The Photograph Explained: Think Again – Beneath Zabriskie Point by Peter de Graaff

Beneath Zabriskie Point

During November 2014, I travelled to Death Valley to participate in a large format meet up. On the agenda was an early morning shoot at Zabriskie Point: this has its own problems.

We arrived in the twilight before dawn and found the large car park almost full. Much of the lookout was staked out by a digital photography hoi polloi waiting for alpenglow to appear on the Panamint Range across the valley.

Being freethinking large format photographers, we descended just beneath Zabriskie Point to a small mesa away from the masses, and started to set up. In retrospect, it could have been a Foucauldian moment presencing itself from his trip here in the not so distant past. Instead of the sound of Kontakte calling across the emptiness, there was a man dressed in black neoprene yelling – THINK AGAIN.

It was unlikely we would have interfered in his, or anyone else’s photographs, unless they were using an 8mm fish eye lens. Making room near them at the lookout, I took a few colour photos of alpenglow, followed by the first sun striking Manly Beacon, but became rapidly bored and needed more involvement in the landscape.

Thinking again, I headed beneath the wall at Zabrinskie Point and started to take a series of photographs of the badlands to the southeast, where the Amargosa Range starts to descend from its high ramparts.

I turned my attention to a series of formations where colours range from deep dark browns, to soft yellow ochres, and whites. About a month before leaving Australia, most of my photography kit had been stolen so I was working with newly acquired lenses, a new Chamonix 045FI View Camera, tripod and other gear. I had not been able to replace my spot meter, and was measuring using an app on my iPhone. I find that metering with the phone is often perfectly adequate, provided judgments are made on Zone placement.

For this photograph I used a Goerz Dagor 10 ¾ inch lens that had arrived the day before leaving for California. The shutter had been tested prior to purchase and is more accurate at slower than faster speeds. Keeping the shutter set on 1/10 of a second, I made adjustments to the aperture as the light changed, taking this photograph at f.22.

This image was made on Kodak TMax 100, and developed when I returned to Australia in a mix of Xtol and Adonal (RO9). Generally, I use Xtol at a dilution of 1:2, and add Adonal into the mix at 1.25 mls per 4 x 5 sheet, and develop using Xtol times. If necessary, I will contract or expand development times. After some experimentation, I regularly use this mix as it retains fine grain, but has deeper tones and good contrast. As I use a hybrid process, scanning the negative to produce a digital image, I find that this combination of film and development process works for me. Once the image is scanned I make minor tonal adjustments and clone for dust and/or scratches. If, in the future I have access to a darkroom for printing, I hope that this image will make a fine print.


Peter de Graaff

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