I am having a show. New work loosely inspired by Star Wars, Cameo Cafe (Edinburgh), 6/12/15 to 16/01/16. The show is supported by New55.
I realise that my work is a study in calculated risks.
Following a theme and working to a deadline, shooting half the images outdoors in a particularly melancholy SCOTTISH AUTUMN, and choosing to work with 25 year old film, prototype New55, and WWII cameras and lenses has made this particularly obvious. And yet I always give myself handicaps. This is my way of making my work easier for myself. I am a perfectionist at heart, but find that the only way I can work freely is by working around issues and clawing back at chaos until I am satisfied that something is acceptable.
I love the fact that photography lets me touch upon the abstract with a means that can only mechanically reproduce a concrete reality. This is partly why I work with CHEMICAL rather than digital tools, as there are fewer opportunities to break the path of realism between subject and image. I choose to work with 4×5″ film and BIG BRIGHT LENSES because they are better at describing fiction than current designs, which are almost exclusively sold on the basis of sharpness and resolution. I had ten shots of New55 to produce eight images. I have one shot left.
I’ve been working with myself as my main subject for 20 years. This started due to availability of the model, and I have become interested in exploring my EGO AND INSECURITIES through the interpretation of abstract characters. This—in turn—feeds back as an excuse/motivation/inspiration to continue to produce work.
The long now and close to here… is loosely inspired by StarWars, seeking alien lands and faces within our nearby surroundings, and making FAMILIAR CHARACTERS out of close friends.
I chose to shoot the landscapes on rolls of FP4 220, forgetting they are about 25 years old. The developer I’ve been using for the past few months is a bottle of Rodinal that’s been precipitating its Hydroquinone. I’m working mostly with a Graflex Speed Graphic and a Sinar Zoom back to shoot the 6x12cm landscapes, and I had packed a Kodak Aero Ektar, Zeiss Tessar 165/2.7 and a Dallmeyer 12”/4.5 Telephoto in my backpack.
A compact 35mm camera would have given me all the resolution I need, but the relationship of scale between subject and film makes a big difference to the perspective of an image: my head is about twice the height of a sheet of (4×5”) film, yet around seven times the height of a 35mm negative. Most digital cameras have far smaller sensors than the 35mm format. My old lenses are generally uncoated, which means that they don’t have treatments that limit reflections between the glass elements inside the lens. Modern lens coatings increase fine detail and line-sharpness, which is not particularly useful when I am trying to persuade you that a grassy hill is a desert landscape. There is also the matter of depth of field, and the quality of things which are outside of it and out of focus. This is commonly referred to as bokeh. The Aero Ektar was designed for aerial reconnaissance in WWII, so it was designed to photograph a flat plane focussed at infinity. When I use it for a portrait, its depth of field is so shallow that it is often hard to get a whole face in focus, which means that my painted backdrop and a single houseplant can make a convincing forest on Endor.
You may wonder why I wouldn’t just do it in post. Working with digital image processing may offer many possibilities, but none of them are risks. Manipulating an image leaves little to chance, and little chance of something unexpected happening. You pretty much need to have a clear and literal vision of how something will look before starting. I simply don’t have the time nor the mental clarity to work this way. With too many options and iterations, I struggle to declare something finished.
I haven’t worked with New55 since before the Kickstarter campaign was funded. Though I was intimately involved in the early stages of the research to produce the film, it has been an entirely new experience to just open a box, load film, and have a print and negative in a handful of minutes. This was our goal, and it is magic. I had ten shots of New55 and needed to make eight portraits for the show. I have one left. It reminds me of when I saw Andrzej Zulawski talk about the making of The Third Part of the Night  here at the Cameo, and how he had to write ‘one take’ and ‘faster’ on each hand to make sure he could shoot the film.
I shot the Aberlady XT Class subs with a WWII German lens, though an American camera, onto British film.
This show is supported by New55 (www.new55.net)
and the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh (@CameoCinema).