Reflecting on Medium and Craft

Figure 1: Phil Hill (June, 2020) unedited portrait of Oliver, which was buckled when loaded for processing – shown by the crescent highlight bottom right of the image.

I am having to really consider the medium I have begun to use for this module. I have identified that I am in need of re-learning the process of shooting and using the medium format full time. For example, since starting to shoot film again, I have encountered a number of technical challenges to overcome whilst processing and scanning at home (in part a challenge related to the current covid-19 lock down). I have buckled film loading (Fig: 1), underdeveloped once, and had an issue with light leaking film backs. Some of this could be attributed to the current pandemic, however I approached the medium with an assumed confidence that I had once used these materials so would be able to run with it again. Therefore, I have decided to go back to some of the basics to better understand this new apparatus that I have started to use to the point of properly keeping film temperatures and specific agitation for the film I am processing.

105mm @ f5.6
105mm @ f16
105mm @ f8
105mm @ f22
105 @ f11

Figure 2: Phil Hill (June, 2020) Depth of Field test using 105mm lens ranging from f5.6 – f22

One of the main challenges I have had, is some of the images that I have made are soft focus, which is something that I would normally check on location however instead I am making one or two frames of the subject. Depth of field is a very early lesson in learning the technique of photography and something that I aim to utilise in my own portraiture. A sharp subject and shallow depth of field creates effective framing to encourage the viewer of the image to remain looking at the subject, which I have placed value. This is one of the most effective tools to construct a dominant reading of the work subjectively by the photographer. It is also aesthetically pleasing in the way that it abstracts the way that we process information of the world.  Soft or missed focus negates an effective execution of the idea contained in the image, so I felt it fundamental to the execution of the project to re-learn the specifics of the 6×7 apparatus. I have been aiming for a shallow DOF of around f4, however owing to the larger size of the format over my full-frame DSLR, there is a difference in how the DOF translates into the image, which I did not consider myself. Ultimately, there is around a 4 times difference in sizes, which means that a 50mm standard lens size on full frame equals 105mm to cover increased format size. Without trying to get to far into the technicalities of it, what I have not been factoring in is that the 105mm lens will still give the same DOF results regardless of the size of the film, or emulsion; the f4 I have been aiming for is more like f1.0 meaning a significantly smaller amount of headroom to get the shot, especially as a glasses wearer using a camera without dioptre adjustment or autofocus.

These might be considered to be rudimentary and frustrating lessons to have to re-learn, especially studying at a MA level, however it is also really pushing me to consider my craft. As I have come to research the impact that apparatus and the subjective qualities of the materials and medium it is important to understand them as part of the process of creating an effective project. A well-researched and conceptually strong idea also needs to be well-executed which means a deeper understanding of those materials – apparatus is a key part of that execution. It will also be a good idea to better understand the materials of the chosen film emulsion, which will be an important consideration as although subtle, have a fundamental impact on my project.

PHO703 First Shots

This week’s webinar, I put together a contact sheet of images from my recent medium format film shoots, primarily the portraits that I have begun to collect again (Fig: 1). All of the people in these images are taking very locally to where I live on the recreation ground and playing fields nearby. As the lock down is starting to be lifted, I am seeing many more people come together in these spaces and start to enjoy the outdoors and meet up with people they might not have seen for many weeks.

I have been very pleased with how many of these images are starting to come together. After some initial technical challenges with the equipment and getting used to shooting in this way again, I feel that I have managed to take some string images to move forward with my project and it has been quite a nice validation for my new approach, after having to really work up the courage to engage with people and take their photograph.

This was echoed by Cemre during my feedback, who noted that I have some really good portraits to work with when it comes to the next wipp edit and submission. What I am lacking at the moment is the images, which link all of these people together in terms to the space and connection between them. This is fundamental to the work that I am trying to produce. It was also noted that for this kind of work that is completed in the place where the photographer lives is almost always about the photographer as much as it is about the place, which is something that really resonates with me as my intention for the work has always been to explore the idea of my connection to the place that I live. Although Cemre made reference to this as an idea to explore for the idea of community, it is yet to show effectively in my research project; a series of portraits is not enough for a resolved strong submission.

To develop this, I am considering a number of approaches. I made a comment on Andy’s images from this week that he might want to consider keeping a journal to record his thoughts and feelings whilst taking his images so that he could use the text to support the visual. It occurred to me as I was saying this, that this is something that I should also do as a way of showing my personal narrative in the work via my own reflections before, during and after I take my pictures. Additionally, it is something that I could write when I take my daughter to the same spaces; ultimately, I use these places in a similar way to the people that I am photographing so I should be in there somewhere.

Figure 2: Alec Soth (2010) From ‘Broken Manual’ on Soth’s website

It was suggested that I also take a look at Alec Soth’s ‘Broken Manual’ series (Fig: 2). I have been getting quite familiar with his work ‘Songbook’ in relation to this idea of the documentary aesthetic and how it was employed overtly for this series, however I have not taken a wider look at Soth’s other work (during the MA anyway), so this would be useful to start really considering the way that portrait and landscape images can work together and the potential to re-introduce colour at some point. Another really valuable suggestion was to look at Vanessa Winship’s series ‘She Dances on Jackson’ which is a really beautiful blend of portraiture and landscape images that creates a really strong contextualisation of the work (Fig: 3). I aim to read some more into both of these bodies of work and create a reflection on them.

Figure 3: Vanessa Winship (2013) From She Dances on Jackson

The key takeaway from the webinar was that I need to really start asking the question of what is drawing me to these people, and what is my place within this community? Should I be taking a step back and question why I took this image. Once I have an answer to these questions, I can really start to focus on it.