I have now received my tutor’s feedback on this assignment. As ever, not only positive and supportive but also challenging and thought-provoking.
One thing that became clear very quickly during my feedback session with her is that to a degree I have too successful in decontextualising the final set of images that I chose, to the extent that it was not easy for her to identify exactly what some of the individual images showed and how they worked together as a set. I think therefore it would be useful to talk through what each image portrays of the process of taking a photograph using my 4×5 field camera. This then leads handily into discussion of a really interesting issue that she raised about the choice of this approach and sequence.
- Remove the lens cap.
- Open the shutter.
- Adjust the focus using the focusing wheel.
- Check focus and composition on the ground glass back.
- Set aperture.
- Set shutter speed.
- Release the shutter.
- Light passes along the length of the camera through the bellows,
- reaching the back of the camera,
- exposing the film.
There are of course a few other steps along the way (such as closing the shutter after focusing, inserting a film back, and priming the shutter release mechanism before releasing the shutter) but these were omitted as they would have duplicated see of the information in other shots, would not have added anything material to the sequence, and made it too long, violating two elements of the brief.
To help with context here are a couple of shots of the camera as a whole.
The main issue that my tutor raised was the paradox that I created (or perhaps more accurately, stumbled upon) by choosing to take these images from the point of view of an observer rather than that of the photographer when using the camera and the conscious decision not to include either the photographer nor the image that the camera would have taken. I wanted to portray the physical process and elements of taking a photograph, while keeping strictly to the terms of the brief. To that extent it struck me when I first conceived of the idea that it would not be possible or indeed desirable for what I wanted to do to include the photographer, or part of him/her. From a practical point of view it would have been physically difficult, if not impossible to include my self (“The Photographer”), even just hands, in the images and I did not want to use a model. This does create a paradox in that while trying to portray the process, by removing the external agency of the photographer it becomes impossible for the photograph to be taken. That is of course a bit of a head-scratcher and is perhaps irreconcilable.
The real focus of my intention though was to look at the technical steps of taking a photograph using this camera and what my tutor and I agree is that the end result does so in a micro sense so that, as I have already said, user and subject are of lesser importance. Indeed, one of the shots that I included in the contact sheets was a view through the camera, with the ground glass removed and the back open, to show the circular, inverted and reversed view that was visible through the lens. I specifically rejected this from the final set as I felt that it did not work that well as an image and also did not really fit within a set that is otherwise about technical process. I had thought at first that it might have formed the final image in the set but replaced it instead with the view of the film holder, sticking firmly to a portrayal of process.
The above notwithstanding, for the sake of experimentation and completeness if nothing else I have decided to try a similar shot to the one referred to above, but showing the view on the ground glass itself. One is over-exposed one stop, the other three stops.
I think this is a more interesting image and is more consistent with the overall approach. However I am still not convinced that it fits properly in so far as it is the only image that would show the photographed subject and so I would still not include it in preference to, for example, the current tenth image.
In the context of the overall approach my tutor commented that the view of the aperture dial is taken from the side rather than above. (The same could perhaps be said of all of the views of the lens and shutter.) This choice was deliberate and reflects the physical practicalities of handling this camera. Because there is no viewfinder focusing and composition have to be done using the ground glass back. It is therefore necessary, from a purely physical point of view, to have the camera up on a tripod at eye level and this was how I arranged the subject camera and my digital camera taking the shots. At this level, and when actually using the camera it is not possible easily to look down onto the shutter controls. Instead they have to be viewed from the side. Indeed, this particular lens (a Rodenstock 150mm f/5.6 Sironar N) has repeater indicators for the shutter speed and aperture dials on the underneath as well. Therefore, to have portrayed them from above, as would be the case with a medium format or SLR camera would not have been appropriate given the micro technical approach I had decided to adopt.
Clearly this paradox and the discussion with my tutor raises some interesting, and possibly difficult, questions about such issues as the photography as a process and as a means of producing images. At my tutor’s suggestion I am going to go back to Walter Benjamin and his essay on “The work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility” to try to develop my thinking on this.
Another thing we discussed was the decision to exclude most of the more overexposed shots. The principal reason for doing so was that given the micro technical approach I had settled on too many of these shots contained too little information to get my message across. In some ways I still feel that is a bit of a shame as from a purely artistic point of view I like the more washed out images. If the intention was not to convey bits of information but rather to produce a visually interesting, if somewhat enigmatic, sequence to stand in its own right I think the more over exposed images would work quite well. From the point of view therefore of completeness, and to present a less didactic and more purely aesthetic set I set out an alternative sequence of them below (though keeping to the same ‘narrative’ line for now).
The third image actually formed part of the original sequence and is the more washed out of the two shots I took of this part of the process. The fourth is the only shot I took of the ground glass, and the same goes for the final image. The extent of the overexposure is therefore unfortunately not entirely consistent throughout. Nevertheless this does perhaps give an indication of what a more purely aesthetic approach might look like. I do quite like it but it does not tell the story that I wanted to portray.