“Mr. Tansley raised a hammer; swung it high in the air; but realising as it descended , that he could not smite the butterfly with such an instrument as this, said only that he had never been sick in his life.”
“All of them bending themselves to listen thought, ‘Pray heaven that the inside of my mind may not be exposed,’ for each thought, ‘The others are feeling this. They are outraged and indignant with the government about the fisherman. Whereas, I feel nothing at all.’ ”
“It was windy, so that the leaves now and then brushed open a star, and the stars themselves seemed to be shaking and darting light and trying to flash out between the edges of the leaves. Yes, that was done, accomplished; and as with all things done, became solemn.”
Text from To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
All images in this series were shot with a Bronica ETR-Si and 50mm lens, on a single roll of Kodak 100 TMax. Exposures ranged from 4 seconds to 8 minutes at f22.
“Starting from her musing, she gave meaning to words which she had held meaningless in her mind for a long stretch of time.”
“If Shakespeare had never existed, he asked, would the world have differed much from what it is today? Does the progress of civilisation depend upon great men? Is the lot of the average human being better now than in the time of the Pharaohs? Is the lot of the average human being, he asked himself, the criterion by which we judge the measure of civilisation? Possibly not….The liftman in the Tube is an eternal necessity.”
“It was his fate, his peculiarity, whether he wished it or not, to come out thus on a spit of land which the sea was slowly eating away, and there to stand, like a desolate sea-bird, alone. It was his power, his gift, suddenly to shed all superfluities, to shrink and diminish so that he looked barer and felt sparer, even physically, yet lost none of his intensity of mind, and so to stand on his little ledge facing the dark of human ignorance, how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we stand on–that was his fate, his gift.”
“She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was definitely bad! She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherealized; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the color burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfyl’s wing lying upon the arches of the cathedral.”
Text from To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
All is well in my little corner of Philadelphia after the hurricane. I look around at other places in the region, city, even neighborhood, and I feel so fortunate that the worst that it got Monday night for us was the house shaking so much in the wind that the water in the toilet was swishing around a bit. We didn’t even lose power.
I’ll post more in the next few days…my project for the storm was to shoot out my office window once every [roughly] hour. The image above was taken about 10:45 p.m. on Monday, and that was right about the worst of the storm here.
Thoughts, prayers and well-wishes to all who had it rougher than we had it.
Two more from Hocking Hills. This road, if that’s the right term, divided our property from the field in the image below. I didn’t have the time to wander up around the bend.
And I’m trying to remember the name of the movie the title of this post comes from. Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, John Travolta…She’s So Lovely or something like that.
I was forced to part with a good friend today. It wasn’t that the relationship was long…it’s just that this friend taught me an awful lot in a very short time. Yes, I had to return my 4×5 view camera today.
Working with a view camera is different. It is slow. It is deliberate. It is expensive. It is painstaking in its technicalities and demands. But the results are superb. For better or for worse, the digital age of smaller, lighter, faster-to-post-to-the-web cameras, more so than the era of film point-and-shoot cameras, has changed what people think of as high-quality photography. The 35mm camera used to be the light, fast, traveling person’s camera. Now, a full-frame DSLR is not only at the high end of the price scale, it is also at the high end of the perceived quality scale as well. Medium format or larger photography, not to mention film in general, is increasingly seen as a choice of eccentricity, rather than as a choice of quality. I’d like to submit that the quality of a 4×5 negative can only be believed once it is seen. Digital has no answer.
At $85 for a 50-sheet box of film, one has to be careful how and what is shot. Each mistake, each careless exposure, each half-baked idea, comes with a tangible price. A full day’s shooting might only result in ten or twelve frames. And depending on how strictly you edit down your shots, that means that, every day, you might get one usable shot, even when you are thinking clearly and working well. Some days, there won’t be anything usable.
