The Photograph Explained: Cone Crusher by Leigh Lambert
When I first started taking photography seriously, some time during 2012, among the first ‘real’ photographers whose work caught my attention were Bernd and Hilla Becher. Their choice of subject matter reminded me of youthful experiences growing up on Melbourne’s urban fringes – explorations of building and construction (or deconstruction) sites as a teenager, for example, and being fascinated as a child by the water tower behind Mordialloc train station when my family drove past to visit relatives. Water towers of different types, apparently arbitrarily placed in open fields, observed as we ventured out into the country on holidays were a further source of interest. These were alien structures – something like Martian fighting machines from H.G. Wells War Of The Worlds. When I see objects like the one I made this image of I feel compelled to explore them.
I like subjects that are deteriorating or seem as though they’re about to be removed or destroyed – items that once served a practical purpose but through neglect or age have become sculptural. There is no particular desire to save them or to demonstrate or acknowledge their historical value though – they look interesting and that’s about where my concern ends. I might almost hope they’ll be destroyed after I’m done shooting them. One day I may pursue something more like the typological approach of the Becher’s, but I don’t often enough come across the same types of objects, nor do I have the discipline or rigour needed to produce the consistent type of image required to match their standard. I don’t actively search for similar or identical types of items or objects as subjects.
So back in July, accepting that I was going to do so sooner or later anyway, I committed to adding large format to my collection and purchased a 4 x 5 monorail camera. Something more compact might have been more sensible but I want to keep my options open to use the camera for various types of work. Cone Crusher is perhaps the eighteenth negative I made with the camera but only about the twelfth that was successful – the previous six were mistakenly processed in pure water, then stopped and fixed before I became aware of my error. I’ll never again use an empty bottle of developer to store water, even in an emergency as I had in this case. I develop negatives in small ceramic cooking trays purchased from a $2 shop and lined across the base with silicon beads to prevent scratches. These trays were selected as I thought they would work, they’d be cheap and I wouldn’t have to travel to source ‘real’ trays or otherwise await their delivery. They seem to work and I expect I’ll stick with them. I follow the instructions as supplied for development time and chemical ratios and have not yet found reason to deviate from this process. I have no ambition to experiment with advanced or esoteric procedures in the darkroom, not in terms of developing film, at least not yet.
I harbour ambitions of shooting 8 x 10 one day – I’m sure that would be a satisfying experience (or rewardingly unsatisfying), but 4 x 5 is yet another of those compromises we/I make in photography and is one that I currently feel comfortable with.
My intention with this photograph was to present the form quite objectively while finding a sense of balance among the elements extending above the machine. The framing of the shot as it turned out was necessary to omit surrounding items that intruded from every other angle.
The final production of Cone Crusher was entirely practical. I produced two negatives on the same day (the other being of a factory façade) that I intended to use in an exhibition – Unsensored14, presented by the Melbourne Silver Mine. I returned a couple of times to attempt reshoots when time permitted and when locations were accessible, just in case I could find a way to improve upon the first negatives, but weather and varying light proved enemies. Deadlines ultimately meant that despite intentions I was unable to set up a recently acquired large format enlarger to produce darkroom prints from these negatives. As I scan negatives regardless of intended purpose I chose to produce these images as chromogenic prints. The final image required little work other than cleaning up a few dust spots and adjusting contrast and levels.
In visual terms, I am most satisfied by the way the darker tones at the top of the structure sit against the lighter sky while the lighter areas of the structure such as the springs and base have a darker background to provide some definition. Cone Crusher was made with a 150mm lens and shot on 100 ISO stock. From memory the exposure was made at f22 for around one second.