONSERVATION AREA
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
It's a rare occasion that I get to go out and photograph with a buddy. Normally, I prefer to be photographing alone. This way there are no perceived time constraints while in search of an image. I can look, feel, navigate, hang out until I'm satisfied without any awareness of the well being or location of my fellow shooter, "Did he fall into a crevice? Again?" Joking aside, when interests align (my friend Chris recently acquired a 4x5 Crown Graphic from his father), it makes the partnership easier to tolerate while out in the field. Generally speaking, a large format photographer is searching and collecting images at a different pace than a digital photographer. Much slower, more methodical, and considered practices are pretty standard fare as the medium itself inherently demands. The cost of taking one image with the consequent workflow that follows is enough to either scare you from the art of large format, or justify to yourself why this is a photo that needs to be taken; or both.
If I were paired with someone and their Canon MARK 27.5 I'd be lagging behind severely, feeling a pressure that is likely uncalled for, while they fill up their media cards and then leave me on the trail as they hunt for the nearest Starbucks to edit and post in warm comfort. With Chris along for the ride I get the opportunity to share my knowledge, passion, and geeky gadgetry. And at the end of the day, isn't that what all this is about? I'm so happy to see many photographers that have grown up digital are finding new life and a new spark of creativity with film. It's an interesting time to be a part of both. Whether you shoot exclusively one medium or the other, or a combination of both, there's never been a better time than now. Film is in a ripe, stable state with rich, beautiful emulsions that exhibit the wisdom of confident chemists and decades of sound colour science. Let's not forget about black and white too. If colour has had such a bountiful history of development (no pun intended), then black and white is like the tardigrade of film, carrying a resilience of knowledgable image creation science in all it's forms. Digital technology has found it's place among the film giants and delivers fine images, while amping up the stability, speed and delivery of a finished product in more ways than you can shake a stick at. But as you know, I am driven by analog capture and all the limitations it provides. It's just the way I like to work and a way that fits me perfectly.
I decided to take Chris to Limehouse Conservation Area near the town of Halton Hills, Ontario. A "quick" 45 minute jaunt out of the city leads to some interesting fissures, cracks and caverns in a little remote pocket of farmland countryside. On a previous visit to scout out the area I saw potential to make some fun, unique shots. This image was the first one that I pre-visualized. To match Chris and his 4x5 Graphic I brought along my monorail 4x5 field camera. We were both there to create one picture. I could say it was because of the impending rain but really, I was there to make just one image. The rain did hasten my set-up and shoot time. I waited for a thinner veil of cloud to help fill the scene with a more inviting ambience. That extra bit of illumination opened up the shadows just enough to help relieve that gloomy feel. Fuji Velvia 50 did a great job of adding some overall warmth and saturation without getting out of hand. A 90mm lens (equivalent to 28mm in DSLR/35mm format) placed about chest high and close to the foreground tree roots and fissure provided a nice leading line to take your eyes up into the image. I used a light touch of rear back tilt on the camera in combination with a front forward tilt. The result is clean focus along the path of the fissure while slightly "stretching" the shape of the foreground roots and rocks. Final exposure was 13 seconds (reciprocity included) at f/22. Shortly after, as expected, the rain came!
I love the natural image properties of large format cameras. Even with an f/22 aperture I still couldn't hold the tops of the trees in focus and the lower right portion of the image. My subject was the fissure, and that's where I "laid" the focus down as best I could on the dim groundglass. But as a whole, the image still works with all the intrinsic optical and focus flaws intact. I'd have it no other way and I am inspired by it. That's what should inspire you. The path that works for you, doesn't necessarily work for others. I know that there are a ton of articles via a quick Google search where someone demeans film or digital and stands by their stubbornness. Ignore it! Do what you do. I remember when I tried my hand at local art shows well over a decade ago: "Photographers" would come by and denounce my methods and tell me I'd go digital in a year. Ok, one person told me the "year" thing. As upset as I may have been, what I realize now is that all those other photographers were desperately trying to justify their digital purchase onto me. Here's a photographer who walks into my booth, sees these very large, detailed images and unconsciously tries to tell me that they can do the same thing with their digital camera. Perhaps I offended them? Perhaps I don't care. Instead of going digital and conforming to peer pressure, I now have more analog cameras than you can shake a stick at. I develop, edit, scan, and print all in-house and have never been happier with my workflow. I even learned how to better manage my scans within Photoshop to more closely match my unrelenting desire to "get it right" on film. Shoot what you shoot, I'll shoot what I shoot. We all have different outcomes for our photographs. There is no "one size fits all."