This is all about using selective focus to emphasize a subject, and use of exaggerated perspective to draw the eye into and through the image. This is one of the things I like extreme wide-angles for – the exaggerated foreground-background relationships that happen when you put them very close to something give you a new non-eye-like point of view on your subject that really forces you to consider it formally, abstractly and within its context.
A street find while walking around with the LC-A 120. This is under the railroad tracks that cross the South Bank pier of London Bridge, just across the street from Southwark Cathedral.
I happened to look down, and then saw this admonition to “Look Right ->”. I found it mildly amusing that traffic flow was considered so confusing that it was necessary to tell people which direction to look before crossing the street. And I love the crunchy texture of the pavement and sidewalk. This is at the corner of Finsbury Square where it abuts City Road in central London.
This is another image from the Lomo LC-A 120. The only real reason I ever mention the cameras I use nowadays is to prove a point about there being little to no correlation between the “quality” of camera you use and the quality of the images you make. I have very little control over the LC-A beyond what I point it at, when I choose to trip the shutter, the film I load in it, and the rough guesstimate of the distance between me and the subject. Everything else is really out of my control. But the decisions that are most important are the ones I do have control over – what to point it at and when to trip the shutter.
Knowing my camera and how it records images is also helpful to getting what I want out of the image, of course. But this image above would have not been any more successful if I shot it with a Hasselblad Superwide, a Rolleiflex TLR, or my Fuji XT-1, each of which offer far more control and precision than the LC-A.
I’m entranced by the range of things happening in this photo. The geometry of the space (especially the grid on the floor) leading your eye back toward a vanishing point, the contrast between the stark modernity of the room structure and the gnarled, organic forms of the ancient Greek temple, the static, permanent nature of the architecture (all the moreso thanks to the twenty-five hundred year old temple in the room) providing backdrop for the hustle-bustle of people circulating the room, and the movement around the people stopped stock still to contemplate the temple. This was probably another 1/2 second exposure, maybe 1/4, hand-held with the Lomo LC-A.
A moment of serendipity as I was photographing the red granite pharaoh’s head in the British Museum caught the face of a passer-by in the lower right corner breaking through a beam of light, an equally enigmatic expression on their face as on the Pharaoh’s. In the far background, a second Pharaoh looks on.
Shot on Kodak Tri-X in a Lomo LC-A.
As many of you who have been following my blog for any period of time are now aware, I’m a camera-toy junkie. My latest foray in camera toy land has been into the world of “toy” cameras. I’ve been working for several years on my Sinister Idyll series using my Lomo Belair X-6/12. Many would call it a “toy” camera because it is a plastic fantastic body, with aperture-preferred automatic exposure only, only two aperture choices, and manual guesstimate focusing only. It’s upgradeable (as I have done) with two Russian-made glass lenses (which are absolutely superb), but beyond that, it’s a glorified point-n-shoot that takes panoramic images on 120 roll film.
Well, I just acquired its spiritual cousin, the Lomo LC-A 120. The LC-A has a super-wide lens, also a Russian glass lens, and a fully automatic shutter and aperture (you have no say whatever in the exposure other than if you game the system by changing the ISO, and no idea which aperture it’s using because there is no indicator in the viewfinder, just a slow-shutter warning light). Focusing is achieved by selecting one of four focus zones via a lever on the side of the body. I’ve been plinking around with it here around Washington DC, and just gave it its first serious workout on the road when I took it with me to London.
One of the most obvious characteristics of the lens is a noticeable vignette in the corners. Applied properly, this is a very effective tool. Thanks to the automatic aperture, it’s not always predictable how much you’re going to get (see comment above about the aperture – with wider apertures and infinity focus, you get more vignetting. With smaller apertures and closer focus, you get little or no vignetting).
As you can see from the people moving around in this scene, the camera is quite sharp even at a larger aperture, and the extreme wide-angle (the same field of view as a Hasselblad Superwide) lets you hand-hold at speeds that would be very difficult with a normal lens on a reflex camera. I’m guessing this was somewhere between 1/8th and 1/2 second.
Even with the lens being so wide, you can achieve selective focus effects with it if you get in close. I highly recommend getting in close!
An extreme example of hand-holding (yes, I know – I have supernaturally steady hands). This was at least a one-second exposure.
The LC-A is a great travel camera because it’s so wide, it allows you to include a near-human-eye field of view, and the extreme light-weight and compact form factor make it very easy to take anywhere and carry all day. Ditto for the minimalist operation technique – you really just point, set focus range, and shoot.
Back here in DC, you can see another example of the vignette effect. I did tweak this a little to amplify it, but this is not a significant manipulation beyond what the camera did.
I like getting multi-layered images with partial reflections in glass. And it’s a bit of a self-portrait too, with my shadow falling in the image. I love how the construction workers have the microwave set up and working in the middle of a kitchen remodel – you have to have your priorities straight and keep the coffee warm!
A demonstration of not only the extreme field of view, but the color rendering of the lens. The camera has a reputation for deep, saturated colors. This was taken with 10+ years out-of-date Fuji Pro 400 H.
Again, you can never really get too close. This was a test of the close-focus/selective focus capability (the minimum focus setting is 1.5 feet).
Nice saturated colors even on decade-old film.
