The Photograph Explained: Mannequin by Alex Gard

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This image was made on Fomapan 200 film with a Fujinon-L 420mm ƒ/8 lens on a gorgeous Tachihara 8 x 10 field camera . The mannequin was lit using a Canon 580EXII speedlite connected via PC-sync cable to the Fujinon lens diffused through a 24″ softbox bounced with an adjacent reflector.

Due to my transient lifestyle as a merchant seaman and all-round vagrant I have no darkroom nor access to one, meaning that inside a Harrison XL Darktent the film was loaded into a CL81 processing reel (from CatLABS) which was put into a light-tight JOBO tank and developed with hand agitation/rolling in R09/Adonal at a dilution of 1:50 for 10 minutes. The negative was scanned on an Epson V700 flatbed scanner and some dodging, burning and curve adjustments were made in Photoshop to accentuate the highlights of the figure and make it stand out from the dreamy darkness of the forest behind it.

The format used was chosen out of preference and ergonomics. Since the 8 x 10 camera has come into my fold it has been used almost exclusively. I find it incredibly comfortable, an absolute joy to use and much easier to compose with than smaller 4 x 5 cameras.

I prefer lenses of tighter focal lengths, straying away from wide-angle lenses when I can which is greatly in contrast to how I used to shoot with digital cameras. I’ve learned that longer focal lengths can be used just as much for landscape as they can for tighter portrait-style shots. Truly great all-rounders with honesty in rendering of physical objects and useful in subject isolation. Although in my 8 x 10 and 4 x 5 kits I do have wide angle lenses, these see little use.

I chose Fomapan 200 out of sheer economy due to the cost of 8 x 10 film and my being relatively new to the format. It is worth noting that I find the Foma film does not agree with the CL81 processing reel as it becomes very badly scratched on both long sides of the negative during insertion and removal. This results in a small crop factor of the negative during post processing. Whether this is due to the supposedly weak Foma emulsion I have no idea. I have not yet developed other film stocks in this reel.

I must admit that I feel I am selling myself short in image-making with film by not physically wet-printing my negatives. I have no formal education or experience in photography or darkrooms and have come purely from hobbyist roots with perhaps 5 years total of phototaking under my belt, the last 3 of those years being with film.

After renowned “picture maker” Maris Rusis invited me to his home and gave me a tour of his incredible darkroom, workspace, philosophy and astounding archive of decades of workmanship, I later began to deeply question my intention and direction with photography and really felt that I have been missing out on half the fun of the craft, and indeed only doing half the job.

I feel that the lack of having a truly completed tangible experience from exposure to print is almost cheating myself. As a result, over the last year-and-a-half I have been whittling away my time at sea deeply immersed in studying historical image making and alternative printing methods which I intend to put into practice when I set foot on land again after having spent 9 of the last 12 months at sea. Over the last couple of years I have become all but completely disenchanted with the greater world of consumer photography and digital clichés, although admittedly this could well just be from spending too much time looking at photos as opposed to making them.

Photography for me is purely (frustrating) relaxation, escapism and engaging in longed-for solitude. As countless photographers have said before me; it’s my meditation. In my line of work I spend months on end with a small group of people in a micro-community confined to a little orange tin can bobbing around the Southern Ocean in crowded isolation, and finding the time to enjoy one’s own company is relished wherever possible. I rarely photograph people nor photograph in the company of others. I have found the often-spoke-of ‘Zen’ that comes underneath a darkcloth an enormous change of pace from my natural tendency to rush just about everything else I do, and this requires no human distraction. The first time I experienced this ‘Zen’ I realised how long it had actually been since I really slowed down, or had I ever really at all?

This truly brings me back into the moment… and then time becomes meaningless. No more schedule. No need to keep an eye on the clock. No roster to follow. My job means I live by the minute 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end with no escape and not a single days rest, all the while just wishing the time away, looking forward to the time I’ll soon have to view the world from under a dark piece of cloth through a frosted piece of glass… on my own time.

Many friends have asked and encouraged me to take more photos of my workplace and the things I see or do but honestly it is a place I’m not entirely ‘in’. I spend months in the Antarctic on Australia’s research flagship and come home with very few photos purely because I am not able to fully immerse myself in the photo-making mindset. Always on a timeframe, always tired, always on watch, lapping up whatever precious hours of rest come my way. To be absolutely satisfied I have made a worthwhile image I have to give it all of my attention and make it the absolute priority of that moment and not try and fit it into somebody else’s agenda or schedule.

I stay away from hidden themes or narrative and either make a photo as I see it before me or materialised from an idea I have in my mind that exists solely as a daydream, such as the image above. In my photos you won’t find any social commentary or underlying subliminal messages. I can be quite opinionated in person so it is probably refreshing to not have me trying to jam ideas down your throat in my photography.

The above image is the epitaph for one of my happiest photo-making experiences; all alone in the middle of a forest with a cool, light Tasmanian Spring rain falling through the canopy of the pines, relaxing music softly playing from the stereo in my van and all the time in the world at my disposal. No rush. No mess. No fuss. I think the end result is the perfect consummation of that moment.

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Alex Gard