The Flood

River Soar: After the Flood, Ben Dolman 2013

A couple of weeks ago where I work at the School of the Arts, Loughborough University we had a serious flood which has severely damaged and temporary shut down half the facility I use for my teaching, research and also for the MA I am currently studying. Thankfully the students had just submitted their work for assessment so bar a couple of prints there was only a slight impact on the students. The research we were undertaking into sustainable noble metal print processes was badly hit with most of the prints and other media destroyed, the work will be redone in the later part of the summer when hopefully the rooms will have dried out and the facility becomes operational again. Initially I thought the flood would be a major set back in my MA as I use the kit out of office hours to do some of the photographic film developing, scanning and printing processes. The flood hit the IT side of facility which includes all our printers, scanners and computers and also deluged our research room hard where I do most of my MA work but thankfully our photography studios and labs were spared.

The university has done a brilliant job in trying to save the facility and the lost adjuster is repairing and replacing kit as I type, but initially it looked like all work would come to a standstill, this was not an option for me. Fortunately the colour film processors survived the flood but the ultra large 20” x 24” format film camera took the full brunt of the flood. The bellows have been badly damaged but might be repairable, the camera itself which is made of wood swelled badly at some joints that were in direct contact with water, all camera movements were initially locked up but I managed to dismantle the camera and let it slowly dry out and thankfully bar some slight discolouration of the wood it is now functioning with all camera movements now working smoothly.

20 x 24 Ultra Large Format Film Camera: Before the Flood, Built by Ben Dolman

One of my main summer projects was to use the ultra large format camera but it will be some time before it is fully operational so in the meantime besides still photographing on location I decided to process film shot from the last four months. This was the best thing to do, rather than be down beaten by the flood it was good to be productive, to see the work developed and scanned [forgot to mentioned I managed to save the Flextight X5 scanner from the flood, thou it needs to go off for a MOT to double check that the high humidity has not harmed it after I finished scanning] has given me a welcome lift and a sense of optimism for the future. The scanned work is from three different locations I have working in over the winter and the late spring this year, the locations are the Fens, the River Trent and areas around northern Leicester which I am documenting urban encroachment on the green belt, brown field site developments and would you believe flooding.

The first image is very unlike me, I am not into ‘chasing the light’ photography, I usually prefer an overcast grey sky in my Fens work. The photograph was taken after a long day working and travelling through the Fens and I was on my way home and I decided to stop and have one last cigarette and a cup of coffee from my flask. I was looking at the passing traffic and the sky above and I decided to grab my medium format film camera and take a photograph. After the days hunt I was tired and frustrated thinking did I find the ‘right’ subject, did I do the subject justice and so on the list is endless. But looking at this sky I found myself at ease, it is the kind of sky that allows one to say goodbye, not a shameful of sorrowful goodbye but one that is gentle, sleepy and restful. Once in a while there is no harm in a little bit of visual indulgence, the picturesque, perhaps it feels richer for the lack of it, well in my work at least.

The Fens: The Road Home, Ben Dolman 2013

The next photographs were taken for my Melancholia project, initially the series of images were done in a single day last November but over the winter I have returned to the Fens to expand on the series and the project will be made into a photo book over the summer. The photographs were taken on clear blue days that were illuminated by a bright light of the low lying winter sun, the type of sun that casts long shadows even at midday. These sunny days were few and far last winter that either was knee deep in snow or water that flooded the landscape from a heavy and non stop rainfall but on these few days the landscape was expose and laid bare, there was a clarity and fidelity in the light that yielded a harshness in the landscape, a landscape stripped of its vegetation by winter. Due to the rawness of the light the photographs are not as composed as my usual work and whilst not quite snapshots they have a degree of the instinctual about them, things remain hidden in the dark shadows or lost in the glare as the camera points into the sun. Even though the title of the project  is called Melancholia, it was fun project to do, shooting scenes in quick succession as I wandered through the landscape.

Melancholia: Armchair in Field, Ben Dolman 2013

Melancholia: Haystack, Ben Dolman 2013

Melancholia: Red Barn, Ben Dolman 2013

Melancholia: Black Barn, Ben Dolman 2013

Melancholia: Soil, Ben Dolman 2013

Melancholia: The Black Mountains, Ben Dolman 2013

The next series of photographs are from my River Trent project, in these photographs I have been experimenting with different compositional dimensions and structures. I have been experimenting with the lateral shift movement on a view camera, I take two photographs of the same subject in quick succession, one taken with the shift to the extreme right and the other to the extreme left. I use long lens between 180-210mm that have a large image circle to overcome any vignetting issues, the two photographs are then combined and stitched together using PhotoShop, the resulting image has a usable ratio of between 12 : 6 and 13 : 6. The resulting images from this process yields massive detail and resolution and zero distortion thanks to the lateral shift movements of the view camera that other multi image panoramic stitching processes do not come even close to. The resulting high definition image cannot be really seen on this blog post due to web compression and rendering but the resulting large format prints I am starting to make from the images gave an almost hyper realism appearance that I find interesting as I gaze at things I did not notice when I originally documented the landscape. There is a new added dimension beyond the initial experience of being there in the landscape, it is not one of the memory of it but a new continued experience of it, the photograph continues to reveal more of the place, new observations and interpretations are gained.

I am currently using a second hand large format Epson printer I got off eBay at the moment due to the flood at work that has disabled all of the printers I normally use to test my work on, again I am not letting the flood stop me though it is making me poorer but I am finding it handy to have your own printer to knock off tests in the evening. I have also recently got an adapter plate for a view camera that can support a high resolution digital camera so I will be able to experiment with lateral and vertical shift movements in a more cost effective way though I do love the results from film, even films errors and imperfections as it’s dynamic range is a joy to work with in the landscape, no ND filters required, all the information is there in the deepest shadows to the lightest part of the sky. The images are a bit rough and ready at the moment straight from the scanner and some need to be rescanned again but they give an idea what I am up to with the lateral shift experiments, the next stage is to try the technique out on a technical 10x8 camera with black and white film and hopefully the resulting image yield the detail I seek for large format photography and immersive imagery.

The other day I came across an American photographer Clifford Ross who had devised an ultra large format camera that used high resolution colour ariel film, there is a Vimeo video of Clifford talking about his camera and work at the following link I am not sure about the subject, mountains, but his technical inventiveness and the quality of the resulting prints is interesting, I guess what I am intrigued by is the extended observational and immersive possibilities afforded by the high resolution imagery. It is not dissimilar the work done by Nasa from the Blue Marble to the humble telescope's Pillars of Creation.

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The last selection photographs are the most recently developed and scanned and they are 17 x 6 format panoramic photographs, these images are not stitched together but are created using a panoramic 120 [medium format film] film back on a 4x5 view camera. They have less than half the resolution of the stitched 4x5 photographs but still make acceptable prints up to 120 cm in length. Again these images are straight off the scanner and have not been colour corrected and tidied up but it is useful to document they developments of work and see where it goes from here.

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The Trent, Ben Dolman 2013

The Fens: Sutton Bridge Wind Farm, Ben Dolman 2013