35mm, 4"x5", 6x6, analogue, black and white, documentary, Gowlandflex, Kodak Tri-X, leica, M7, New York, portrait, Rollei, street

Erica McDonald . Photographer

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Erica_McDonald_windowGL: How did you ‘meet’ the woman behind the window?

EMD: It happened close to the end of the time when I was working on The Dark Light of This Nothing. I had the bones of the series laid down but was out looking for the kinds of moments I had missed in the previous months. The woman just happened to be looking out her window – we saw each other and shared a moment.

The Dark Light was done as personal project. Up until that point I had been focused on the single image, and I had decided that I’d like to invest myself in a long-term story. Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey runs a site called Burn and he had been encouraging a group of readers to see what they could accomplish over a period of a month or so. I met with David and told him about a few of my ideas, and together we came to the conclusion that I should focus on this one; what was started as a month-long project became a several-year endeavor.

GL: There are two kinds of images in the series: street photos and more formal studio portraits. You look at the people in your images from various points-of-view. Where did this approach come from?

Erica_McDonald_06-2EMD: The series had a very specific arc. I had intended to shoot only large format portraits against white backdrop on the street – that was the initial idea of the whole project. I had been looking at Richard Avedon’s In The American West (which was shot over five years) and wanted to shoot a very miniaturized homage to him over the course of a month. Shooting the portraits on a street corner in NYC involved getting assistants, a permit and working around the weather as well as my schedule and in the end took a few months to complete.

I had hoped to shoot all the portraits with this amazing 4×5 Gowlandflex – it’s a rare large format camera that operates as a twin lens reflex camera, like the medium format Rollei I had been using regularly; this kind of camera is terrific because you never lose sight of the person you are photographing, even at the moment the shutter is released. It was my first time with a large format camera so I had a learning curve, and I was doing audio interviews and getting model releases and running across the street to get people to come over. There was a lot going on, and a little wind could knock down my portable backdrop, and passersby didn’t always have time to sit for the time it takes to make a large format image. So after awhile, I brought a second camera, my medium format Rollei, and did some of the portraits this way.

GL: The series is from between 2008-2011. Starting a long-term project is simple, but how do you know when to stop? What tells you that you have reached the end of your road with your theme?

00027032-SPP-TheDarkLightOfThisNothing02-009EMD: When I felt like I had built a representative body of portraits of the long-term residents of the area I scanned everything, did an edit and sat with the work for a month, and realized that what I had shot was only a part of the story I wanted to tell. Photographing the neighborhood consistently for a full year to cover the four seasons seemed like it would serve to express what I hoped for.

So I started that way, this time working with a smaller 35mm camera to be able to move more quickly and intimately in a documentary style. When this year was over, I sat and looked at the work again, and saw what I needed. The last handful of successful images came very slowly, over the course of two more years, but I was only going out looking for them occasionally. There came a point when I got several rolls of film back without any keepers and then I knew I had nothing more to say that would add meaning, and that the project was completed.

GL: Do you always reach for your camera when that happens? How do you react to what you see?

Erica_McDonald_07R_gatedEMD: I’ve always been what you might call a watcher. With or without camera, I’m framing and shooting mentally. My greatest weakness as a photographer might be that I sometimes get so involved watching that I forget to shoot, even though my camera is in hand; I try to train myself out of this, but I actually don’t mind it that much – sometimes this uninterrupted watching actually informs the way I shoot at another time.

GL: How did your choice of material influence the way the project took shape?

EMD: For The Dark Light of This Nothing reportage images I made an aesthetic decision ahead of time about what I wanted the work to feel like and that informed my choice to use Tri-X film pushed to 1600 ASA. The quality of light I wanted happened at, and after four o’clock in the afternoon, so that dictated my schedule. I knew how much I could open up the aperture when I lost the light and still be able to shoot above 1/30th of a second and built my project around these details – out at four whenever possible, and home when the light was really gone.

