The Photograph Explained: Jökulsárlón by Marc Morel
Jökulsárlón, by Marc Morel
Silver gelatin photograph
Every December since 2005, I’ve buried myself in the darkroom to create a very labour-intensive Christmas present for my family, namely a calendar featuring handmade silver gelatin prints of my photographic endeavours from the previous twelve months. Over the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the sheer amount of work involved, printing up to 14 editions of the calendar each year. But with nearly a decade of them under my belt now, they present an interesting snapshot of both my life, and photographic technique (and perhaps, taste) in a stylised, accessible, and consistent form. I really enjoy seeing them hung in family homes, and ‘forgetting’ what the next month’s print is, and enjoying the ‘reveal’ on the first day. It’s very much like ‘planting’ an exhibition of sorts in homes around the city, and the enthusiasm for them (and lobbying for specific pictures!) is a nice affirmation.
So, in terms of speaking to a particular print, the darkroom process for these is highly standardised – in terms of using the same paper, crop, and I suppose aspiring to a consistent tonality throughout. I make copious darkroom notes, to facilitate the often necessary re-printing (from mistakes, or fussiness), and print from a variety of negative sizes, from 35mm to medium format and large format. Specifically, I use multigrade RC Glossy paper for physical longevity and ease of printing, and crop every picture (regardless of original in-camera composition) to a ‘portrait’ 7 x 8, allowing a generous frame, and space for a large punched hole at the top of the 8 x 10 paper for the hanging string to go through.
That means I’m forcing all my compositions to conform to a new framing, which is always a challenge, but an interesting experience too, and of course not all my favourite photographs from the year will fit the crop.
The particular photograph I’m writing about here was photographed on 4 x 5 film, which I love for the portability (of camera and accessories), density of information, and formality of process – I spend more time on a picture with my field camera (getting perspective, focus and composition ‘just so’), and whether it be portraits or landscape, I’ve found this generally results in a strange formalism within the photo that I find really appealing. I actually enjoy the strange formalism ‘outside the photo’ as well – which can amount to giving myself opportunities to pause in one spot for unusual amounts of time, and/or engage curious strangers in interesting conversations. A field camera can be a passport to unusual experiences (as well as nice pictures).
This picture, of the Glacier Lagoon, Jökulsárlón, in Iceland, was shot on Kodak TXP320 film (which I use all the time, rated at 200 ISO, and feel very comfortable with through years of use and experimentation). I actually discovered TXP initially, in some old film holders I’d bought, and developed the film in them out of curiosity. I really like the tone, and have kept using it ever since. It’s a difficult film to ‘get wrong’.
The Glacier Lagoon is formed by bits of Glacier breaking off into a Lagoon that is prevented from freezing over (unless you’re producing a James Bond film, and need a frozen lagoon for car chases) by an inflow of warmer sea water – creating the dramatic inland icebergs that demand photographing here. As far as photographic motivation goes, I would be hard-pressed to ‘not’ make a photo in this sort of environment – and the weather was sunny, which is a bit of a treat in Iceland.
In-camera the composition for this photo was horizontal, and so the final ‘calendar-crop’ print is a severe crop indeed, and a bit of a sacrifice, given the ‘epic landscape’ I’m moreorless ‘throwing away’ in the darkroom. I’ve used my default lens here, which is a 135mm f/5.6, and unless I’m certain another focal length will suit better, I tend to start with that for everything. It’s sharp and has a generous image circle for movements – you can see I have a bit of front rise for this. For exposure, I spot-meter a few tones from highs to shadows, and then average – aiming for f/22 in most instances. There’s a 1 stop compensation for the orange filter attached, to give me some darker tone in the sky. The ice floating about has a lot of blue in it also, so the filter affects this too.
In the darkroom, the negative was roller tank processed in Rodinal 1:25, and months later I used a colour enlarger to adjust print contrast, and my notes tell me that this was a Grade 2 print for 20 seconds, with a 135 mm lens at f/11. Paper is processed in an upright tank, which is great for keeping chemistry useful for long printing sessions, but restricts the size of paper I can easily print on. I made 12 calendars that year (so 12 prints of this photo) and don’t appear to have done any re-prints, which suggests I didn’t have any problems with the negative either.