The Photograph Explained: Avenida General Flores, Uruguay by Rebecca Fagan
Silver gelatin photograph
Coming from a documentary and mostly 35mm background, I have found the transition to large format photography a somewhat frustrating but rewarding experience. Whilst the purist in me adores the quality and fine detail of the large format negative, the photojournalist within despises the restriction of gear and the need for a tripod and a very conspicuous “black cape”. It is for this reason that I prefer to restrict myself to one lens, a standard, and have recently got my hands on a handheld 4 x 5! The lens is a little wider but should be perfect for my documentary and reportage style of image making.
Like much of my work, I tend to print in silver gelatin on museum weight fiber-based paper and typically I prefer warmtone paper and or developer which I then tone in selenium. I am currently transferring my home darkroom to a new studio and exhibition space that I have been renovating (or should I say my 70 year old father has been renovating!) for the past few years in the central Victorian town of Tallarook. Here I will have all the space I could ever need for setting up alternate printing techniques such as photogravure, ziatype and platinum/palladium printing.
Generally, I use Tri X film and make a fairly bullet proof neg so that it can be used for alternative process as well if desired and the detail is all there. A bit of grit, grain and contrast generally suits my subject matter. I develop in a tray by hand juggling up to eight sheets at a time. I prefer to tweak the final print in the darkroom and will use selective bleaching to highlight the focus of the image or to control the viewer’s eye around the picture plane. This image is however, pretty much straight out of the tray. I like to print large and don’t waste my time even pressing the trigger unless the image would be interesting enough to put on the wall. If it is not there, then why bother because chances are I wouldn’t print it anyway. It is this restrictive and contemplative nature of large format photography that appeals to me and I think when you pare down your kit, your film and formats, it allows you to fully realize your photography and concentrate on composition and the final print.
This particular image was taken using a standard lens on a 4 x 5 camera on tripod in the old quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. It is just a short ferry ride across the Rio de La Plata from Buenos Aires in Argentina. Like much of Latin America there is a great juxtaposition of contemporary adornment of colonial architecture in decay, due to ongoing financial decline and little or no maintenance of both public and private architectural heritage. Local artists adorn these spaces with graffiti and murals. In the case of this abandoned building, the mural is painted over a modern concrete or besser brick wall boarding up one of the original entrances. The symmetry and simplicity of the façade appealed to me along with the texture of the weathered concrete and vegetation. It is a work in progress though (or so I tell my husband) as I am still trying to master the tilting and shifting of the film plane and lens so that there is no vertical distortion. Looks like another trip to is required! Viva Sud América!!!