Structure really helps me, keeps excuses at bay and then within these confines I start to play little games to challenge myself. With this work, I had very set geographic boundaries that I extended by three blocks after the first year when I learned that some old timers thought of the boundaries of Park Slope differently. This was a huge gift to myself as sometimes I felt like a hamster on a wheel and would spend whole afternoons searching without even taking single image. The upside is that people in the neighborhood became used to seeing me, and if I was without my camera they’d ask why.

GL: What film camera did you use for the project? And why not digital?

Erica_McDonald_dl_partyhatEMD: In the end I used three film cameras for the body of work: the 4×5 Gowlandflex and the medium format Rolleiflex for the portraits, and the Leica M7 for the reportage. As this was my first long-term project there was no question that I wanted to shoot it on black-and-white film; so much of the work that has inspired me – Eugene Richard’s Dorchester Days, Bruce Davidson’s Brooklyn Gang and East 100th Street, was shot this way. Money wasn’t a serious consideration for the 35mm because I shoot very few images when I use the Leica and a friend was processing my film at his home affordably, and then I scanned everything. The cost of the 4″x5″ was killing me though, and this partly dictated my decision to also shoot the portraits with the Rollei.

GL: How much do you work with your images in post?

EMD: The goal is to get what I want in camera, so hopefully little post-production is needed. As for framing, all the images are as shot – I only crop if at the time I saw the image, I knew what I wanted but it was physically impossible to shoot it without the rest of the elements in frame – but usually these images aren’t in the final cut anyway.

GL: How do you measure light?

Erica_McDonald_howlEMD: Both my Rollei and Leica have built-in light meters, but I always carry a hand-held meter anyway and do my readings that way for street work unless the light changes swiftly in an unexpected way. There is a certain formality combined with intimacy that happens when you meter for a portrait that sets up the moment of shooting nicely – you move in close and talk with them for a second, they take the process seriously.

GL: How do you focus? Manually? AF?

EMD: The only time I might use auto focus is if I am shooting digitally – my film cameras don’t even have the option.

GL: The series is black and white. But you also do delicate color photos. What is your attitude to color? When do you go for black-and-white and when for color?

EMD: The choice to use color or black-and-white is usually easy to discern as an intuitive thing, but a bit complicated to explain. It has to do with the intended voice of the work and texture as well as the quality of light.

Erica_McDonald_parachutedropOne of the little games I play is that other than for an assignment, I can’t shoot with a camera or take an image unrelated to the project I am working on. I have a lot of miscellaneous films in the freezer, and cameras I don’t use for long stretches. Occasionally, when I’m not working on anything specific, I’ll load a camera and then purposefully forget if it is color or black-and-white, and just take note of the ASA – it is a sort of test to see if I can make strong imagery irrespective of the film color tone.

A reason that images can work without the knowledge if the film is color or black-and-white is because you are looking for elements beyond that to create meaning. And then the color becomes a bonus, or the black-and-white functions as it should because you are thinking structurally anyway, and that includes things like shade, and light and dark. It’s like when you take painting 101, you do what is called a value exercise when starting out, so you aren’t influenced by hue or actual color – instead you see relationships between grey tones. Vermeer did this in an elevated way by using his so-called “dead coloring” or underpainting method. Interestingly, it seems Vermeer may have used a camera obscura as part of this technique. Going back to the film question, it comes down to training yourself to see what is before you in terms of tonal value.

GL: I really like your ‘landscapes’ from the series (rain, snow, sleet). It’s dumb to put it like this, but they are ‘my kind of’ landscapes: landscapes/cityscapes with a context, not just pretty trees and stunning colors. How do you feel about landscapes in general?

Erica_McDonald_snowlightEMD: I’ve just returned from hiking in the remote wilderness and I didn’t photograph because the beauty is greater than I can translate through my camera – or perhaps simply already perfectly authored. Urban landscapes are made in conjunction with man, and I feel comfortable adding my voice to that equation.

