The Photograph Explained: Boy in Yarra River by Thomas Breakwell

Boy In The Yarra

Inkjet print

This photograph was taken along the banks of the Yarra River in Wonga Park, Victoria, during a fairly typical overcast mid May, Melbourne morning.

I wanted to capture an image that reflected both my fondness for the Australian environment as my home land while also showing how strange and out of place this same environment can make me feel. I think this image with the paleness of the boy’s skin in contrast to lush greens and browns of the background, is quite successful in doing so.

This image forms part of a broader series of portraits framing youthful subjects against the Victorian landscape. I chose to use 4 x 5 format for this work for two reasons:

Firstly, the unusually large size of the camera, along with it’s slow operation creates an interesting tension between myself and the subjects I photograph. Often the first time any of my subjects had ever seen a LF camera was when we arrived on location. Having grown up in an age of internet and mobile phone cameras, many of them find the cumbersome wooden construction and elaborate configuration a curious novelty. However often that novelty soon gave way to confusion, frustration or intimidation- as I disappear under the dark cloth for extended periods of time to scrutinize their every detail on the ground glass, while requesting that they remain perfectly still.

This particular shot was very challenging for both the subject, and myself, as we were both standing in the brisk autumn water of the Yarra. After ten minutes of fine tuning the composition and focus, my subject had become notably frustrated at the situation he had agreed to partake in, and gave me a very serious expression when I told him I was finally ready to expose the frame.



Secondly, although my workflow is almost entirely digital, the negative, after being processed in a lab and scanned with an Imacon Flextight, produces a much higher resolution file capable of a larger, sharper prints and better dynamic range then any digital camera I currently have access to. The exhibition print was made with an Epson inkjet Printer on Hahnemuhle PhotoRagPearl paper. I feel this combination of pigment inks, slightly textured and warm toned paper, ISO160 Kodak Portra film, and the beautifully shallow depth of field from the 210mm Schnider lens, gives the 100cm x 80cm print a painterly quality, whilst still having pin sharp detail on the focal point- in this case the subjects face. At this scale the image allows the audience a more personal interaction with the subject as it is easy to clearly see the details of the subjects face as they gaze directly through the lens, through the surface of the print and meet eyes with the viewer in the gallery.

Portrait of Thomas Breakwell with 4x5 camera

Working with the Shenhao 4×5 field camera in Toollangi State Forest, Victoria.

Thomas Breakwell