Category Archives: Large Format Cameras

Residual Proof of the Outside World

I’ve been engaging in series of work in response to triggers from my environment – there was that moment of eureka that started the six year journey resulting in the Sinister Idyll series and the gallery show at Gallery O on H. Now, with the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been trying to work on a series coping with being in a near-quarantine situation, and how do we respond to/deal with the stress and anxiety of walking around every day in a public space that could kill you. After barely leaving my house for the last four months, I noticed that certain things were turning into patterns, most specifically, delivery food. I was cooking at home more, but I was also getting delivery from places I hadn’t in the past, and due to “contactless” delivery those delivery items and their remnants looked different.

Chipotle, Mexican Coke, Corona

Since I’m not leaving the house, and now I had all this accumulated subject matter, I decided that my response would be in the form of still life images. I brought out my 8×10 view camera and set up a small studio on my patio where I could work.

DC Noodles Delivery

These are just two preliminary images from the series. I’m continuing to work on ideas and presentation, but it’s a planted seed that will grow into something. Working on a series like this is very different from my documentary series Sinister Idyll because there, I had to go out and photograph my subjects in the places where I found them, in the circumstances they existed in (it might be rainy, or crowded, or the wrong time of day). Inspiration came from what I found when I found it, and I just had to interpret. Here, with doing still life, it’s a very different discipline because you’re creating something entirely de novo – yes, the delivery bags and food containers and beverage bottles are what they are, but I have to arrange them in a cohesive and aesthetic manner, I have to choose the juxtapositions, the backdrop, the lighting, the depth of field… everything. There’s nobody to blame for a shot not working but myself. I like the discipline of it, but it’s a big challenge.

As is customary for me, these are all going to be palladium prints. I love working in a hand-made medium, and the tactile nature of the photographs is so pleasing to me. The entire process of making them, from setting up the studio through using the large view camera, to developing the film and making the print, really, means that I put so much of my soul into the practice of making the photograph.

Here’s the little studio set up, if you want to see it. It serves as proof that you don’t need much to work with to make images- just a will to do something and a vision to make it happen.

And the camera in action.

Portrait Day – Intro to Large Format class

Having a little fun with the panoramic function on my iPhone in class today. Took this picture of two of my Large Format students doing studio portraits with a 4×5. I dug into the vaults and found some of my remaining stash of Polaroid Type 55 and let the students burn a couple sheets. I was more than pleasantly surprised with how well it worked- my Type 55 has to be a decade out of date by now, but the pods still processed nicely. I’d post some results but my students ran off with the negatives before I could copy any of them.

This was also my first test of my PocketWizard wireless flash sync setup on large format, and it worked very well. I got a little clamp from B&H photo that locks onto the front standard of my camera, and attached a hot shoe to PC adapter to the clamp. The PC cord connected the shoe to the sync on the shutter, and the PocketWizard sat in the shoe.

The other PW unit was connected to my Calumet Travelite monolight. This setup let me use my Sekonic L358 meter which has a PocketWizard trigger module, so I could meter wirelessly. That’s a big boon even when doing still life, and an even bigger one when shooting portraits, because that’s one less wire for you OR your sitter to trip over. If you look carefully at the front standard of the camera, you can see the PocketWizard module sticking out of the side in the photo.

Palladium Printing- exposure and development

For those who haven’t seen the palladium printing process end-to-end, I thought I’d share a moment from the process to let you see the magic happen. It’s a much faster process than silver printing, in the development stage. The image, when exposed but not yet developed, is a “ghost” image. You can generally see the form, but not the fine details, nor the overall tonality. Depending on the overall image tonality, you may see very little at all inside the exposed borders of your print. This is why it is a good idea to coat outside the borders of your image (but not too much- every drop of emulsion costs money!) – you can judge proper exposure by looking at your borders if you’re not used to printing.

Then, pour on the developer, and WHOOSH! Magic!

And the finished print:

This was from a 35mm infrared shot, scanned and enlarged on Pictorico transparency media.

