backstory

We all leave marks

After accidentally erasing my first attempt of processing black & white film which you can read here, I loaded the same type back into the camera and went photographing immediately after work the following day.

With the shots lost, there was one that could be replicated easily; an outlying column of sandstone rock at Reddells beach that has been engraved with names and initials over time. I've seen similar engraving on the walls of remote caves in Cambodia, the insides of which were emblazoned with the names of hundreds of tourists. Cedar Falls outside of Brisbane is a small waterfall and bush walking area where people have sprayed tags over the rock-face. I've even seen a small fishing boat that had sunk in the shallow, clear waters off the dive island of Ko Tao in Thailand, that was totally covered and tagged by people that had dived there.

I'm pretty unforgiving when it comes to mindless tags and vandalism. To me, it's about as imaginative as a dog pissing on a lamppost. I was speaking to a friend about this recently and she was less scathing. She said if she saw the initials of a couple in a tree, than that added a story. A mystery. It conjured up a narrative about who they were, when they met, did they eventually get married etc?  And in cases like that I get it. The photos and examples above feel different though,

Bundy, The Ord River, The KImberley, Western Australia, 2018

Bundy, The Ord River, The KImberley, Western Australia, 2018

And yet, I do have experience of this. When I was about five or six I wrote '"Steven's Garage" (minus the apostrophe presumably) in green marker pen on the garage wall of my parent's home in big, scrawling, childlike writing. Dad had been out and I wanted to surprise him on his return. He pulled up in the drive way and as he stepped out the car I proudly showed him my addition to the pebble dashed, exterior wall. He was surprised alright and instead of the kindly praise that I was expecting, I got an absolute bollocking for it

Also when I was at secondary school, I would occasionally engrave the names of my favorite bands into the wooden desk tops during class which were already covered. However one day I tagged the wrong desk. Mrs White, who had thick glasses, a soft voice and short wispy hair kept me after class one day, where she had found my latest additions. Strategically it was a flawed decision on my part because these were new tables, plastic coated with a mock grain underneath and pristine. She worked out it was my work because a) we all had designated seats for the whole year and b) there had been no other class in that room since we were last in there, so she didn't exactly need a qualification in criminology to deduce, correctly, that I was the culprit. At the time I couldn't' believe she traced it back so quickly and before my lame attempts at denial were over, I had a cloth and spray firmly placed in my hands.

So I have history of it. In this context we're talking about the natural environment where people, adults, have engraved their names into rocks that can't be wiped away. I get we all want to leave our mark etc but really?

So I went to retake the photograph with these ideas in mind. I knew my first composition from the original film had good lines, contrast and balance. However I couldn't replicate it from memory so I had to approach the rock like I was seeing it for the first time. After a couple of exposure errors I had to retake two more but as I was packing up I saw what looked like a misalignment between the camera and the film back which you can see in the short clip below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This unnerved me because I didn't want to invest too much time and effort into this film only to realise that the shots were compromised by light leaks. And I wasn't exactly looking for much of an excuse to finish this one to get another chance to develop at home once again. So I quickly shot the whole film that evening, rushing through in the falling light. The shots included a couple of abstracts at the base of the engraved rock and a couple of the theropod prints in the reef that were visible due to the low and outgoing tide. Dinosaurs walked here, their marks still visible 135million years.

Hasselblad 500c, 80mm Planar, Ilford Pan F50, f.16 1/30s

Hasselblad 500c, 80mm Planar, Ilford Pan F50, f.16 1/30s

Hasselblad 500c, 150mm, Ilford Pan F50, f.16 1/30s

Hasselblad 500c, 150mm, Ilford Pan F50, f.16 1/30s

Rock Abstract, Reddell Beach, Broome.  Hasselblad 500c, 150mm Planar, Ilford Pan F50, f.16, 1/30s

Rock Abstract, Reddell Beach, Broome.

Hasselblad 500c, 150mm Planar, Ilford Pan F50, f.16, 1/30s

Theropod Print, Reddell Beach, Broome,  Hasselblad 500c, 80mm Planar, Ilford Pan F50, f.11, 1sec

Theropod Print, Reddell Beach, Broome,

Hasselblad 500c, 80mm Planar, Ilford Pan F50, f.11, 1sec

By and large very happy with my first successful attempt at developing film at home. Stunning detail, tones and feel with this film.

And no light leaks.

