End Game

The Trent: Thrumpton - River Bank 2014, 2 @ 4x5 Colour Negative Film Stitch

The course of study for my MA in Photography is now coming to its end and there is less and less photography on location as I develop my film, scan it and tidy it up in the digital room and make the final decisions which photographs make the final edit to be printed into either a book or a print collection. The MA has been hard work but also fun and inspiring, towards the end of my course of study I have finally managed to control and develop upon my large format film workflow technically, creativity and conceptually. If you have followed my past posts you will have gathered that I have not made it easy for myself, the reason being to quote Paul Graham's essay ‘Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult’ is to create a photograph all you need to do is just point the camera at a subject and click you have a photograph, the hard part according to Paul Graham is finding a new direction in the medium of photography when everything seems to have been done before. For me I wanted the act of taking and making a photograph to be hard, the process as you will and make it difficult in the hope it would force me to be less careless with the way I viewed and captured my subject, in some respects this has worked and in others not quite so but on the whole I am comfortable to a degree with the resulting work.

The Trent: Thrumpton - Swollen River 2014,  4x5 Colour & BW Negative Film

To make the process taking a photograph hard I opted to use large format film photography over the course of my MA which is highly technical and requires a degree of skill and aptitude on behalf of the photographer to get to the best out of the media be it from the use of the camera, the processing of the film, its post production and the final printing out of the work. To compound the technical difficulties I decided to make my own 8x10 camera and do all my own film developing, black and white film is a straight forward process but colour negative film is not. My early work had a high degree of failure, as high as 70% which was frustrating but also rewarding when it work, to grasp the hard won image and overcome the technical difficulties. The failures came in light leaks from the camera and not getting the processing of the film consistent but now over the past couple of years both camera and processing issues have been addressed and fixed so that today I am getting nearly 100% technically perfect results. Now I feel at ease with medium and can capture the type of image I originally envisaged, to be able to intuitively respond to a moment in time without much thought of the process as it has become ingrained into my DNA to capture the essence of the subject.

In this post I have uploaded work that I have done over the past four months, most of which I have not seen myself until a couple weeks ago when I started developing the film. When doing your own colour film processing you have to build up a large batch of negatives for developing as the chemistry has a limited life span due to oxidation and this could be months of photographs which you have no idea if they have worked until processed, high risk for a fixed course of study maybe but the tension and excitement when you first see your processed negatives can never be matched using a digital camera which has to be said in comparison is boring and predictable.

To kick things off the first set of photographs is from the Three Rivers series, they are 120 medium format film taken using a panoramic adapter that is fitted to a 4x5 large format camera and were shot around the village of Thrumpton next to the River Trent.

The Trent: Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station 2014, Panoramic 120 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Three Trees 2014, Panoramic 120 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - River Bank 2014, Panoramic 120 Colour Negative Film

The next series of photographs are 4x5 colour negative film taken along the River Trent next to Thrumpton and you will see the same images taken again throughout this post, I had become fixated by the location and it also proved a good site to iron out the technical issues with my home made 8x10 camera. I have found photography a perfect medium to record, observe and to understand things over a period of time, this could be over a day, week, month or years. The revisiting of a subject or location over an of period of time has been employed by many photographers be it in portraits, journalism, street photography and landscape to name but a few, photography excels in revealing the before, in-between and after, the passage of time, the altered states of things. One of my favourite photographers who employs this approach of documenting a place over a period of time is Jem Southam work from the Painter’s Pool, Rockfalls to Upton Pyne, Jem Southam offers the viewer a rich narrative of his extended relationship to each location he photographs in.

Three set of Photographs

Set One: In some of the photographs the colour is not quite correct, there is a colour cast, the white balance needs a little more refining which is not simple in landscape photography as there are few neutral colour reference points and the adjustment and correction of the colour value becomes slightly subjective as one responds to the photograph and the memory of the place and its light. Normally I like to get the photographs 90% correct on the first adjustments I make in the digital darkroom from the scan and then I leave the image for a month or so to return at a later date for the final adjustments with a fresh pair of eyes. The final adjustments are also made in relation to the printing out samples of the work and on seeing the printed output changes usually have to be made especially if it is a sequence of photographs and a consistency of tone and/or colour is required.

