The Photograph Explained #50: Curtis and Daniel by Daisy Noyes
Our 50th “The Photograph Explained”.
We started this series on 23 September 2013 with Ellie Young’s piece. We’re pleased to say we’ve now published our fiftieth article.
We estimate there are around two hundred people using large format cameras in Australia. To get these fifty articles we contacted over one hundred photographers.
It’s been an extremely interesting process; we’ve so far had photographers from every state and territory using film sizes 4 x 5, 5 x 7, 11 x 14, 12 x 20 and 16 x 20. We’ve had albumen, platinum palladium, daguerreotype, wet plate collodion tintype, inkjet, ziatype, lith, new chrysotype, chromogenic, silver gelatin and salt prints.
We’re still keen to get more articles, so if you’re been contacted and didn’t at the time want to write one, please get in contact. If you know of someone we should ask, let us know.
We are now asking anyone who has done an article to think about doing another one. We want to keep the series going so please help us.
We’ve had two international photographers in our series so far; we’d like to know who in the world would you like us to ask to write an article.
Thank you to those fifty photographers who have written articles and thank you for reading them.
You can view the previous articles here.
– David Tatnall & Alastair Moore
Silver gelatin contact print
For about six years now, since I moved to Melbourne, I’ve been making images with my 8 x 10 field camera of people I know in their back gardens, doing whatever it is they do there. Coming from New York, where back gardens don’t really exist in the same way they do here, I was struck by the unique social space of the back garden in Australia: the ways in which we use them, what we do in them, what we can do in them that we don’t do anywhere else, the daily routines, the family life, the accumulation of objects, debris, wildness or domesticity that occur in these private, hidden, “natural” spaces.
Using an 8 x 10 camera for these environmental portraits is integral to the feeling that I’m after in the final images. I also use a DSLR in my daily work, and I’ve found that people respond very differently to a view camera in their private space than to a handheld camera. The need for stillness during a longer exposure and the slow process of focusing and preparing the camera seem to contribute to an atmosphere of ritual and ceremony. This can paradoxically lead to a more “authentic” expression of the subject’s self, or at least it seems to allow a different type of persona from the subject’s usual quotidian performances of self to emerge.
Also, at the all-important moment of exposure, I’m standing in full view next to the camera rather than hidden behind a lens. This allows the sitter and I to connect with each other directly. The quality that this arrangement can bring to the images is the crucial element that keeps me working with large format cameras, even though costs are soaring and film is getting harder to get my hands on.
I’ve been using the same Tachihara cherry-wood field camera since I was 15, and an antique uncoated 300mm Schneider lens that my mother (also a photographer) passed on to me when she stopped using big cameras. Now, 20 years later, this particular combination of equipment feels like a natural extension of my mind and hands when I’m under the dark-cloth, and I can’t imagine switching to anything else. It’s a beautiful experience to let my mind go blank and to stop thinking for a few moments while I’m focusing and framing, and to quietly find the right setup as if it were a sort of meditation. I find this flow much more intuitive and even physical than the cerebral experience of shooting portraits with a DSLR, which for me is often accompanied by a lot of calculating and sometimes not-so-clear thinking.
I took this particular shot of my friend Curt and my partner Daniel in the early evening, as they were finishing up a day of deck construction in the garden behind Curt’s café. I only had one piece of film with me at the time, so I let them keep working while I set up in a corner, and then asked them at the last moment to turn and face the camera. It’s always a question for me as to how much I should direct the subject into a certain position, and how much I should allow them to stay engaged in their activity and wait for the right moment to press the shutter release. If there’s not much ambient light, as was the case in this situation, then I usually ask them to stand still and do a more formal portrait, in order to minimise movement and the potential for blurring.
After a full day of physical labour, the moment of stillness afforded by the long exposure (1/2 sec) seems to have allowed a certain clarity in the two men’s faces; they were very present and open. The whole shoot was over in less than a minute, which is probably the quickest large format session I’ve ever done, and they went back to their packing up.
This negative was shot on FP4+ film, and printed with a contact frame on Ilford warm tone fibre paper with a two-bath development process. I toned it with selenium to deepen the blacks. Now that I have a toddler and another baby on the way, I have decided to take a break from working with all the chemicals of the traditional darkroom, and have begun printing an exhibition of the back garden series on an ink-jet printer. However, the 8 x 10 silver gelatin contact print will probably always remain my favourite final print of these negatives. The incredible detail and sharpness of a contact print, as well as the smaller image size, has the potential to draw the viewer in very close as they inspect the faces and textures. It allows them to enter into the world of the photo intimately, by themselves, as if peering at it through a window.