GL: How much do you get involved in the lives of the people that you meet over such an extended period? How do you see yourself in such a project? Observer? Participator?

EMD: The experience of participating in others’ lives always has different meaning and results for me, and at times has yielded friendship and at other times taught me lessons about personal boundaries, but I always try to remain mindful about what my presence may mean for the persons I am asking something of. I know I have a responsibility when someone lets me see into their life.

GL: Have your subjects seen their pictures? Did you show them? Were they interested? How did they react? (People have such a hard time seeing themselves on pictures.)

EMD: Depending on the circumstance, sometimes I’ll make prints for the people I have photographed – I did that for Surf Manor, because these were the only recent portraits the residents had of themselves, and they very much wanted to see what I saw in them, and most displayed them proudly in their bedrooms. But that isn’t always practical, so I am sure to tell people my name and that I have a website, and the project name so if they are curious they can see if the image we made was part of the final story, and request a file.

When you work in a context where you will see the people again, it is terrific to get feedback. One man sent his portrait to his daughter, another significantly changed his attitude – for the better – toward the idea of me photographing ‘his neighborhood’, another thought his family wouldn’t like the image and asked me to take it down, so it varies but is usually a positive experience. On the other side, there is a man I run into weekly who I have photographed several times and interviewed, but he hasn’t taken the time to go look. I tease him that I’m going to stop him and make him watch the multimedia version of The Dark Light of This Nothing on the street one day.

(To see more of Erica McDonald’s pictures visit her website at ericamcdonaldphoto.com. All images © Erica McDonald and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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4"x5", 6x7, Afghanistan, analogue, black and white, color, documentary, Pakistan, Pentax, portrait, Sinar

Izabella Demavlys . Photographer

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Izabella Demavlys Without a Face

Without a Face

Izabella Demavlys started out as a fashion photographer. Years later, she is still interested in beauty; it’s just her definition of beauty that has changed. As I was looking at her portraits of acid attack victims in Pakistan, I realized: certain pictures you take (or see) and then you move on. But certain images you take (or see) and they pull you into themselves and stay with you.

GL: You photographed this woman in what seems like a traditional, painterly ‘Virgin Mary’ pose. Head slightly tilted, looking gently away. Her face is horribly disfigured. What is it like for you now, years later, when you look at it?

ID: I shot several women before I met Bushra. So, I was rather calm and focused. Bushra was also very comfortable with herself and we were actually joking around before I took this picture. She was one of the most grounded of all the women I shot for this particular project; she made me feel at ease.

The decision to travel to Pakistan had changed how I view things in life. I have an emotional connection with the ‘Without a Face’ series, more than with any other series I have done. It marks a huge shift in my life both spiritually and professionally.

GL: When talking about portraits we seldom discuss what they meant for the subject of the picture. There’s always a ‘contract’ between photographer and subject and a classical studio portrait is a combination of the photographer’s vision of the subject and of the subjects’ ideas about how they want to see themselves. Do you know how these women felt when you took their pictures?

Izabella Demavlys Without a Face 2ID: Because I was shooting with my Sinar 4″x5″, I was taking Polaroids as well, so all the women whom I shot for this project had a choice of seeing the picture before it was taken. Some of them didn’t want to see the Polaroids, some of them did and then changed their hair or make-up. Bushra, who is portrayed in this picture, actually changed the scarf and wanted the white scarf for the picture in instead.

I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to shoot her as the Virgin Mary. I think growing up and being surrounded with and collecting catholic iconography might have subconsciously made me portray her as the Virgin Mary when she put the white veil on.

To me Bushra represented a woman who, after so many years after her attack, had achieved a state of acceptance. She was smiling in all of her pictures and was hugging me and chatting away afterwards. She embodied everything that I went to look for in Pakistan – beauty and what that really meant to me.

GL: How do these pictures fit in your opinion into the centuries-old tradition of portrait painting/photography?