 

 

 

Back to Film

There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a compostion or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever
— Henri Cartier-Bresson

I sold it all on ebay and went back to film. Okay, that's half a lie because I still have one digital camera for everyday use but my immediate and personal projects will be shot on film. Nikon was my bridge to digital in 2006 but after twelve years I needed to shake things up and once I made the decision not to do paid event work any longer, it was easier to let the equipment go.

It wasn't just that though. At the beginning of 2017 I felt bored, unchallenged and disillusioned with photography and for the best part for the year I decided to not even pick up the camera. My strategy was to go quiet and reignite the energy through solitude.

And when my father planned a visit mid 2017, I asked him to bring my film camera which had been sat in his humid, dank, basement for six years. It looked fine, smelt a bit musty and I noticed instantly there was a lens jam when the aperture blades would stick after nearly every shot. So then it's a case of removing the lens, manually unwinding it with a screwdriver which is unnerving when you can see the reflection of the flat head shimmering in the reflection of the rear lens element. So before any serious us and after researching online, I found a guy in Perth and got it repaired. And then after more quiet time and thinking without actively deliberating, an idea formed for a project and I started shooting in November 2017.

Looking out towards Roebuck Plains

Looking out towards Roebuck Plains


It felt like old times getting my film hand checked at airport security when I returned to the UK at Christmas. I remember seeing a young security guy in Dubai take an exposed roll out the bag and shake it slowly next to his ear, pacing up and down, looking and listening.

Back home, I gladly found the old photo lab that I used from my uni days and was happily amazed that the same two people still worked there. They even used the same style square carbon receipt pad to take my contact details and my order for processing and basic scans. Standing at the counter it felt like time travelling with all those memories flooding back. Two days later I got an email saying they were ready for collection and when viewing the files on the computer everything seemed good. The quality and was all there and apart from the occasional light leeks and fogging on some negatives, I was happy.

The beginning of a series started to form.


When I returned back to Australia I bought a flatbed scanner from the proceeds of selling a lens and that's when the the problems became visible.

Ten out of twelve shots, from one roll, were out of focus. The camera was front focusing which essentially means if you focus on the eyes of someone then everything on the focal plane in front of them is sharp. In this case it was the person's chin or stomach.

Not ideal.

And I was worried because I had started shooting new rolls as soon as I got back to Broome throughout January/February.  So despite getting into a routine and with all this glorious weather and colour and rain,I had to put the brakes on the project, sent all my new film off for processing to alleviate my concerns and managed to track down a Hasselblad technician in South Australia.  After a brief conversation it was with him within a week and he started work immediately.


It's the beauty and uncertainty of film. The instant feedback has disappeared, the moments long gone. Luckily, the shots that I knew were keepers, came out well, bar one or two. So at this early stage it's a case of ironing out those problematic variables and leaving as little to chance as possible.  Once concerns about equipment are gone it allows room for the conditions where luck can be created.

An Experiment with Composition

Early in March of last year, I started reading Larry Fink’s book On Composition and Improvisation, part of the aperture photography workshop series. There are some stunning black and white photographs chronicled in this volume presented with a mixture of the photographers insights, compositional techniques and other photographic processes. It's a book I refer to regularly.

On page 26  there is this photo of a boxer training before a fight

 

Copyright Larry Fink

Copyright Larry Fink

Below this photo he instructs:

Do a little experiment with this picture. Cover that little corner of the table in the bottom left with your hand so that it’s no longer in the picture and look at what happens. The picture flattens out. No longer do you see the boxer embattled inside the context of space. It doesn’t become a bad picture without the table but it becomes infinitely less good because there is less tension. The picture becomes more two-dimensional, rather than sculptural or volumetric.
Roebuck Plains, March, 2017.

Roebuck Plains, March, 2017.

At around this time I was on Roebuck plains towards the tail end of the wet season. My intention was to get some dramatic storm fronts cutting across the salted, treeless plains just outside of Broome. The earth is chalky white, spread with clusters of spear grass, rough spinifex and pale termite mounds. Even though it looks landlocked this area is within an eleven metre inter-tidal zone where you often see hermit crabs marching along deep 4x4 tracks.

Down the end of one of these dry and weathered track I came across a friend of mine and we spoke through the wound down window for a while. The horse took the initiative and came in to inspect and as it did I took some photos and framed it with the recent advice still fresh in my mind, using the wing mirror to give it the effect of adding depth to the composition.

sc_broome_2573.jpg

 

Most of the photos I took used this effect. The mirror is brash and bright, unlike the delicate placement of the table corner in the boxer photograph but was useful to use a compositional technique days after reading about it.

 

 

You can buy On Composition and Improvisation here.