Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Found Prints

Recently my mother presented me with some old photo's she had found that dated from 1979-83.
 These were my first images with an SLR camera, and were processed if I remember by Horizon Photo in the UK on Kodak paper most are 3.5"x5"
They have survived pretty well and are some of the first colour pictures I took, I've put the film info under each shot.
Kodacolor II 100 about 1980 Canon AV1; 50mm ƒ1,8

Kodacolor II 100 1981 Canon 70-210ƒ4

Kodacolor II 100

Kodacolor II 100

Kodacolor II 100 1979

Kodacolor II 100 Canon 50mm ƒ1,8

Kodak VR1000 test 1983

Fujicolor F100 1982
When scanning I didn't correct colours or density and I've tried to make the on screen look as close to the 35 year old prints as possible.

Friday, September 18, 2015

One Roll of Film–Overstrand Beach Norfolk

The following Roll was shot at Overstrand just south east of Cromer in the county of Norfolk UK.  A quieter section of the coast which has been steadily eroded over the years.
The soft clay cliffs have been shored up with boulders (From Norway at a reported £1,300 each) and a series of wooded sea defences known as "groynes'

Overstrand is also famous as 'Poppyland' being given that name by writer Clement Scott and during the Edwardian period the village became very popular with visitors and especially with the landed gentry making it 'the place to be' for the elite.

The aforementioned erosion eventually claimed the hotel and other buildings leaving the village less fashionable to the London set.

Despite that Overstrand is a very beautiful stretch of coastline and one which is a family favourite.

Fomapan film, Rolleiflex T

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Harman (Ilford Photo) aquired by Pemberstone


Or Don't Panic and buy HP5+

The news form the Press Room over at Ilfordphoto.com is that they have been bought out.
"HARMAN technology, manufacturers of the famous ILFORD Photo range of Monochrome Photographic products, have been purchased by Pemberstone Ventures Ltd for an undisclosed amount".
Of course in these days of reduced film choice such announcements are bound to induce a certain amount of anxiety among film users and this news will certainly do that in some circles.
 Since the management buyout that saved Ilford the company have gone from strength to strength, they are communicative and friendly and have introduced new products whilst keeping their existing product portfolio alive.
They have been quoted as saying they will be the last man standing, in other words when everyone else gives up they will still be making film and paper.
For that they get my respect and I hope that determination continues with the new owners; I noted that in the press release the new owners reiterate their support for film:
“We are very excited by the potential of the analogue photography movement and believe that HARMAN is uniquely placed to drive the resurgent film market into the future”.
Sounds positive enough, and I hope as I write this developing two rolls of HP5+ that I can use their films way into the future.
Here is a link to their press release:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Ultimate Photographic Machine (or only cool guys use a Rolleiflex)

The first rule of Rolleiflex club is you don't talk about Rolleiflex club
This post is inspired by the recent road to Damascus conversion of a certain Mr Micheal Reichmann of the Luminous Landscape fame who recently purchased a Rolleiflex in order to 'rediscover his craft'.
In an earlier essay on the LL a guest writer elucidated:

"While I was browsing Flickr and searching for some inspiration for my next portrait assignment, I came across some beautiful medium format portraits taken by excellent photographers using Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras. I was really impressed by the characteristics of those pictures: nicely balanced composition in square format, beautiful black and white (B&W) tones, shallow depth of focus and “mind blowing” micro-contrast details. As a digital shooter and owner of a Canon 5D mark2, it was something new to me that I have not seen before. Needless to say, I fell immediately love with medium format photography and I wanted to have a medium format camera to take pictures with similar characteristics".

Praise indeed! Especially from a writer on Mr Reichmann's LL blog which is not normally noted for espousing the advantages of film photography over full frame digital SLRs

My experience with Rolleiflex cameras goes back a few decades to the 1980's when I found myself training as a wedding operative.
The cameras have many great features and only a few drawbacks, the most obvious of which are the lack of truly close focus, the lack of interchangeable lenses and the laterally inverse (mirror) image on the focussing screen.
Rolleinar 1 on a Rolleiflex T
The close focus can be somewhat ameliorated by the use of the Rolleinar close-up lenses which come in three (1, 2 and 3) strengths number three being the strongest; they can also be stacked and give surprisingly good results. I would say the Rolleinar is the must have accessory for the flex along side a lens hood.

