Interview with Angie Turnbull by David Tatnall

Angie Turnbull by Gordon Undy

When, how and why did you become interested in photography?
As a kid growing up in the Riverina I spent a lot of time outside playing, constructing large blocks of clay and pretending to be a sculptor along with the copious amounts of mud cakes I had made, were enough to feed the neighbourhood, all carefully placed on rows of old fence palings. Climbing the apricot tree in the height of summer.

Angie Turnbull 2Creative play as a child I believe contributes to my creativity in photography. Sketching fruit and various objects and shading them to give them that three-dimensional look as well as their accompanying shadows. Even as I teenager I was quite envious of the F series Holden car my friend learnt to drive on. Hence my love of older objects.

But it didn’t get much further than that for a while until around 1991 when my attention was drawn to the only wedding photo I liked of my day was a black and white silver print which had been taken by a friend. It was here I fell in love with the shape, form and tones of the image. It felt timeless and transcended me and I loved it. Going overseas for a couple of years I was able to just enjoy photographing to be in the moment allowed me the time to try to capture the feel I had experienced of that wedding photo. I came away from that trip with some photos I still love and have them hanging up on my wall.

Coming back to Australia I had an appetite to learn more and pursued a few short courses, trying to grasp the technical. About 12 years ago I bought a darkroom set up for my husband who has an artistic aptitude. It just sat there unopened for a long while and so I ‘borrowed’ it. I wanted to pursue the technical so off I trotted 3 or 4 nights a week to complete a Diploma to try and nail it. Photography gave me another language, a visual language to converse in. Processing and expressing information in the written form does not come easy and so I prefer to converse through this exquisite medium. It is not the means to an end. The means of pursuing the image as well as the image itself is just as important.

Angie Turnbull 4What influences you and your photography?
My upbringing in the country with space, light, time & silence and being still allows me to be in the moment and absorb material for my work. The ‘everyday’ influences my photography. As I sit here and answer these questions my eye flicks back and forth from the screen to the light playing through the trees on the white kitchen door. The shadows cast from the street light through the trees & wrought iron projecting a beautiful artwork on James’ back at night. Influences are all around me from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep at night, but these things are around all of us! Simple things like tipping out the fruit and veg and seeing how they fall onto the bench. The reflections in the kitchen window of things I love, sitting on the bench. I’m constantly taking photographs without a camera in my hand.

I feel like I’m a capacitor regarding World events. I feel very passionate about what is happening and closer to home especially with the refugee crisis. Photojournalism is something I would love to pursue. Maybe one day.

Angie Turnbull by David TatnallWhat subjects do you enjoy photographing?
Documenting those objects with a history especially those from the Powerhouse Museum basement. I enjoy photographing my children of course and the objects around my house, the things I see everyday.

What have been your favourite projects and why?
‘The Deardorff Project’ (2012) at the Powerhouse Museum was my first solo exhibition. Going in a couple of times each week for around 9 months was great fun though exhausting but I loved it. The sheer inherent beauty of the objects themselves had me mesmerised, some of which may never be put on display. I loved the fact that I could give them another way of being seen. However I was struck by my mortality in relation to these objects. They were here before I was born and will be there after I’m gone. I might have been taking big pictures with my camera, but the bigger picture is that we are not here that long. The people I worked with were just as important to me as the work itself. It’s the whole package. It is a project that I will never forget.

You work with an 8×10 view camera, how long have you been using large format and why did you choose it over roll film or digital?
I’ve been using a Deardorff 8×10 camera for over 6 years now. Before that I was shooting 35mm film. I love the feel of working with large format it’s a totally different approach to using roll film or digital. The tonal range from these cameras is second to none. I had thrown myself in the deep end going from 35mm to 8×10 but thought if I have to learn a new camera system then this was going to be it. Yes I’ve bitten off more than I can chew but am chewing like mad. I feel very content with one camera and a 300 mm lens.

Working on one sheet at a time I have nothing else to think about except the object before me and the one sheet of film I was exposing. I use digital for corporate work and it’s certainly has it’s place but I consider them two totally different approaches. Although I take a more considered approach using the digital which is an offshoot of using film.

