It’s been grey and cold for days. What better time, then, to revisit the photo catalogue and do some housekeeping.
In the process, I found a few old pictures worthy of publication so I incorporated them into two new portfolio sets – ‘street’ and ‘architecture’ (interchangeable terms, of course) – of twenty images each. These portfolios are not ‘best of’ sets, they are genre collections representing work over several years in a variety of locations.
It’s striking how, when you look back through your archive, you discover yourself consistently making the same type of photographs. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all, it just reflects how you see things and your own style. After all, as that old music aphorism goes, ‘How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice‘.
I just got from my first rolls of Mamiya 6 shot photos back from the lab.
The results are mixed: the first roll was expired print film which came with the camera – and it was not up to much. The photos had odd colour shifts and came out much darker than expected. Never mind, my next films were one roll of Fuji Reala 400 then Provia 400 afterwards. These images are more encouraging and I was getting acquainted with the camera’s character. I made test shots using all three lenses, usually on a tripod. The lab scans are medium resolution so it’s difficult to judge image sharpness properly; I really need to look at the slides on a light box. There is a fair amount of grain too – due to the 400 ISO film – so my next rolls will be with 100 ISO Fuji E6 film in daylight. That should make an interesting comparison.
The bright shots of Ravensbourne College were shot on E6. The other pictures were shot in dull overcast conditions on C41: yes, they are colour but only just. Here are some representative samples.
ii) get out more and mix things up (in terms of subject and location)
iii) develop projects
In gear-related news, I am fortunate enough to have recently acquired a Mamiya 6 rangefinder.
I have shot some test rolls over Christmas which are heading to the lab this week so I’ll share some initial results soon. The M6 is a pleasantly simple camera to use and I am really looking forward to shooting it this year. Having a proper wide lens (the 50mm which is equivalent to 28mm in 35mm format) is particularly exciting as this is something I’ve been missing with the Yashicamat’s normal fixed lens.
Cold winter nights give you plenty of time to mull things over. For the photographer, the scarcity of daylight is a chance to consider his work: where, why, how and what for?
As documented on this site and in my recent book, I’ve spent most of 2010 working in medium format. I’ve enjoyed the change of pace and method, and I want to do more. The time is right, I feel, to invest in better gear which will make achieving quality results – consistently – just a little easier.
Here are the two main options I’ve been thinking about:
1) Mamiya 6: medium format film rangefinder. Pros: compact body with great (and collapsible) lenses: 50mm, 75mm, 150mm. Cons: expense and hassle of shooting film (film, processing, scanning).
2) Nikon D700: full frame (35mm) digital. Pros: Large choice of excellent glass, rugged body, digital convenience. Cons: the built-in redundancy and value loss of digital bodies.
I’m leaning towards the full Mamiya 6 set because I think it will really suit what and how I shoot. The D700 is a quality camera but it is expensive and rather long in the tooth. For the same money, you can get a complete Mamiya set and it will hold its value better than the Nikon.
I’m currently preparing a book using Blurb: it’s called 120 2010: A Year in Medium Format and, as the title suggests, it’s about my first year shooting 120 film with the Yashicamat.
120 2010 will feature some of the best images I’ve made so far alongside reflections on my experience with the medium. It should be a great way to encapsulate what I’ve learned, where I’ve been and what’s coming next.
When I started investigating medium format, before purchasing my Yashicamat, I spent hours searching the web for useful information on cameras, film and technique. Here are five websites I found particularly useful:
I spent two weeks on Patmos last month. It’s a small Greek island in the Dodecanese chain, chiefly associated with John of Patmos, the reputed biblical author of the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse. Patmos is arid but beautiful, blessed with a fine climate and endless light.
Though I packed a digital SLR, it didn’t see much use – the Yashicamat came first. I brought my usual slide film (Fuji Provia 400) and some print film (Fuji Reala 100) for the first time. Daily temperatures around 31 degrees Celsius (88 degrees Fahrenheit) had shooting at dawn and dusk most days, avoiding the harsh light and heat of midday.
Patmos was created volcanically around 7 million years ago; its topsoil is loose and has the texture of Granola, crumbling beneath your feet as you scramble around. Arriving on location pre-dawn, I fell over more than once whilst clambering with my tripod and camera equipment in the dark. At dawn, the window of great light lasted around 15 minutes so it was essential to have shots pre-visualised and locations scouted beforehand.
The ‘Rock of the Apocalypse’ shots were made at dawn in Petra bay. The shoreline at Petra (Greek πέτρα, literally ‘rock’) has a tangible volcanic rim shape and the bay is dominated by a large rock of geological and historical interest. The rock contains grottoes inhabited by early Christians and, according to a controversial theory outlined by an Austrian lady I met, it may have been be the cave site of John of Patmos. This theory is of course regarded as errant by the Orthodox monks managing the ‘official’ cave and fortress monastery at Chora. History aside, the rock formation is very sculptural and makes an excellent photographic subject.
Boulders, wiry plants and rocky outcrops drew my gaze on Patmos. The hillsides at Grikos turned fiery at dawn (see ‘Hillside at Grikos II’) and came out rather over-saturated in print film (which is already sensitive to red) so I adjusted this in Lightroom. Comparing C41 (print film) and E6 (slide film) results from this trip, C41 shots like ‘Massey Ferguson, Grikos’ have more muted tones and smoother contrast. The E6 Grikos harbour images have a different look altogether, something I can best describe as ‘glassy’.
Friday was overcast so I cycled down to Thamesmead. A place of limited colour (other than grey) on the sunniest day, it has an atmosphere of its own: remote from London, poor, famed for bad social housing and (more recently) remarkable levels of fraud.
From a photographic viewpoint, Thamesmead has things to offer. The architecture is predominantly stark and colourless but full of texture. Run-down shops, evangelical churches, forlorn paths and numerous water features abound. For the first time visitor, Thamesmead can be an edgy, dispiriting experience. I’d advise photographers to be as inconspicuous as possible: dress down and don’t linger, especially in and around the estates.
To the shoot, then. I focused on compositional lines and texture and on using the sky to complement the bleak forms of the buildings. Add a dash of documentary to the mix, given the history and notoriety of the place.