Bronzino - Eleonora di Toledo col figlio Giovanni - Google Art ProjectID: I grew up in a household where both my parents were interested in the arts and both of them painted a lot – I was surrounded by art books from all kinds of artist and painters, such as Van Eyck, Bronzino, Vermeer, to name a few, and they are painters that still inspire me today. When it comes to portrait photography I am inspired by Paul Strand, Alec Soth, Rineke Dijkstra. The interest in the tradition of portraiture and the aesthetics of the large-format camera will always be present in my work.

Looking back on my old fashion work, most of my editorials were portraiture/fashion stories inspired by other great portrait photographers and painters. I once did a whole black-and-white fashion editorial inspired by Bronzino’s – Eleonore of Toledo & her Son Giovanni de Medici – but it wasn’t too popular. Magazine editors always wanted my images to be sexier, when I wanted it to go the opposite direction. No wonder I got tired of the fashion world.

GL: An image, technically, is just the surface it takes up on paper or on a screen. These portraits simply do not allow you to stay there. It’s a vortex that pulls you in and I really cannot describe it in any other way, that what I feel is pure, unbearable pain. So, in a way, these are photographs that ‘undo’ themselves: they stop being stills, moments in time – they become an event, a history.

izabella-demavlys-ss3_8bitID: I didn’t want to reduce these women’s existence to one single event in time – though their stories and their scarred faces are parts of their identity. I want people to see this – as a reminder of what is wrong with our world and what needs to be changed.

I think when you look at the series of Saira in her home it forces you to try to understand what life after such event can look like, and that life still can mean happy moments spent with your family. Because life does move on for these women and they are forced to embrace and deal with these horrific events and they do that with so much grace and courage.

GL: You are also shooting a film about this topic. Instead of still images, you have decided to use moving images.

ID: I felt I needed to continue this project within another medium; I wanted to explore it even further and see if I could make a film about the same issue. Making a film is a totally different ball game and requires even more planning, structure and funding than working with a photography project. Suddenly, sound or what people are saying become a lot more important. I can shoot hours of film, beautiful cinematography, but without any interesting dialogue going on it stays just that – images. Editing is also a complicated process when it comes to film and I can already see that this part will be much harder than I have previously anticipated.

Someone told me once: “Forget about still photography, it has nothing to do with filmmaking!” He was right.

GL: What equipment did you use for these portraits?

Izabella Demavlys Afghanistan Pool 2ID: For my portrait work I use a Sinar 4″x5″, 150mm lens, f/5.6, shutter speed between 1/60-1/125. I used the natural light in the office of the NGO I was working with at that time. I always use film with my personal projects, and yes it’s an aesthetic choice. I like the 6×7 and the 4″x5″ format, I have problems with the 35mm format, it feels too cropped to me.

GL: What about post?

ID: In my previous work as a fashion photographer there was a huge amount of retouching. Now there is none, just some dogging and burning, that’s all. I never crop my images in post.

GL: What motivates your choice of black-and-white or color?

ID: I mostly work in color but sometimes I pick up a roll of black-and-white or two after I’ve shot all my color film.

izabella-demavlys-saria-2GL: In most of your other images from Pakistan and Afghanistan, e.g. in the Saira images you never go as close to your subjects as you do in these portraits. You stay ‘politely’ at a slightly greater distance; you’re close but not intimately close.

ID: I wanted it to be a traditional head and shoulders set of portraits. Working with a 4″x5″ camera and with the lens I had I needed to be careful not to get too close in order to avoid any distortions. But, out of respect for these women, it was never my intention to get closer than this. They are close-ups but not intimately close. I wanted details of their skin but made an artistic choice to keep the aperture wide open to keep parts of the image softer.

GL: The picture of the young woman feeding her child is another painfully beautiful religious icon. It is almost idyllic but there seems to be a deep shadow under the mother’s right eye. As a viewer it makes me uncomfortable, the idyll is broken. Am I making this up? Or is it really in the image?