If you’re curious what a digital negative even is, or what it looks like, here’s the negative for that shot:

Upcoming Classes

I have two upcoming classes this spring at Glen Echo Photoworks, Introduction to Large Format Photography, and Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I’ve scheduled them so that students of Intro to Large Format can have somewhere to go with their new camera skills. Intro to Large Format runs March 11th – April 22. The course covers what you need to know to take advantage of the medium – we start with the basics of the cameras themselves – different camera types, their parts and how they work, why to choose one type over another, lenses and lens selection. We move on to film selection and film handling, loading film and developing it. There are modules on portraiture, still life/tabletop, landscape and architecture. For the Architecture module we’ll do a field trip down to the National Cathedral.

The Family – my set of student cameras (L to R): Speed Graphic, Sinar F, Sinar A1. The 5×7 Sinar Norma you see peeking in on the right is a personal camera.

Due to student interest, I’ve acquired several cameras for student use in-class. If the popularity continues, I’ll look into getting one or two more and setting up a rental program to allow students to check out cameras for the duration of the class.

The next class is Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing. I will be including a module on making and using digitally enlarged negatives for platinum/palladium printing with this course. This class runs May 5th and May 12th. This course covers the history of the medium, materials and techniques. We discuss the various tools for making prints – brushes vs coating rods, UV light sources (the sun, black-light fixtures, other options). We go over paper selection and paper handling. In this intro class we will make palladium prints because palladium is the easier medium to work with, but we will discuss and demonstrate the differences between platinum and palladium. Contrast control techniques will also be covered, and developer chemistry as well. We will work from both in-camera negatives that we make that weekend, and from digital files students bring and/or create from scans.

TeotihuacanPtPdPrint
Pyramids, Teotihuacan – palladium print 4″ x 8″ enlarged on Pictorico OHP using an Epson 3880 printer with Ultrachrome K3 inks from a 6cm x 12 cm in-camera negative

To register for the classes, click on the links below:

Introduction to Large Format, March 11-April 22   –  $250

Introduction to Platinum/Palladium Printing May 5 and 12  –  $250 plus $50 lab fee

 

 

The Boathouse Dock, Georgetown

I was up on the old abutment for the C&O Canal viaduct that connected the canal from Georgetown to Alexandria over the Potomac River and looked down to the boat dock for the Georgetown Boat House and caught this composition. I had been photographing Key Bridge with my 5×12 (previously described here) when I looked down and saw this scene which cried out to be shot in the format.

Boathouse Dock, Georgetown
Boathouse Dock, Georgetown

The simple geometry and the contrast between the rigid lines of the dock broken up by the deck chair contrasted with the smooth water of the river really makes the image. Without the deck chair, it would actually be pretty boring. But adding that one small compositional element makes it go from so what to interesting.

Key Bridge, Evening, in Palladium

Key Bridge
Key Bridge

Another print I made this weekend – Key Bridge, in palladium. This is a 5×12 negative from my Canham. For the technically minded, I used a circa 1949 Kodak Commercial Ektar 12″ lens for the shot. It’s a very sharp lens with pleasant rendering, and a good match for the subject matter. I also want to talk for a second about the printing – this is a pure palladium print, with a touch of NA2 added for contrast. Sodium Platinum (NA2 for short) is a contrast agent you can add to a palladium print to boost the contrast if required. NA2 is very powerful stuff – a tiny bit goes a long way. In this case, I needed just one drop of 2.5% NA2 added to the 12 drops of Palladium and 12 drops of Ferric Oxalate sensitizer. NA2 comes from the manufacturer in a 5% strength solution, so you can see how little was needed to give the print some snap.

