Large format – first attempts

Following my earlier rumination about film I have now had my first go with my new large format 4×5 camera.  I have tried both 4×5 sheet film and 120 roll but have so far developed only a handful of 4x5s as I have yet to finish a roll of 120.

I was not expecting much to come of these first experiments but I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the results.  Here is just one example:

f/22, 1s, ISO 125

This is far from perfect but nevertheless I find the outcome quite encouraging.  Firstly, the composition has come out well despite the fact that I found it hard to view the scene properly through the back of the camera.  I think the issue here is that I need a focusing cloth.  Secondly, although it does not necessarily show up well here, the amount of detail that has been captured is amazing.  I used Ilford FP4 Plus which is generally regarded as a good all-round film that captures detail well.  In addition I was impressed by the depth of field.  The lens on my camera goes all the way up to f/64 and I expect that at that level the results will be almost hallucinatory, as I find with a lot of Ansel Adams’s work.

The big problem with this shot though is the exposure.  Although I quite like the almost antique feel to it, and the way it reminds me of the work of Samuel Palmer, there are clearly large areas in the upper half that are over-exposed.

From a learning point of view this is probably the most important thing that I get from this experiment.  Modern digital cameras meter the available light automatically.  My Canon is generally set to evaluative metering so it is measuring the light right across the field of view.  I have no idea how the process works but it choses apertures and shutter speeds that result in the picture being properly exposed (by and large) right across the range.  What I did with the 4×5 is take a single reading from the centre of the view and set the camera accordingly.  Clearly though this resulted in those parts that were in more direct sunlight being overexposed.  Therefore what I think I need to do with the next round of pictures is take a series of readings from various parts of the scene and then, probably, set the camera in accordance with the most brightly lit areas.  That might well result in some parts being underexposed but I suspect will give a better overall balance.  I can of course also make some adjustments in Photoshop but I would rather get things as nearly right as possible when taking the photograph itself.

Above all what I learn from this experience is that I need to be much more thoughtful and aware of the processes involved with analog photography and make more considered judgments about how each shot should be approached as there is nothing that can be left up to the camera to decide.  Hopefully that will in turn start to inform my approach with the digital camera as well.


Vilem Flusser: Towards a Philosophy of Photography – Book

I was intrigued by the quotation on the course material from this book so thought it would be worth reading.  It turns out though not to be quite I expected.

Although quite short it is pretty heavy going and requires the taking on board of a new language, or at least new meanings of already familiar words that are used throughout the text in a very particular way.  Fortunately there is a glossary at the back!  I had expected a work of theory but it is in fact pure philosophy.  As such it is not about photography  as such, not as an activity or practice but it addresses the significance of photography and the underlying role it plays in the modern world.  The book is, I suppose, more than anything a critique (post-Marxian?) of post-industrial capitalism.  I will not even try to summarise the argument but photography is effectively presented as being used by that capitalism  to control society and is a precursor for the increasing robotisation of society.

Oddly, for all that this is an important role, the camera is nevertheless described as a plaything rather than a tool, but one that effectively controls the photographer.  This is I suppose true to an extent in the case of fully automatic cameras, and indeed of any camera that has certain functions that do not require the active agency of the photographer for them to be applied.

Also oddly, for all of the significant role that photographs play, Flusser is pretty scathing about their quality, their banality, and of photographers in general.  To that extent this is not a book to read if you want to feel good about your own photographic practice!

I do not agree with all of his points, particularly where he seems to suggest that cameras have an active agency of their own, almost a will of their own, nor about photographers’ reasons for taking pictures (a search for immortality), but I have to accept that this might be more due to the fact that I might not properly have understood all of the argument.

The overall picture that he paints is similar to the Matrix movies.  What we as photographers perceive is not true and we are working, without knowing it, within a reality that is actually a construct of the system.  We are in a way slaves to the system as whole and to the camera.

What I take away from the book is the idea that as photographers we need to be more aware of what we are doing and the pitfalls that we might otherwise stumble into, producing images that are effectively worthless, though serving the system.  This is I suppose summed up by the quotation in the course book – what we need to do is try to produce images that have not been seen before.  What I also get is the importance of not being a slave to the camera, not to let it make all the decisions – keep out of automatic mode!  Technology being what it is, the way it is constantly developing and becoming more opaque to the ordinary user, and as camera manufacturers are at in a sense at the heart of the system, this is going to be hard and I cannot imagine that we are now all going to give up completely our all singing, all dancing digital cameras.  This idea does though chime with what I have recently been thinking about in connection with going back to experimenting with film.  My large format camera is about as far from the digital world as it is perhaps now possible to get and as I have written elsewhere it is sending me back to basics and first principles.  I am already intrigued by the artistic possibilities this opens up, and am heartened by the increasing number of artists (people whom I suspect Flusser would regard as real photographers) who are suing film make their images.