Izabelle Demavlys Afghanistan Woman Feeding Her Child

ID: I travelled to the Bamyan province in Afghanistan where I visited the Bamyan Hospital founded by the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS). I took this photo at the female ward where mothers came in with their malnourished babies. In this particular case the baby was dying. (Afghanistan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world; almost 20% of children die under the age of five.)

When I met the mother and started to communicate with her through the translator – she smiled while her baby was passing away. She did have a black eye – probably due to domestic violence. It was a sad and awkward moment. She couldn’t even have been 20 years old.

We saw a lot of very young mothers at the ward with their very sick children that day.

GL: You move a lot between color and black-and-white. At what point do you decide if color is something you’re interested in or not? Do you always have two film cameras with you?

izabella-demavlys-afghanistan-ii-5No, in Afghanistan I worked with a single Pentax 6×7 camera. When I felt that I was ready with my color shots I moved to black-and-white film. I always start with color. This image was shot on T-Max 100 film, f/4, shutter speed between 1/30 -1/60 with a 55mm lens.

GL: What do you think about beauty? Do you think that this portrait is beautiful? (Or is it just pain organized into a frame, into color and grain?)

ID: I would like to ask you the question – what is beauty? Why can’t this portrait be beautiful? Can this woman change someone’s perspective about beauty?

I went from the fashion world where beauty is only ‘skin deep’ – what you see is what you get and people in this world will only judge you by that. But there has to be something more to it all doesn’t it? I think so. For me beauty radiates through how you make an example of yourself to others. How you directly or indirectly inspire others through your personal struggles and through your accomplishments in life.

But I guess as much as I tried to convey this in these images, I am the only one who can truly understand this because I have met these women in person and have felt their beauty. Most people will see only sadness and pain. I guess all the dimensions of a person cannot be viewed in one single photograph.

(To see more of Izabella Demavlys’ pictures visit her website at www.izabellademavlys.com. All images © Izabella Demavlys and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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35mm, 5D, 6x6, analogue, black and white, color, digital, Ektachrome, iPhone, New York, Rollei, street, studio, USA

William Coupon . Photographer

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Coney Island, New York City

Coney Island, New York City (Rolleiflex with Tesar Lens, 400 ASA Kodak B&W film)

GL: You’ve worked with every possible format that photography can offer. What motivates your choice for a given project? Is it a practical decision or an emotional one?

William-Coupon-Miles-Davis

Miles Davis (Rollei 6006, Kodak PanX 32 ASA)

WC: Completely practical as I am looking for the viewer to firstly view the content. Of course, that tends to become an emotional decision but I first want to see the information and not whether or not it is a platinum print or digital one. I have done both and it’s the information that you need to convey first and foremost.

I have two distinctly different approaches to photography. For one of them, I am a traditional studio photographer doing painterly like studio portraits. I set up one of my backdrops (that I painted in the early 80’s), set up one light source shot through a Chimera lightbox, set up my camera (this could be a Rollei 6006 or a Canon 5D) and the sitter has to be in one consistent setting: comfortable. Often, especially with the ethnographic images, the sitter is a bit bewildered but settles into their own quickly. A celebrity often has “set” poses – they’ve done this before, and often. Especially in the earlier days, I had always used Polaroid SX-70’s to give to the subjects. It was not only a “gift” and a record of the shoot, but it also gave them a clear idea of how I was depicting them in the studio setting.

William-Coupon-IMG_3607_2

Coney Island, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

I also do street photography: see it as it appears, and with photography, appearances are pretty much everything.

GL: What catches your attention?

WC: It depends. In the studio I look for something classic, something where the light hits the subject in a new way. With the street work, I look for irony and sometimes, edginess.

When I started in 1978, with Studio 54 and Coney Island and then on to my earliest Punk portraits from the Mudd Club, I thought I was really on to something. At that point I realized I could photograph the world. I got off to a pretty good start, but I realized it would take a lot more work than originally anticipated.

