It’s been a while since I last posted here. (A few other projects and ill health have kept me away). However, a recent decision about my photography has got the old blogging juices flowing again.
For the last few years I’ve been concentrating on two photographic genres, namely time-lapse and infrared monochrome. I have done little in the way of traditional landscape photography, and I’ve struggled to conjure up any enthusiasm for it. I’ve been giving some thought as to why this may be and I think I have the answer.
I have a perfectly decent Nikon D800 which is capable of fantastic results, especially when used in conjunction with Nikon’s tilt and shift lenses. The DSLR has allowed me to experiment with all kinds of new ideas and to make images which would have probably been impossible with a film camera. However, I just don’t enjoy using it for landscape work. It’s fine for my macro work and my watch photography, but when out in the landscape it provides an unsatisfactory experience.
I still enjoy the process of finding a landscape image. The search for a decent subject, the contemplation of light, tone, texture, colour, highlights, and shadows, and the challenge of bringing it all together in a coherent composition. What I’ve stopped enjoying is the actual process of making the image; of using the camera. The realisation I’ve come to is that this is largely due to the camera not allowing any kind of real engagement with the subject.
Any camera is just a tool of the craft, and should never get in the way of or interfere with the creative process. If you’re busy thinking about the camera, which button to press, which wheel to turn, which menu item to select, then you’re not really concentrating on your subject. You’re not engaging with it in any meaningful way. The technical side has superseded the creative process.
This lack of engagement became evident when I started sorting through my images in preparation for a book to be published later this year. Up until 2013 I was producing strong, coherent images on a regular basis, but since then I’ve made far fewer. The quality is still there but whereas I used to produce between 25 and 50 decent images every year, since 2013 I’ve produced maybe 50 in total. Now, I’m a ruthless editor of my work, and very hard on myself when it comes to the quality, so either I’m editing more out i.e. throwing more away, or I’m just not making as many images as I used to. Either way it boils down to drop-off in production which I’ve put down to a lack of enthusiasm in turn brought about by the unsatisfactory experience of using a DSLR out in the landscape. So what’s the solution?
I wrote here in 2016 about coming to terms with selling my large format equipment and how I missed using it out in the field, particularly the sense of engagement it provided. Since then I’ve constantly found myself checking out websites and retailers to see what’s out there but I’ve always resisted the temptation, mainly due to concerns around the film processing (cost, quality, et cetera). However, recently these concerns have abated somewhat, and I find myself back in the position I was in in 1997 when I started looking at large format for the first time.
So, I’m going to do now what I did then. I’m going to invest (or should that be reinvest) in a small, lightweight large format system. A lightweight field camera, one lens, a couple of film holders, and some Ilford monochrome film. My venerable Sekonic spot meter is still working and I’m sure I can find my original dark cloth. For the time being I will have the film processed by commercial lab, but hopefully at some point in the future I would like to recommission my JoBo CPE2 processing system. (To fund all this I’m going to sell my Nikon tilt and shift lenses, so if anybody out there is interested please get in touch).
Buying my first large format system was one of the most significant points in my photographic career. I now realise that selling it was a low point from which I’ve not fully recovered. To quote one of my photographic heroes, Joe Cornish;
“There is a proper sense of occasion and significance setting up a big camera on a tripod. I liken it the process to a painter setting up a canvas on an easel, and working with paints and brushes, en plein air (as the impressionists described it). The process itself, with its laborious workflow, reinforces a sense of respect for photography and for the landscape. This in turn helps me make pictures that I feel do justice to the subject. It is impossible to snap, to take, to point and shoot and walk away”
I feel better already! So, is it to be 5 x 4 or the wonders of 10 x 8? I’ve always fancied a 10 x 8………