Dedham, MA 08/05/2014
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.
Fuji FP-100c instant test print
This is what composing a picture on a 4×5 looks like.