If you are using blended platinum and palladium, or trying to do a pure platinum print, and are in need of a contrast boost, you cannot use NA2 as a contrast agent – the platinum in it binds with platinum in your paper and what ends up happening is you reduce your highlights, blowing out detail, without actually increasing contrast. If you are using a blend, or pure platinum, you have several options – you can boost the contrast with a different additive, such as gold chloride, you can pre-coat your paper with fumed silica, or you can use a dichromate infused developer. I prefer adding a contrast agent into the emulsion rather than in the developer, because to do the infused developer route, you’ll need to have six or eight bottles of developers with different concentrations of contrast agent, and then you’ll have to play with chemistry to mix up replenisher for each developer concentration as it gets used. That realistically means keeping twelve to sixteen bottles of developer around. The downside to additives to the emulsion is that most of them will alter the color of the print. Gold Chloride will do anything from slightly cooler gray tones to eggplant/aubergine tones, depending on how much of it you use. Sodium Tungstate will actually reduce contrast in the print, and give you reddish brown tones. You can use dichromate in the emulsion as an alternative to the developer, but you must be careful in handling the undeveloped print as dichromate is toxic.

Pinhole Photography- another way to have photographic fun!

Don’t worry- I’m not abandoning lensed photography with high-acutance, high-precision cameras. I love my Rolleiflex! What I am doing, though, is exploring pinhole photography and other forms of lo-fi photography (my previous post with the Lomo Belair triptychs for example). I find it quite liberating in many ways – you have to quit worrying about precision, and just make images. Live with the serendipitous. Like this first image. I’m absolutely blown away by what I pulled off with it – it’s actually a double-exposure. I’m going to play around more with the idea of multiple exposures on pinhole.

Foggy Bottom Metro, Waiting
Foggy Bottom Metro, Waiting

Pinholes, although they are very slow in many ways, have some major advantages – because there is no glass to distort the image, they are absolutely rectilinear. Straight lines will always be straight lines. There’s no shutter or aperture to set with one – the pinhole is the aperture, and in the case of my pinhole camera, it’s f/208, which means that even in full sunlight I’m getting roughly 1 second – 2 seconds for exposure times. The shutter in this case is just the body cap – take it off, count one one thousand, put it back on. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Of course, this has a different downside – hand-holding exposures is not realistic, ever, unless you really really really love motion blur.

Pan-American Health Organization HQ
Pan-American Health Organization HQ

I like motion blur well enough, but I like it applied selectively – I like the contrast between sharp, static and moving, blurred. I like how using long time exposures captures a third dimension to a photograph, time, that we perceive as non-existent in “typical” photography where time is condensed/extracted to 1/500th of a second. Playing with time in a camera really does in a way turn the camera into a time machine. It also shows us that our concept of time is artificial. Things exist not IN time but rather THROUGH time.

The Polaroid 20×24 camera in action

Here’s a video of my friend Tracy Storer talking about the 20×24 polaroid camera. Tracy is the manager of the San Francisco 20×24 studio, and has been working with the cameras since the late 1980s in Boston and New York when Polaroid owned and operated their own studios.

Among the cool little nuggets from the video:

  • the Polaroid 20×24 operates in vertical only orientation
  • Chuck Close used one to take portraits of President Clinton in the Oval Office. Getting the camera in and out of the White House was quite the undertaking, as the camera and stand combined weigh over 240 lbs.
  • When you rent the Polaroid 20×24, it includes a staffer to operate the camera for you.

K.T. at Land’s End, in Black-and-White (NSFW)

Four more images from my series with K.T. at Land’s End. It’s funny how when you’re shooting, sometimes you’re so in the moment of doing it, you don’t realize the parallels you’re creating. In this first pair, the parallel is obvious.

K.T., Front, Foyer
K.T., Front, Foyer
K.T., Back, Foyer
K.T., Back, Foyer

We had an interesting space to work in, so I had him turn and repeat his pose both front and back. I was thinking of exploiting the cubic volume of the collapsed structure, and contrasting the rectilinear forms of the structure with the organic ones of the body.