Angie Turnbull 3What darkroom methods do you use for developing film?
My darkroom is a place where I really need to be, it is good for my soul. It takes up part of the garage, which is away from the house, and there is only a cold water tap. I tray develop my 8×10 sheets of film. Ilford HP5+ is what I’ve been cutting my teeth on. If the developer is not quite 20°c as it can get quite cold out there, I have, a few times, tipped some of my black tea in to bring it up to temperature and developed for a tad longer. I know it sounds ludicrous, but I’m not meticulous as hard as I try, I unfortunately missed out on that gene. But also it’s the rebel in me to push the boundaries of film and see what happens. Although sometimes it gets very annoying when I don’t get the results I’m after and then I am forced to pull the reins in and try to be a bit more focussed and deliberate in what I’m doing but often I relapse to my old ways. I run my own race, and compete with only myself.

Please tell us about your current series the Powerhouse Collection and After Dark.
The Powerhouse Collection entitled ‘The Deardorff Project’ took place in 2012 and arose out of my major portfolio when I was primarily photographing movie projectors stored in the Powerhouse Museum basement. However on first entering the basement I was overwhelmed by all the other collections stored down there and shortly after Campbell Bickerstaff and I started working on an exhibition from the Communications, Science & Technology collection. These objects were stored at the Museum premises in the city as well as out at Castle Hill in Sydney.

You can go here to see the images of these wonderful objects. All these images were long exposures (reciprocity) anywhere up to 40 minutes. I intended it to be that way, as I love the result of working with long exposures, it adds a further wonderful dimension to working in large format and the final image. This project was all about working with the 8×10 and each object in turn to unlock its inherent beauty and to enable the object to be seen in a different form as it may never come to be displayed.

Angie Turnbull 5The After Dark Series is a collection of photographs, as the name suggests, taken after dark. The Rotunda on Observatory Hill in Sydney caught my eye from the very first day I started taking the long journey into the city to complete my studies. Each trip I would glance across knowing that was an image I had to take. Four years later I finally stopped and took the photograph, it was a 45 minute exposure at F64, which captured the Rotunda as I intended it but also the flight path of the passing planes. I had been inspired by an image by George Tice of a late night service station and wondered how he had made that particular image. It is at this point that I let my passion drive my need for the technical detail that is required to pursue the image I’m after.

Do you always contact print negatives or do you enlarge?
I do both. However at home I’m restricted to contact printing. It also depends on the image and how it demands to be printed. It’s on a case-by-case basis.

How do you approach working with a large format camera?
Sometimes with great difficulty. For a long while I used to set up the camera, look through and when it didn’t quite seem right and I would be racking the camera in and out and picking it up, moving it back and forth, side to side and working up a sweat and getting exhausted and then packing it up or taking a photograph which is not what I first intended. I think I’ve improved since then thankfully.

At home the 8×10 is always set up and around the house somewhere. Usually where I’ve seen an earlier picture and I’m waiting for the light. When I set up my camera I’m not too particular about where the camera is facing, obviously in the general direction and it’s at this point I always look through the ground glass to see what the camera sees and, sometimes, it’s better than what I had pre-visualised. We work together.

Angie Turnbull 1I love working with long exposures. It’s slow cooked photography. Long exposure time does beautiful things to the negative and creates some depth to the images I could not have perceived. Some of my negatives have been exposed anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours. While the negative is being exposed it gives me time, some wonderful contemplative time. It’s all part of the process. You need to give of yourself to the whole process; it requires your commitment from beginning to end. It’s in direct opposition to how we tend to live today.

Can you name some Australian photographers you admire?
Kate Baker, David Roberts, David Murrell, Gordon Undy, Julian Pierce, Steve Tester, John Studholme and Julie Boland. Here there is a mix of ultra large format photography (20×24), exquisite platinum, Ziatypes and silver. I also admire them for who they are. For me the two need to go together.

Where has your work been shown? Where can we see your work?
I’ve had a few group show exhibitions in my earlier years at college entitled Epiphany in some galleries in the inner city. I’ve also exhibited a few times at Point Light Gallery in Surry Hill and last year at the Powerhouse Museum. I have an upcoming solo exhibition ‘Sweet Exposure’ at Number 5 Art Gallery in Hornsby at the end of September 2013. This will be a retrospective, showing some of my work from the Powerhouse Museum as well as some new work.

What do you suggest for photographers starting out in large format photography?
Go for it of course, the thrill of the chase for the camera is a big part of it and just the beginning of the journey. However when you finally buy one, you need to submit to the way large format work demands, you need to meet the camera on it’s terms and expect a totally different approach to that of 35mm film or digital. It’s incredibly labour intensive, but well worth it. Because it requires time to set up and time to consider the photograph you’re about to take and because it takes time to develop each sheet of film and to print it, the process creates memories and emotions that go with each image, it takes you on a much longer, memorable and mostly enjoyable journey.