The Trent: Thrumpton - Tree 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Fallen Tree 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - River 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Summer House 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film

Set Two: At the moment I am using Ilford’s Delta 100 for my black and white 8x10 work, the film is slow but reveals the land and the sky in exquisite detail with a wide tonal range. Some of the photographs were taken on very windy days and at first one would think the film speed would be ill suited to such conditions but the resulting blurring set against areas of intense sharpness adds to the photograph, it has brought a visual tension to the surface. It was also fun to see if I could take a photograph on a 8x10 camera in 20 plus mph gust of wind and I could, normally with 8x10 photography you wait for the right conditions, now I sought to work in any conditions and challenge the presumed expectations and limitations of the medium and technology, to work outside the comfort zone.

The Trent: Thrumpton - Summer House 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Fallen Tree 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Three Trees 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Tree 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

Set Three: The 8x10 photographs below were taken on a still misty morning one of the few windless days of the past winter. The far distance is rendered null by the mist and the subject feels contained and intimate, the photographs have a quietness about them, the motorway, roads, power station and airport that surround the location are somehow removed leaving a visual moment of tranquillity and the sound of human activity abstracted and disembodied by the mist.

The Trent: Thrumpton - Tree 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Fallen Tree 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Three Trees 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Summer House 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The photographs below are my first batch of 8x10 colour negatives taken at Thrumpton, there are still more negatives from this location to be develop at a later date as I build up my next batch of colour negatives to be processed which will hopefully be done before the end of the MA course. Uploading a 8x10 colour negative onto the web feels like a waste of time as a 72 dpi image with a width of 900 pixels reveals no more than an photograph taken on a smart phone but looking at the resulting physical prints they are a delight to behold. 8x10 colour negative film is crazy expensive, difficult to obtain, requires a massive heavy camera that have to be lugged around, very precise film processing and bespoke scanning equipment but when you see the end results it is worth it.

The scanning of the film has proved one of the hardest part of the workflow, in the past this was done on drum scanners but they are getting rarer by the year and they require an expert to operate them which is an expensive exercise and removes one from part of the process which sits ill with me as I am a control freak. If you use a flat bed scanner you have to make sure the film does not come into contact with the glass bed otherwise anti-newton rings occur, there are four methods you can use to eliminate the dreaded anti-newton rings and they are wet mounting, anti newton spray, glassless scanning [Microtek scanners] and suspending the film over the glass bed. I am using the suspended technique at the moment on a Epson V750 scanning the results are on the right side of acceptable, the process requires attaching the film to a 1mm aluminium spacer with magic tape and this suspends the film off the glass bed enough so no anti-newton rings develop but keeps the film within the correct focal range of the scanner to produce a sharp image. I was going to use the glassless option afforded by a Microtek scanner but the scanner's sensor has picked up dust from building work and needs to be sent off this summer to be fixed, when fixed I will rescan the negatives again as the quality is superior  to that of the Epson and will afford me the option to print larger prints with additional sharpness and wider tonal ranges.

The Trent: Thrumpton - River Bank 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Tree 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Fallen Tree 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Three Trees 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Thrumpton - Summer House 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The last grouping of photographs are from other locations along the river Trent that I have been revisiting to either use large format film where the original images were taken digitally to see if they capture the subject differently and offer more visually or just to see the place change over time and document it. I will fit in a couple more location visits before the end of the MA, one trip is up to the Humber and the other is along the river Soar to complete or should I say to offer a stage in the development of the Three Rivers project for my final assessment.

I have started planning my next major project which I shall discuss in greater depth in a later posting but for the moment I am knee deep in developing, scanning, editing, printing and creating books of the work I have done over the past couple of years which seems to take forever but allows for a period of reflection on what has work or not and what could be.

The Trent: Hoverington 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Hoverington 2014,  8x10 Black & White Negative Film

The Trent: Burton Power Station 2014,  8x10 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Cotton Power Station 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Cotton Power Station 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film

The Trent: Gunthorpe Bridge - Haven 2014,  4x5 Colour Negative Film