The Photograph Explained: Cloud & Playa, Lake Eyre by Mike Stacey
This photograph is part of my Artesian Songlines series, which is focused on the vast open spaces of Lake Eyre and surrounding deserts. It won the Crockett Art Prize for ‘realism’ in 2010. The series can be seen at my website.
For me, the image represents one of those rare moments when all the elements around you come into alignment. Having an eye for symmetry, this uncommon composition was quite magical, happening before my eyes.
The cloud in the image was pretty much the only cloud in the sky. It hovered about the playa, moving ever so slightly west (left). I looked around for some leading lines in the salt and found a series of convenient cracks that lead due North toward the cloud providing a nice lead-in for the eye. I had to wait about an hour for the cloud to move into the right location – it was a long hour at the rate the cloud was moving.
The camera was pointing dead North so I shielded the lens from direct sun with the dark slide, and covered the back of the 4 x 5 camera with the dark cloth (black T-shirt). I can’t remember the exact exposure, somewhere around 1/60s @ f32, no filters and Kodak Portra 160NC film. Portra is perfect for situations like this, transparency film would have made a mess of it with it’s garish representation of sky blue and heavy contrast. Transparency film and consumer DSLRs have a sky blue tending toward a dark royal blue and seem to miss the beautiful and subtle cyan that is present in the Australian sky. Images with this particular aesthetic are very difficult to make with anything other than colour negative film and a large format camera.
The shot was taken with a Nikkor 90mm lens, and the film was exposed at ISO 100 instead of rated box speed of 160. It was then hand-processed in a Jobo 3010 drum using Tetenal 3 bath chemicals then scanned into a 1.5GB file using a Creo Eversmart; physical image file size was 48 x 60. To accentuate the high key, parched feel of the desert at midday, the film was developed for a little longer than usual.
The final print was made using a Lightjet (C-print process) onto Fuji Flex paper at a size of 40 x 50. Fuji Flex gives a similar, although much less contrasty look, to Cibachrome paper. The paper was then facemounted to Plexi to provide an absolutely flat, ripple-free finish with almost 3 dimensional depth. The back of the print was mounted to 3mm aluminium and a 10mm shadow frame placed around the whole piece. Prints mounted in this fashion are designed to hang about 10 – 20mm out from and parallel to the wall.
The photo of Mike Stacey was made by Jason Lindsay in May 2011.