The world is in chains: we cannot though smash the system.  Perhaps though we can still find our own spaces where we are not a shackled to the system.


Flusser, V, (2000).  Towards a Philosophy of Photography.  London: Reaktion Books.

Rinko Kawauchi: Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow – Book

I have become really intrigued by the work of Rinko Kawauchi since encountering her in connection with this course.  I had not otherwise heard of her before.  Is it not interesting how sometimes you can come across an artist who appeals deeply quite by chance and you are left wondering why you did not know about them already?  The same thing happened to me with Hiroshi Sugimoto.  I discovered him, even more by chance, walking past a gallery in Edinburgh where there was a show of his seascapes, and went in with a simple sense of curiosity.  From that moment I have loved his work.  (There, it is not just American photographers who appeal!)  Kawauchi-san falls into the same category, partly because her work seems to resonate with that of Sugimoto.

This book was originally published to accompany an exhibition of her work at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in 2012 and draws on work from the three series in the title, together with the works Iridescence (which was the originally proposed title for Illuminance) and In a Box which I understand were put together for this exhibition, so offers a good overview of her work.

What I find particularly appealing is her sense of light.  Much of the work is overexposed, as with the flower in Illuminance, so that it is tentative and sometimes a little sketchy, but nevertheless subtle and with a strong sense of (subdued) colour.  Although often very pale they never seem cold.  Many have a strong sense of intimacy.

The photos apart, what particularly caught my eye is a couple of comments in one of he accompanying essays which speak of Kawauchi-san’s approach to image making:

“I don’t make works that are documentary , or true-to-the-fact in nature.  Every time I make a book, I leave out any elements that indicate a certain location.  Actually, I consciously choose motifs that are devoid of obvious clues to locations seen when photographing.”

“…the photographs transcend the flow of time.  They present images that are timeless and placeless, they contain the reality that I personally see.”

(Both, page 125.)

I had not read any of this before I wrote my previous post in which I considered her work but it seems from this that my assessment of and reaction to her work was not too far wide of the mark.

I have a funny feeling about this work that is hard to put into words.  Coming across Kawauchi-san’s work is not quite a road to Damascus experience for me but nevertheless it does feel significant from the point of view of the development of my own artistic voice.  There is something in her work and her approach to and philosophy behind her photography that is particular appealing and seems to resonate with me.  I am still trying to make sense of this but there is a clue in another of those odd coincidences, chance encounters, that I talked about in the opening paragraph above.  In the same essay in which the two passages quoted above appears Kawauchi-san mentions that she thought of the possible title of Iridescence having come across the word when reading a poem by Kenji Miyazawa.  Miyazawa is perhaps not well-known in the west but after Basho is probably the most important, and best known poet from Japan, certainly the most important of the 20th century and widely read in Japan.  He was very much influenced in his writing by that characteristically Japanese approach to Buddhism, Zazen, and it was through the practice of Zen Buddhism that I first became aware of his work.  The key focus in Zen is on the moment – in its own right and on its own terms.  It is a moment out of time and eternal.  Applied to photography, an image captures that very instant, that eternal moment, free from narrative and from context.  Of course, in so many ways this goes contrary to what this course is teaching but nevertheless this is something, a philosophy of photography, that I find deeply appealing and ‘true’.

As I say, I have a funny feeling about this work and expect that it is going to have an important impact on my own work.  That is not to say that I propose to emulate the pictures that Kawauchi-sensei (as perhaps I should now address her, recognising her influence on me) makes but there are elements of her approach that I can see having an effect on what I do in future.  Already she has helped to shape some of my ideas about Assignment 5, which I am now beginning to work on, and of which more later.

Kawauchi, R (2012).  Illuminance, Ametsuchi, Seeing Shadow.  Kyoto: Seigensha Art Publishing

Part 5 Project 2 – Fantasy shooting modes

For Exercise 5.2 I set the camera to AV, aperture priority mode, as depth of field was the most important technical consideration for me in making this shot.  I wanted the main sign to dominate the field of focus and act as a barrier to see clearly further into the space.  I wanted everything else to be slightly less distinct, congruent with its physical inaccessibility. An aperture of f/5.6 gave a shallow depth of field that seemed to achieve the desired effect.

In an ideal world what preset modes would I want on my camera?  In some ways I would be happy with little more than Manual as I am now using this setting more often on my DSLR and is effectively all I am working with on my film cameras, my Leica and the new 4×5.  That said, I would ago for:  TA – Technical Ability which enables the camera to take the perfect shot every time!  Otherwise, V – Verity or Truth.