As a young man I found using the Rolleiflex both inspirational and slightly frustrating, the top wedding guys all had Hasselblads and that was the camera I aspired to. It was only when I started using the 'Blad I started to appreciate the quiet handling and unobtrusive manner of the Rolleiflex, and in practical use interchangeable backs and lenses really didn't prove such a great advantage.

Perceived advantages
So what  is the reason I preferred the Rollei to all other medium format cameras I've owned? 
Top of the list is the way it handles, and from the waist and almost goes unnoticed during portrait shoots; you maintain eye contact whilst still being able to frame the subject–in other words there isn't a camera plastered in front of your face so the subject has a more relaxed less intrusive sitting.

Easier for Selfies? Would this be better with an SLR stuck to his face?
Did I mention it was whisper quiet in operation? No mirror slap or shutter clop just a smooth sounding schtick that makes medium format SLR cameras seem clunky in comparison.

The build quality is exemplary; photographers from the modern era that hold one find the solid feel and positive operation even after fifty years of use are often extremely impressed–these are not consumer electronics with built in obsolescence; the Rolleiflex is a well engineered machine build to last a lifetime.

Optical quality is also impressive, Zeiss and Schneider are two of the best lens producers in the world Tessar, Planar an Xenotar types are as good as it gets optically, and have drawn many iconic images over the years.

The master at work
Those images were created by an astonishing list of photographers, far too many to list although a personal favourite being David Bailey (pictured above) who said recently "If I had to use just one camera it would be a Rolleiflex"

Not all of us have the skill of Bailey, Avedon and Arbus or even Mr Reichmann but few will deny that quality tools are great to have and use–even if we don't aspire to being as cool as this guy:

How many digicam users look this cool?
Quality never goes out of style, and life would be too short not to have owned a Rolleiflex. Or possibly you might be one of the many 'tonally starved' DSLR shooters like the one in the LL blog who would like to see 'mind blowing micro contrast and tones like you've never seen before' there is one thing for sure people will be creating wonderful images with them in the future just as they did in the past.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Yasushi Tanaka's studio 1960

Robert Short with Louise Gebhard Cann 
These images are of Yasushi Tanaka's studio in Paris circa 1960. Tanaka was a Japanese artist who lived in Paris from the early 1920's until his death in April 1941 at the age of 54.
These  photographs were given to me by Robert Short who is the young man in the images.
The older lady is Tanaka's widow Louise Gebhard Cann, an author Tanaka met in Seattle and married in 1917.
Louise Gebhard Cann with a bust of Gauguin in the backgound
The studio was situated at 70 bis, rue Notre Dame des Champs and had previously been the home of Ezra Pound; the table in the next photograph was made by him!

View from the Mezzanine showing typical Paris studio living space
Robert Short and Mrs Tanaka

I find these images fascinating, no only do they show pictures of a family member in 1960 they also show a time that has since gone. These photographs were found in Mr Short's attic stored for 30+ years in an Ilford Print box–I wonder how many digital images will be so easily rediscovered in years to come.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

One Roll of Film –The Rosary Cemetery, Norwich, England

The Rosary

The Rosary Cemetery was the first non denominational burial ground in the UK. It was established in 1819 by Thomas Drummond a non-conformist minister; the first burial being that of his wife in 1821.
Norwich, a city in the east of England was like most places in the UK rapidly expanding during the 19th Century and a growing population also needed larger areas for burials.

The city also had a large congregation of non conformist worshipers including Quakers, Presbyterian and Congregationalists and these people had no burial ground as the law stated they needed to be buried in their local churchyards under the authority of the Church of England.
The meeting houses and Chapels rarely had land attached to them hence the reason for Mr Drummond purchasing the land.

The Rosary is situated near Thorpe Road not for from the Railway station and covers an area of 13.5 acres. The oldest part is where most of these pictures were taken, it has a wonderful faded grandeur the Victorians had a certain way of celebrating the lives and achievements of their citizens these memorials are really quite ostentatious to the modern eye; but reflect the status of those interred.  
If you wish to see then larger just click on the images.

