August 30, 1998

New Camera Tests, Fort Ogilvie (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

About a week after the death of my Wista 4"x5" view camera , the replacement arrived, but it was another ten days before I had the chance to go out an use it. In some ways, the camera dying happened at the worse time of the year for me - the two weeks without it were strained to say the least. To be honest though, the experience had some positive elements. It forced me to work with my 8"x10" for a whole session, thereby reasserting the reality that it is the camera format, not the camera itself, that works for me. It also gave me a small window of opportunity in which to seriously plan my new darkroom - a project which had been in the works for some time, but never had enough time dedicated to it.
4"x5" film
The first field test of my new camera, a used Wisner Traditional, took place at Point Pleasant Park. I had hoped to spend the day with a model, but things didn't work out. The biggest change with the new camera was that it permits me to use my 12" Caltar lens, from my 8x10 camera. This lens translates into a 100mm lens on a 35mm camera - a nice long lens which had been previously unavailable on my 4x5.
4"x5" film
The biggest opportunity offered by this new situation is that provided by the 12" lens. The Nikkor 210mm lens (which went into the river with the Wista) was the lens I had used for portraiture before, but being equal to about a 70mm lens on a 35mm camera, it was a little on the short side. The 12" lens however, presents a much more usable focal length, maintaining a traditional perspective and permitting a decent amount of distance between myself and the subject.

August 17, 1998

Three Models at Sunset (St Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia)

After a snack and beverage break, we all turned and started our way back to Halifax. There were still three or four hours of daylight left, so I put in a request with Miles (who was driving) for a rocky venue and we stopped halfway back and walked out through the woods towards the water. The sun was starting to set, providing wonderful raking light to work with.
6x6 cm transparency film
When I had asked for rocks, I had hoped for big, sweeping coastal plains...instead we emerged from the forest to find a rocky shoreline, with only a few boulders pushing past a metre high.. Initially disappointed, I decided to make the best of the situation and do what I could.
8"x10" film
In reaction to the rather bland landscape, I began to work with models in relation to other models, working close, either against the larger rocks, or using the water and the setting sun as a backdrop. Where the landscape failed to provide me with the inspiration to focus on the body, the similarities and contrasts between two models gave me more than enough to work with as the evening approached. The first images I made had more distance between the models, dictated by both the setting, and the fact the models were not acquainted with each other before the session.
8"x10" film
Towards the end of the session, I worked with Ingrid and Michelle, with far more personal poses. Where before I worked with the models in the lines of the rock, now I set one model against the other, working on the play of body on body. The vast majority of my couple images have been made in the studio so working outdoors was a little different, as these images were most defiantly about a relationship, as opposed to just two bodies within the same frame. I am not sure if the images of Ingrid and Michelle work as well as they would have in a studio, but there is a freshness and depth to the images that is always missing from studio images - those tend to be more about stylized impressions than real people.

An 8"x10" Session (Ingramport, Nova Scotia)

35mm transparency film
The one thing I try to do as I work is keep a very firm grip on what is important, and what is peripheral to my vision. In light of this, four days after the demise of my beloved Wista 4"x5" view camera, I was back working, this time in the girders under a railway bridge 8 meters up in the air, with my 8"x10" camera and Ingrid as a model. The fact that one camera had an accident is not sufficient reason to change the way I work - plus, I did not want the wait period for my replacement camera to hinder my photography, so the following Sunday I loaded up 12 borrowed film holders and set out.
8"x10" film
It has been a long time since I photographed with only the 8"x10" camera so the first thing I realized was how comfortable I was with it. Unlike working with the Pentax 67 (or 35mm, for that matter), seeing with the 8"x10" was second nature. The image was the way I was used to seeing it (upside down and backwards) and all the controls I take for granted (rise, tilt, swing etc) were at my fingertips. Though the 8x10 was slower to use, and considerably heavier (24 sheets of film in holders weighed about the same as 72 sheets of 4x5 loaded!), it was a joy to use, and renewed my desire to use it more frequently.
8"x10" film

August 13, 1998

A First Outdoor Session with Victoria (Ingramport, Nova Scotia)

This particular evening was intended to be a session with Victoria, working with her in moving water. We had previously only worked together in the studio, but she had been drawn to the water images I showed her there, and immediately stated her desire to help me make some of her.
6x12 cm film
The more I work with water, the better understand how its flow will appear on film, and this session was especially charged due to the late hour. The entire river was lit by a threatening sky, which gave very even tones to the nude, but left the water murky and sullen. In the image to the right, the delicate skin of Victoria is a wonderful contrast to the velvet blacks that envelop her. Initially Victoria's legs were straight, but in an attempt to add some tension to the image, I asked her to pull one leg up - as soon as I saw that on the ground-glass, I knew it was right.
4"x5" film
The traumatic part of this session came shortly after the image above was made. While working a little ways down the river with my 35mm Nikon, my tripod upset, sending my Wista 4"x5" view camera, complete with my 210mm Nikkor lens and Seconic light meter, into the river. While I often work with my cameras in precarious situations, I have never had an accident before. I had contemplated the possibility but the reality was gut-wrenchingly different - seeing my camera, my preferred voice for the last four years, dripping wet with a quickly disintegrating bellows was difficult to say the least. I did what I could to dry it off, but quickly realized that the bellows was a write-off, and that the damage to the body, which impacted on the front standard, was substantial. The lens I dried off as best I could, and set out to air dry.
35mm transparency film
Realizing that we were miles from home, and knowing that there was nothing I could do for the camera and lens, I returned to photographing. I still had 15 shots left in the Nikon, so I carefully nursed these for the next half-hour - resulting in the final image displayed here. The light in the water is deceiving - the sky above was gloomy and ominous, but the image required an exposure that made the sky appear much lighter than it actually was, rendering it as a rich, impossibly warm blue in the reflection.

August 09, 1998

Lily in a Lake (Long Lake, Nova Scotia)

It is becoming quite apparent to me that cameras, as tools, do more to shape an image than simply define the aspect ratio and size of the negative. When I started exploring photography, I moved between formats frequently, trying each on for size, and learning the strengths and weaknesses of each. Since 1991 however, I have worked almost exclusively with view cameras and they have become the way I see photographically. The lesson I have learned is that the simple act of changing the camera format used can have a great influence on the final results.
6x7 cm film
For this session, I left my 4"x5" at home, instead borrowing a friend's Pentax 6x7 to try to speed up my image making process. As before, Lilly's time was limited, and I wanted to make the most of what time we had. This equipment choice gave me a 120 roll film camera for water surface images, and a 35mm Nikonos camera for the underwater images. I had expected to use both cameras to great advantage - working quickly and making images in a more spontaneous manner. The problem was, I simply could not see with either camera. In the case of the underwater camera, I quite literally could not see; the water was just too full of algae.
6x7 cm film
When I first used the Pentax 6x7 camera I was drawn to its ease of use and the quality of the water blur in the initial images I made with it. Since then, I have realised that though the camera worked well in that specific instance, the way it portrays the world while one uses it is so far from what I have grown comfortable with, that I cannot make the leap to incorporating it into my way of seeing.
35mm film
When I first processed the negatives from this session I was very disappointed with the images, and for a long while could not determine why. I knew it could not be the model - Lilly and I have previously made some very well seen photographs, so the failure could not lie there. There was nothing technically wrong, as the negs were well exposed and printed - but they were still lifeless for me. The real problem was a mismatch between the photographer and the tool - the Pentax simply does not function with my way of seeing.