A Touch of Nostalgia

It’s been three years since I gave up my large format camera, and I haven’t really missed it.  Until, that is,  last Saturday.

Because it takes so long to shoot a time-lapse sequence you have plenty of time to contemplate the landscape or go mooching about looking for traditional images.  So whilst one camera was busy with the time-lapse I picked up the other and went for a wander.  I found a potential image that really caught my eye but couldn’t make it work without the tilt and shift lens, which, of course, I’d left at home. This was when I realised that had I still been shooting large format I could have been happily engaged for the next half hour making what would’ve been a really good image.

I’m not one for getting sentimental about equipment.  It is after all simply a means to an end, and I have only owned four camera systems in my entire photographic career; a Contax 35mm which I bought in 1978, a Mamiya RB 67 medium format which was bought in 1997, my LF system which I started in 1998, and my current Nikon system.  Each has been sold in turn to pay for its successor.  However, and I still believe this to this day, the large format camera is probably the camera best suited to traditional landscape photography.

I’m not going to eulogise to any great length about  the attributes of a large format camera. That is adequately covered on myriad websites, and like any other camera system they do have their drawbacks.  In any case it’s not necessarily the camera’s abilities which make it so good, it’s more the way in which it encourages an engagement with the landscape which I’ve never experienced with any other camera system.  When you throw the dark cloth over your head and all the outside world distractions are minimised what you’re left with is just the image on the glass screen and your vision. You are encouraged to look deeper into the landscape and, ultimately, yourself.

One key attribute however are the movements.  It is difficult to describe to somebody who has never used camera movements just what a fantastic tool they are, and not wanting to give up that kind of control I have the tilt and shift lenses from the Nikon system (24 mm, 45 mm, and 85 mm).  They don’t have anywhere near the amount of flexibility you get with a large format camera but just the ability to align the plane of focus is a marvellous control to have.  (Assuming you haven’t left them at home!)

In 2012 I realised that I had taken my large format camera on every trip that year without using it once.  Consequently I made arrangements to sell it through a national retailer on a commission basis, but it took me three attempts to package it up, because for some reason I didn’t understand at the time I was reluctant let it go.  I now realise that my reluctance was based on the fact that I’d had some brilliant experiences, made some of my best images, and gained some wonderful friends as a result spending time out in the landscape with that particular camera.  So I wasn’t sentimental about the camera itself rather I was nostalgic for the times and experiences it afforded me.

Of course I’ve gone on to have good times, good experiences, and made new friends with my digital camera equipment. The digital camera has opened up new creative avenues for me, and allowed me to make images I could never have dreamt of making with a large format camera.

Having said all that I have recently found myself looking wistfully at adverts for 10 x 8 cameras! You know, for when I have a few hours to spare on a Saturday afternoon!

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Not for the overly sensitive

One of the joys of travelling around visiting photographic societies is meeting so many great people who have a genuine enthusiasm for photography. I hear many comments and questions about my work, but one must remember that “All of life is here”, and occasionally I have to field a question or a comment straight out of left field which sets in motion a train of thought which then leads in all kinds of strange directions.

Take for example a comment made about three weeks ago during the half time interval. A club member approached me and said “So you’re an Apple user then?” Now, given that I was holding an iPad and that there was a laptop on the table next to me with an illuminated Apple logo shining brightly, I thought I did rather well to resist the pithy/sarcastic/ironic reply and instead opted for a rather noncommittal “It would appear so”, and continued to tap away at the iPad screen. He then offered the pearl of wisdom that was “I don’t know why because they’re not a very nice company.” This genuinely surprised me, not because of the anti-Apple feeling expressed (that happens quite a lot), but the fact that the issue had been raised, unprompted, in the context of a photographic society club night to which it had no relevance. I couldn’t understand why somebody would choose to be confrontational about something so inconsequential. I replied with “you’ll have to excuse me. I have to set up the next part of the presentation.”, and moved away pretending to be busy with the iPad.

Driving home from the gig, I found myself thinking about the comments and, more pertinently, the way in which they’d been made. I wasn’t worried about them per se, I mean they weren’t going to keep me awake at night, but I was interested in why somebody would go out of their way to diss someone else’s equipment so forcefully without any prompt or provocation.

Wind forward 2 weeks, another photographic society meeting, only this time I’m in the audience listening to the guest speaker going through his introduction. Within the first two minutes he made a disparaging remark about people who use Nikon cameras (he was a Canon user). He got a few chuckles but he made three more such remarks over the next ten minutes or so, by which time the joke had worn a bit thin. So when, about a half hour later, the auto focus on his Canon Eos gazillion mark 73 refused to cooperate the comment “well that’s Canon for you ” emanated from the audience in a voice just loud enough for everybody to hear. Muffled guffaws followed. (To be honest I didn’t realise I’d said it out loud until I heard the laughter).

Reminded of my encounter of a few weeks earlier, I again wondered why some people thought it was entertaining to criticise equipment used by others. The occasional piece of banter is fine and is all part of the photographic scene, and I’m quite capable of holding my own when it comes to the cut and thrust of wit and repartè. Neither am I sensitive or feel the need to defend my reasons for using the brands of equipment I do. In addition, many years of hosting photographic workshops and giving presentations have taught me that some people can be quite defensive and sensitive when it comes to their equipment, and so I’m careful not to mention the brands of equipment that I use, unless expressly asked to do so. I’m even more careful not to criticise other manufacturers, again unless expressly asked to give an opinion.

We invest a lot of time, effort, and hard earned cash in choosing our equipment. Using the camera is a very tactile experience, and people can, literally, become very attached to it. I have never subscribed to the idea of “the camera doesn’t matter as much as the person looking through it”. The camera matters a great deal, after all it is the instrument which realises our creativity and it must be comfortable enough in use to become second nature so that it never gets in the way of that creativity.

Maybe Mr anti-Apple was feeling the need to justify using the equipment that he did, and to improve its standing in his eyes, by rubbishing the opposition. Maybe Mr non-autofocus Canon misjudged the mood of the audience (something which I have done on occasion). But then what do I know. I’m just an Apple and a Nikon user.