For the large format photography class that I’ve been taking, we had the assignment to develop and shoot a project over a six-week span. Not long by any account, but long enough to spend some serious time thinking about how, what, and why we each were indulging ourselves in this form of photography. Such a project has to start out with an idea, and I, in my fashion, had a few awful ideas that I tried to play around with at first, the kind of ideas that would have worked out well if I had had six years and an unlimited travel budget, and maybe a helicopter, to work with. I finally realized, after much crappy photography, that what I was shooting when no one was watching me were intimate, detail-driven landscapes. So that is what I decided to focus on.
The only thing is, that is kind of a wishy-washy idea, and wishy-washy ideas lead to wishy-washy photography. Cartier-Bresson said that he would rather see a fuzzy picture of a clear idea than a clear picture of a fuzzy idea, and I’m not one to disagree. My project started out with textural shots of erosion and roots, and they were…mneh. Boring pictures of interesting things, at best.
But I found that using the camera in its slow, methodical way was a sort of meditation. The surface actions of finding an interesting subject and making a technically sound capture became, in their familiarity, somewhat invisible, and I could then think and look and see at a deeper level. And being the kind of person that I am, thinking in images soon led to thinking in words, and I found myself ruminating not about intimate landscapes, but about the mutability of natural forms, and the timescales that change happens across. It’s a much more specific idea, and even if that idea is not explicitly investigated in the resulting images, it was a much clearer idea that was motivating me to shoot. I found more interesting things, framed them better, and printed them better. Over the course of the second half of my shooting, each image became a little more compelling than the previous. I started getting that sense that things were well in the universe. I kept the idea in mind, I talked to myself about it so that the idea of mutability of forms became, in its familiarity, somewhat invisible, and a clearer, calmer, more productive space opened up for me. These later shots ended up comprising 75% of my final portfolio.
There was even a moment when I started knowing that what I was intending to capture was what was going to come out in the final print. There, under the dark cloth, I could imagine, even, where I’d have to dodge or burn, how I’d have to play with contrast, what the final thing would look like. And at some point, I actually started to be right, too.
I don’t often have the time to spend twenty minutes searching for just the right thing to photograph. As a wedding photographer, things come and go so quickly that it is exhausting merely to keep up, in the moment. It’s a different type of shooting, a different mindset that demands that I be open to seeing (Mssr Cartier-Bresson also said that photography has to be like the last few words of Ulysses: yes, yes, yes) and consuming images and moment en masse. With large format photography, I have to be more careful, saying not yet, not yet, not yet, and making more choices in the moment, not in the dark room. That time to slow down, to look, to think, to decide on something else, to not have to settle for anything that is not exactly what I want, has made me a better photographer by broadening the experience of shooting, and by putting a literal price tag on the value of each shutter click. It has taught me when it is best to say yes.
I was tweeting today about my favorite of several new toys. Maybe I’ll get around to mentioning the others sometime soon, although I must admit that most of them only will appeal to people who like talking tech. But my favorite of the new lot is my Bronica, for which I have recently professed profound love.
I’m still learning the ropes of it, and still getting comfortable with just sort of eyeballing the light and making exposure decisions about it. Still, it is definitely a departure, and a fun one at that, from the immediacy of digital photography. Not that the immediacy of the digital formats is a bad thing…but in a time when photographers can reel off an unlimited number of shots and then pick out the several best, it is not only a change of pace, but also a change in the way of thinking, to be limited to twelve shots per roll of film. Shooting with this type of camera slows me down and makes me think about each and every exposure.
Of course, one should always slow down and think of each and every exposure. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I know that I for one certainly am guilty of the “start shooting and see what happens” approach when using digital. With the medium format, it’s more “stop and be clear about what is going to happen.”
On my July 4th trip to NC, there was one morning of dense fog. I had the chance to simply duck out into the backyard and take a few shots. The fog is like a very spongey seamless background–it doesn’t have a definite surface, but it certainly goes out to white somewhere out there over the pond. Neat little effect, especially with the mid-morning sun giving enough light for details in the trees.
85mm lens, Ilford Delta 100 film