The last resting place of 'Love and Riches'

This is the tomb of John Barker, a steam Fairground proprietor who was killed in a tragic accident by his own machine

These images were taken on a Rolleiflex T with Ilford FP4 film developed in Rodinal 1:50 for 12 mins. It was part of a project that I has researched and planned and placed in a book of future projects last year.
They were taken on a dull afternoon just before the gates were closed, I chose this time and lighting to give weight to the sense of decay and faded splendour.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In a Creative Rut?

Just visiting places can give inspiration

Creativity can be a pain, when you have it you might not have the time to execute it, when you're at a loose end you can lack drive, vision and inspiration.
Some people buy new cameras and lenses when they experience these 'becalmed' periods in their lives others just sit them out or do something else like take in others creative output looking for that spark to ignite the fire.

Last year I had a creative block, as you'll see by the lack of posts. Of course its happened before as photographers we're not machines so when this happens I'm happy to sit it out, buy a few books; look at exhibitions of others work etc.
No point in shooting if you can't connect with the creative ghost inside.

Don't Panic
I do however, have a little modus that works for me during these times; it is a regimen that might seem to some a little rigid-- I'll try to explain.

I have a book full of projects. When all is well and the creative juice is fully flowing I look at subjects I wish to explore, it might be a portrait of a friend who has an interesting skill that you can capture. It might be a landscape that you want to take, one that inspires you or intrigues. It could be an object like a book or flower that would make a good still life.
Place the idea in the book, limit yourself to 10-12 shots and try to think about the time,  choice of film, camera type.

The more you see the more ideas are generated. I go for long walks in the countryside, look for interesting angles and subjects record them in the book of future projects or snap them with a phone for future reference.
The more you see and experience the better as your downtime will be shorter, sometimes these breaks will be followed by a renewed frenzy of artistic activity.
Hope this post proves helpful.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Brave New World

The MPP Micro Technical Camera
Well I finally did it, I sold the Nikon DSLR and have bought a 4x5 camera. It's really a case of back to the future for me as I've gone back to the camera's I used 20+ years ago, and now all I have is digital wise access to the camera's owned by family members (for this blog)

Film! Are you mad?
Yes, folks to some I am. That sentence was an actual question asked of me whilst in a café with my children. A man about 10 years older than me saw my Rolleiflex sitting on the table-obviously he couldn't understand why in this day and age someone would use a camera from 1961.

I tried to explain why, but got the 'I have a Panansonic and a Macbook' statement as if I should have been even remotely impressed.
So why go film only? Well the easiest answer is that it does all I could possibly want it to do, I don't need instant review as I know pretty well how the image will look; I don't care for speed of operation––the type of photography I do just doesn't need those things.

Film is Expensive
To a degree it is, obviously you need to choose what film to take on a trip and the cost is ongoing which means when I press the shutter it has a pretty obvious cost.
What I can say though is for the type of images I take you don't need to fire off many images, most shoots are planned so a mornings work might involve 4-6 sheets of 4x5 or a couple of rolls of 120 and those outings amount to fewer than one per month so that would be 40-50 sheets per year and 20 rolls of 120 from which in that year I'd expect 15-20 prints. The total cost all in would be about £250 for the film and as I process my work the chemicals probably about £30.
So less than £300 normally without prints obviously.
That sounds pretty expensive, after all with only 20 good finished images that works out to £15 per image!

Why sell my  Digital Nikons?
In all honesty I wasn't using them; the batteries would go flat between times meaning spontaneous shots were sometimes done with cameraphones.
I liked digital but it just doesn't suit my use patterns and when shooting 50 very high quality shots a year doesn't make a £2000 DSLR a good purchase over its lifetime (over ten years of film for existing cameras).
So I managed to sell them while they still had some value.

Moving Forward
At the moment the films I want to use are still available, I don't feel the need to change my shooting style or workflow or adapt them to fit the direction everyone else is heading in. In fact there might even be a perverse pleasure in swimming against the tide of people adopting fast and ever changing technologies.
Just give me a supply of Ilford B&W and Kodak Ektar and I can be happy and creative.

