It’s been a vicious cycle of freezing and thawing in Boston, and I noticed the other day as I was driving to an early morning job in Cambridge that the sunrise over the ice on the Charles River was reflected particularly well. The ice has ceased being white and is now a glossy clear shade, more mirrorlike than before.
Additionally, I’m in the planning stages of an awesome and lengthy photo trip this fall with a good friend that will involve lots of hiking. Time to test out new ways of carrying the 4×5. New boots and a new pack, for sure. I saw the clouds and the weather lining up for what looked like a good sunset on Wednesday and decided to test everything out.
The sunset ended up being only kind of decent, and not amazing like I had hoped, but I was able to discover that most everything works well in its current setup. There’s definitely some room for improvement, but we’re a far cry from my first pictures last summer in Vinalhaven that involved me carrying a broken down monorail view camera in one backpack, the lenses in a separate camera bag, and the film in a 3rd. It’s a process.
After all that, I shot only 2 frames.
You may have seen on the news that it’s been snowing in Boston. A lot. Let me be clear: we just got a Biblical amount of snow. It’s like winter is Shaq and is just dunking on us. Over and over and over.
In a fit of creative energy after I finally dug my car out from the 2 feet of snow we got during the blizzard last week, I drove around looking for snow scenes to shoot on film. I wandered through the woods of the Stony Brook reservation near my home, and after struggling there visited Millennium Park in West Roxbury. As is frequently the case shooting large format, I set up on a scene by the river that I thought looked beautiful — and then watched the light vanish in front of my eyes before I was set up. Disgusted, I turned around and began the hike back to my car. I stopped in my tracks when I saw the snow-covered hill and the white sky above it in front of me with a few trees to break the scene up. Scrambling to set up, I fired off 4 frames.
Over the past 6 months I’ve been collecting darkroom equipment with the goal of retrofitting an old darkroom in my in-laws’ basement into something I can use to develop black and white 4×5 in. Great news: it’s up and running! Given my cavalier attitude toward mixing chemistry, I’m surprised it worked at all. I learned a lot from this, my first batch of film that I’ve developed since my college days at The University of Texas, and I’m looking forward to refining the process and my technique. Step 1: buy some real stop bath. It’s the one thing you can’t buy from B&H (they won’t ship it), and I forgot I hadn’t bought any when I was at Levine’s the other day. It turns out that you can dilute white vinegar and achieve the same effect. Step 2: wage war on dust. This neg is pretty dirty.
The adventures in film continue:
Last week I went on my regular summer trip to Vinalhaven, a lobstering island off the coast of Rockland. Normally I bring my DSLR and never take it out of the bag, but this year I decided to throw practicality to the wind and travel to the island (on a ferry, mind you) with my regular supply of clothes, cheese and gin, plus a monorail 4×5 camera and everything that you have to bring with it. It was an ordeal. Now I understand why field cameras were invented.
This was also my first time scanning negative film since college. Initially I thought I had failed utterly and shot thin negatives that simply could not be salvaged, since everything had a cyan cast to it. It turns out Ektar is just very, very hard to scan accurately. If you’re struggling with it, I recommend scanning it as a positive image and using the ColorPerfect plugin for Photoshop to invert the colors. It made a world of difference.
The super moon tides were extreme this year and the weather was beautiful. Can’t wait to go back.
A little over 2 weeks ago, I indulged a longing desire I’d been trying to repress for quite some time and bought a 4×5. A big honkin’ view camera with bellows that move up down, left and right, geared knobs to manually focus with, and a piece of ground glass in the back to compose your image on — upside down and backwards, under a black cloth. It’s finicky. It’s moody. It’s big, cumbersome, complicated, and every time you trip the shutter you just cost yourself money in the form of film and processing.
It’s the most rewarding photographic experience there is.
I’ve been messing around over the past couple of weeks getting everything up and running, and exercising the part of my brain that had been steadily atrophying since I graduated from The University of Texas some 11 years ago. That was the last time I shot film. I know for a fact that I was the last class in UT’s Photojournalism program to use the school’s 4×5 cameras (I think they were old busted Calumets). It’s a damn shame. Nobody that came after me ever got this experience — this frustrating, difficult, beautiful experience. Honestly, when I shot this picture (this was the last of 6 frames), I was pretty sure I nailed it. But it was 6:00 on Friday, and I had to carefully pack up my film holders, take everything home, and keep them in a safe place for the weekend. Driving home I was so excited with nervous energy that it felt like I was about to go on a first date.
I dropped the film off at the lab yesterday (Colortek of Boston, highly recommended) and rushed back in the afternoon because I had to know. Did I calculate the bellows extension factor correctly? Did I load the film the right way? Did the film holders leak? Did the clouds move and screw my exposure? Did I blow the entire frame by messing up the lens operation? Did my combination of tilt, swing, and rise work? Was it sharp? WAS IT SHARP??
It was perfect. There on the light table in front of me was a 4 inch by 5 inch chunk of undeniable truth, rendered in surreal vivid color by the almighty Fuji Velvia, one of the best color emulsions of all time. My 3 dimensional plane of focus was intact. My exposure settings, calculated with a formula given to mankind by Ansel Adams himself, were right on. I gazed upon it like it was my own child.
I love photography again.
Postscript: my notes and a test polaroid from the shoot, which took me somewhere around 2 hours. All I know is that I went through two separate LCD Soundsystem albums by the end of it.