The Photograph Explained: Glen Iris by Stuart Murdoch

Glen Iris

Silver Gelatin Photograph

I very much come from the ‘fine print’ tradition. I am interested in rich detailed full toned prints, using 4 x 5 gives me all the leverage I need to achieve this. Using sheet film and large format cameras very much distances me from the scene in such a way as I can study the composition and lighting very carefully, even returning to the scene if the light wasn’t right at the first visit before pulling the dark slide out and tripping the shutter. My process of course requires extensive ‘scouting’ of locations before I even get my camera out, any mapping application on a computer is useful here.

This image is entitled ‘Glen Iris’. It forms a part of larger body of work that explores the idea of bridges, both as a personal metaphor and cultural construct. I have exhibited this image as part of an exhibition of urban landscapes I had been working on for many years. I began this series using my Linhof Technika, in the mid 1990s. At the time black and white film was the most cost effective way of making work, particularly with 4 x 5 sheet film, so I continue to use it to this day. I currently use a Cambo 4 x 5 and 210mm Rodenstock Sironar N lens, with a Copal 1 shutter. Other tools include a Pentax Spotmeter, and of course a tripod. I like the 210mm focal length as it renders the scenes I point it really beautifully, and to be honest I can’t afford to buy anything else.

I have used Kodak T-Max 400 now for most of my photographic career and it is a film I know and appreciate. I choose to use 4 x 5 for its ability to capture detail and for the way it makes you work slowly and deliberately.

One version was printed it at Victorian College of the Arts C lab as an inkjet print measuring 95 x 80 cms, as I wanted this biggest print I could get, to really exploit the detail the large negative captured, and it formed part of an exhibition of similar sized prints.

For many years I have used a film developer I make myself called D25, from a recipe shared with me at college by one of my teachers. I like the combination of tonality and fine grain that T-max emulsion gives me combined with D25.

I have also printed Glen Iris as a silver gelatin print about 20 x 24. However, I have yet to exhibit the silver gelatin print. My prints usually are not this big anymore, as the tactile nature of the process makes working with large sheets of paper very taxing, physically and mentally. I prefer silver gelatin printing as this is being true to the medium I feel. Unless I want prints larger than 20 x 24 these days all my work is printed as silver gelatin prints, in varying sizes. I enjoy the tonal qualities that silver gelatin offers and using a mixed bag of papers and paper developers allows me subtle control over the final images tonality and spatial relationships.

I make a contact print of each negative as I work, then revisit my archive at irregular intervals to see if I can make work that sits together for exhibitions or other output methods. Having complete control over all aspects of the finished print is paramount for me and I often work these prints through a series of stages as I finish them off.  I enlarge my negatives using an Omega chassis, with a Zone VI cold light diffusion light source. My favourite paper developer is a variation of Ansco 120. Printing is more of a past time now than a means to an end, so time in the darkroom are always quiet and reflective, a continuation of the process of using the camera almost.

Stuart Murdoch

Stuart Murdoch