The Eye of the Eagle

The Talented Tessar

The reason for this post is that I realised how many of my cameras have lenses that are either Tessar or copies of that lens design. The Schneider Xenar, the Ross Xpress on the Ensign 1620 also the Fuji 150W that I use for large format; obviously the lens on the Rollieflex T and the Tessar on the Zeiss Ikon and Rollei 35T.
Back in the distant days where most photographers used glass plates and large wooden cameras the most common lens was of the Cooke triplet type. 
Complex lens design was expensive and because designers needed to limit the amount of air-glass surfaces to aid light transmission and keep down flare, correction of aberrations was very difficult to achieve.
So in 1902  when Paul Rudolph's Tessar design was put on the market by Zeiss it quickly established itself as a standard for others to emulate and earned itself the nickname 'Adlerauge' (Eagle eye). The four element design carefully mixed both high and low refractive glass and followed it with a cemented pair which reduced aberrations compared to the triplet designs.
One of the things I like most about the design is the higher contrast due to fewer elements, stopped down a couple of stops and they can compete with later Planar (5 and 6 element) designs even in corner sharpness.
Tessar types remained the standard by which others were judged until the 1950's when lens coatings made multi element lenses practical with their better correction and faster apertures.

Tessar f3,5 Rolleiflex T
Don't underestimate the humble Tessar it is a very capable lens capable of rendering wonderful images.

The Classic 150 f6.3 with 'modern' coating.
Over the last hundred years the Tessar has found itself on many iconic camera bodies and has been re computed to allow for both wide and telephoto versions; hopefully it will remain a useful design for many years to come.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

What is Photography? By Preston Capes

My method of photography has always been driven by strong pre-visualisation, coupled with the use of large format transparency and monochrome film often means the choices made before capture are ‘baked in’ to the final image.

A photograph is a singular event, a slice of time presented though the eyes of the photographer.
Where people get confused is when images are post processed; how that relates to ‘the photographers eye’ those choices made in the final presentation of a negative or file are sometimes muddied by the increased options open to them; the subsequent lack of direction often leading to playing with an image in an editor until it looks good.

If we consider the long history of photography we find post processing manipulation were quite common. Early photographers were hampered by using blue only sensitive plates; making it difficult to record clouds so they would often add them in later.
The methods they used were to correct deficiencies in their materials rather than doing it for the sake of it, and the disappearance of ‘cloud plates’ from the market after the invention of Panchromatic film proves that.

But isn’t B&W itself a form of manipulation? Mono images must be a pre-visual decision, an obvious point being in the days of film you needed to pick a B&W film to give a mono end result.
This too has been muddied by being able to decide in post, I have often heard ‘do you think this shot would be better in mono?” The photographer needed to make a decision before the exposure, tones in the image might not suit a monochrome conversion.

We seem to have a group of people who are deeply confused by the changes that have been brought about by a massive degree of control in post processing. Those very changes have moved the singularity of the photographic event into a realm where some final images have become derivative artworks of several individual events.

The singular is often diluted in this way, producing a lack of direction because of a set of wider choices, working without prevision means accidental brilliance is the only way to record that instant of time– which failing that will have to be created in post.

Those issues are not to be confused with tthe artists who wish to mix different images and make fantastic images from many captures some of which look wonderful as finished artworks; to those people the final image aesthetic is all that counts and pretty much justifies images that have no real world existence.

These people aren’t photographers though, more digital artists who just use a camera. Many artists have made such images but the final artwork is a fantastical invention; the genesis of the work might be photographic but it is art and not a photograph.
That doesn't make me a purist, just that the digital artists are skilled in their own discipline which is wholly separate from the singular event which is a photograph.

I have read an article where an artist (who calls himself a photographer) describes himself as a 'data gatherer' who assembles his data in  order to make computer generated composites to for a single work–I struggle to see how that is a photograph, I would call it collage.

That is not to say there is no right or wrong in the creation of an image that you find pleasing, putting the pyramids in Antarctica or making composites of a scene from several taken at different times of the day to light your landscape from more angles are not photography because they represent the impossible.

For me the photograph is a singular event.

—Preston Capes July 2015

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Photographers that inspire: Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan was one of the great photographers of the twentieth century. His images were diverse in subject but showed a very developed sense of relationships of objects within the frame, angles people (normally his wife and child) added for scale and shapes both colour and tone.

It is exceptionally hard to show a body of his work in a blog post, so if you like these images seek out one of the many excellent books.

As a body of work Harry's is astounding, from the simple shapes and almost graphic quality of his monochromes to the complex colour double exposures.