One of the things I’ve been enjoying about these “toy” cameras that give you very little control over your photograph is the way that they in many ways demonstrate the lack of need for that level of control to make good images. The extreme wide-angle of not only the LC-A but also the Belair force you to think very seriously about your composition, use of perspective, and manipulation of forced perspective to emphasize/de-emphasize compositional elements. With the Belair, I do have a “B” setting for the shutter to do long exposures and intentionally play with time, something I don’t have on the LC-A (but wish I did). Time is the one other critical component to a photograph that we do and simultaneously do not have control over – I can control when I open the shutter, and to some extent when I close the shutter (if I want a “correctly” exposed image, I must close it when it needs to be closed, not when I want it to be closed), but beyond that we have no real control over what happens WHILE the shutter is open. Things happen on their own. Movement is never fully predictable. Moving subjects speed up, slow down, change direction, or stop without warning.
I’ve started thinking of these cameras that I’ve been using – the Belair and the LC-A – as “serendipity boxes” because to use them successfully, they require an acceptance of serendipity, chance, and fortune. They’re life-metaphors in a way – just like in my own life, I can point them a certain direction, look at specific things, get closer, and turn away. But if I don’t learn how to see through them, to take in the periphery, work within the uniquely skewed perspectives that they offer, I’ll miss out on things that are presented to me because they didn’t fit in the tightly-controlled box I wanted them to fit into.
If you haven’t been following this story, I think it’s worth taking a look at. The National Media Museum, located in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, was home to a massive collection of photographs, substantively consisting of the collections of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), spanning the first two centuries of photography. The trustees of the museum decided to transfer a significant portion of the collection to the Victoria & Albert museum in London, without public comment or debate. This is causing a big stink:
The move to relocate some of the museum’s holdings – the bulk of which is part of a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection that charts the development of photography over 200 years – was announced in February, prompting accusations of “cultural vandalism”.
“This is an appalling act of cultural vandalism,” said Simon Cooke, the Conservative leader on Bradford city council. “I know London is a big, grand and fantastic city but to denude my city of these photographs reminds us that you … care not one jot for our heritage and history.
“We don’t have much up here and it fills me with a kind of sad rage that you felt able to visit this act of cultural rape on my city.”
As a result, major figures such as David Hockney, Mike Leigh the film director, photographer Don McCullin and more than eighty other artists working with still and moving images have picked up their pens to add their voices to the protest. Here’s hoping they are heard.
Laurence Irving is the son of Henry Irving, the famous actor and theater owner who inspired one of Bram Stoker’s characters in Dracula (and for whom Bram Stoker worked). Laurence had a short life and tragic end, perishing in 1914 in a maritime disaster on the St. Lawrence River (an irony that I’m sure was lost on him). I’m guessing that in this photo he must have been in his 20s, so this would have been taken sometime in the 1890s.
Also fascinating is the photographers’ description of the studio address: 20 UPPER Baker Street, 20 doors north of Baker Street Station. Which puts it across the street more or less from 227 B Baker Street, the fictive home of Sherlock Holmes.
I have a photo of his father, Henry Irving, already in my collection:
Here’s another rather rare image – a portrait of what appears to be an actor by Camille Silvy. Camille Silvy was a French photographer who moved to London in 1858 and opened a studio at 38 Porchester Terrace, Bayswater. He photographed society clients, including many members of the British royal family, as well as royals of other nations (the queen of Hawaii among others). According to Wikipedia,
He closed his studio and returned to France in 1868. He himself believed that his nervous system had been damaged by exposure to potassium cyanide in the darkroom but it more likely that he suffered from manic depression. The last thirty years of his life were spent in a succession of hospitals, sanatoria and convalescent homes.
So he had a working career in London of approximately 10 years, in which he made over 17,000 sittings – rather productive for a short career. That’s about six portraits a day, 300+ days a year. According to the Wikipedia entry, the National Portrait Gallery in London has his daybooks, which include 12,000 photo illustrations to accompany the records of sittings. I’d love to visit them and see if I could find out who this actor was. Maybe next year when I return the favor to visit my friends Peter and Mirza who came to see me in Paris.
Here is Henry Irving, the celebrated English thespian, who owned and operated the Lyceum Theater in London. He was the first actor ever to receive knighthood. He hired Bram Stoker to be his stage manager at the Lyceum, and is allegedly the inspiration for the stage manager character in Stoker’s Dracula novel (a character notably absent from all the Dracula movies).
You’ll notice on the verso of the carte the coat-of-arms for the Order of the Garter. From my biographical research on Mr’s Elliot & Fry, they ran a very successful high-end studio in London, doing portraits of public and social, artistic, scientific and political eminences of the Victorian era. The studio operated for over 100 years before being bought out by another notable photographic firm. Most of their negatives were lost during the bombings of London in WW II. Neither Mr. Elliot or Mr. Fry were members of the Order, so the logo on their card must have been a sales pitch to their clientele to suggest the status by association. For those not in the know, the Order of the Garter is the highest possible social honor one can receive from the Queen of England. At any moment in time there are no more than 24 members of the order plus the Queen/King and the Prince of Wales. Membership is by nomination from current members, and at a minimum qualification you must already be knighted by the Queen.