The reclining poses are similar as well, but in a less obvious way because the backgrounds are different, as is the placement/emphasis on the figure. In the tree figure, the human form is front-and-center, definitely the main subject of the image. The coarseness of the bark and the wild gnarls of the branches contrast with the contained, orderly, smooth human body draped over them. In the surfside image, the human figure is very much present, and the focal point around which the image is structured, but it blends in to the scene both tonally and formally.

K.T., Reclining, Wall, Surf
K.T., Reclining, Wall, Surf
K.T., Reclining, Tree
K.T., Reclining, Tree

Last but not least, I thought I’d make a diptych out of the two foyer shots, since they so harmonize with each other. I know I wasn’t thinking “Gee, let’s make a diptych out of this!”, or at least not like THIS, when I took them. Back when I took these, I thought almost exclusively as a single-image shooter. Each image was a discreet entity, even if part of a narrative series. So I certainly shot them to be a pair, but I would have envisioned hanging them side by side in separate frames. Funny how serendipity works, isn’t it?

Diptych, K.T., Land's End
Diptych, K.T., Land’s End

Intro To Large Format Class – Portraiture Session

This weekend was the next-to-last session of the Intro to Large Format Photography class I’m teaching at Glen Echo. As a treat, I broke out some of the last remaining sheets of Polaroid Type 55 I have in my personal stash. We had a lot of fun setting up portraits and posing for each other. One of my students even brought along his 6×17 panoramic camera and took a couple frames of all of us in the studio together – a couple were serious, and one was very silly (I gave someone next to me bunny-ears).

Sean L.
Sean L.

We covered the fundamentals of not only how to use a view camera for portraiture (movements – not many – focusing, bellows extension factor, lens selection) but also basic studio lighting. Given that we were limited on time and had lesson objectives to cover, I dictated the lighting setup with just a main and a fill, driven off my Calumet Elite 2400 W/S unit. It’s a lot of power for just 4×5, but I wanted to give people a real studio experience (that and the moonlights I would have used that are at the school are at the moment buried in the storage closet under dozens of boxes from the exhibits currently hanging in the gallery space).

Dean M.
Dean M.

We rigged a softbox on the main light and an umbrella on the fill. The softbox was camera left, and the fill was beside the camera. I used a 240mm Docter Optics f9 Apo-Germinar as my lens because the focal length is a nice one for studio portraiture (not too long, but not too wide either), it’s mounted on a lens board to fit my Sinar (some of my other portrait lenses are on different lens boards), and the shutter has good working flash sync (some of my other portrait lenses are in archaic shutters that don’t have reliable flash syncs – and yes, I’ve had them overhauled but they still don’t work 100% of the time). f9 is a bit dim for a traditional portrait lens, but I think this one produced outstanding results (further confirmation that that lens was a phenomenal buy and well worth every penny).

Anthony R.
Anthony R.

Polaroid Type 55, for those who are unfamiliar, was an instant film that produced both a positive print and a re-useable negative. Artists have loved the negatives not only for the incredibly fine grain and sharp detail, but for the artifacts at the edges that the Polaroid process produced. It hasn’t been made since 2008, so any Type 55 anyone is using is old stock. There is hope on the horizon for a replacement as a group called “New55” is creating their own improved version. One of the challenges of the original Polaroid Type 55 was that the negative film and the print were not equally sensitive, so you had to decide if you wanted a good print or a good negative – a good print gave you an underexposed negative and a good negative gave you a washed-out print. New55 will have one advantage over the old stuff – the instant print and the negative will be speed-matched so you won’t have to expose for either a good print or a good negative.

Ari G.
Ari G.

I can tell from the negatives that my Type 55, which outdated in 2006, is starting to get a little long in the tooth, as they have begun to lose some contrast. I’ve tweaked it a fair bit in Photoshop to get these negative scans to look good. I’ll try printing them in the darkroom and see what I can do with them – they may print much better than they scan.

Glen Echo Intern
Glen Echo Intern

Here are some behind-the-scenes shots, taken by one of my students.

Dean M, Posing
Dean M, Posing
Sean L, Polaroid Print
Sean L, Polaroid Print