GL: Street photography is about ‘catching’ moments. How do you feel about this metaphor?

Coney Island, New York City

Coney Island, New York City (Rolleiflex with Tesar Lens, 400 ASA Kodak B&W film)

WC: I don’t hunt – I gather! You know it when you see it, and you don’t see it much. This process is more like learning to see. And then learning how to see again in the edit process. I am not a techy. I have my ‘tricks’ and they serve me well. It is, as I said, all about appearances.

GL: Technically: what cameras do you use? What motivates your choice?

WC: I started with the old Rolleis then went to Hassleblads then to the Rollei 6006’s and now I do digital with my 5D. For the street work I often just use the iPhone 4, or these days I have the Sony RX100.

William-Coupon-IMG_3823_2

Coney Island, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

The reasons? Content over ingredients, i.e. I am really only looking to get substance with design, and if that means the iPhone, then so be it. Of course, for street work there is the unobtrusive element to the camera size and the inherent dismissive nature to the fact that it’s a phone. People wouldn’t suspect I am getting the kind of quality I achieve on it – it’s not a “real” camera.

GL: Does holding an iPhone as opposed to a medium format film camera ‘change’ you? Does it change your relationship to your subject?

WC: I like to be as gadget-free as possible. The “tool” defines the moment. Therefore, an iPhone, being ‘flippant’ is a more disposable perceptor to both the subject and the photographer. It’s easy. It’s quick. And these days, it has good qualities so it’s very difficult to dismiss its capabilities.

GL: How do you perceive the iPhone? Freedom? Severe technical limitations?

William-Coupon-iPhone America-Betlehem-Steel-Pennsylvania

Bethlehem Steel Plant, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

WC: It’s a device that is quick with quality and leaves content intact. The phone is, from my experience, only good in VERY good light. It is not good in low light so I do not use it then. That in itself is a certain big limitation, especially when working with people.

GL: How do you measure light?

WC: In the studio I have the settings fairly well in place after 35 years. I do use a longer exposure to capture some of the ambient light. I like the aperture to be down to near f/16 to get decent depth of field. For the street, it’s a guessing game. I haven’t used a light meter in ages.

GL: Has the amount ‘post’ you do changed with the transition from film to digital?

William Coupon Neil Young

Neil Young (Rollei 6006, EPR 120, Ektachrome 64 ASA)

WC: I never like to crop. For decades I only did square format, the older Rollei black and whites were shot as straight as can be with 400ASA film. The studio portraits are shot on low-speed film, like EPR120, and Ektachrome 64 film. I use an app for the iPhone shots called Plastiq. I love it as it gives the impression of a 50’s technicolor veneer but retains depth and grain in the dark areas.

In the digital darkroom I hope to do very little and I stick to that generally speaking. It is about the content and the contact that has already taken place that determines the image. I am not particularly a technical person and I don’t think that will change going forward.

GL: Could you imagine doing a ‘classical’ studio portrait session with someone well-known on the iPhone? How do you think that would work?

WC: Not so good. For the studio work, when there is that option, you may as well go with more quality in your film. After all, there you are not constrained by time or space, so what would be the point, unless for some stylistic choice. And for that alone it may be intriguing. But for the studio I like the tightest grain possible with a camera that gives me the greatest mobility.

I usually use the iPhone for candid shots and street images. I could use it for studio work but the dynamics don’t really work there as the studio is a controlled environment – the cameras in that environment should also be of greatest quality to take advantage of the lighting.

William-Coupon-iPhone America-Manhattan

Freedom Tower from Fulton Street, New York City (from the series ‘iPhone America’)

It’s more important to see it than to photograph it. Of course, without documenting what you see, you would not be able to share it.

(To see more of William Coupon’s pictures visit his website at www.williamcoupon.com. All images © William Coupon and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer also teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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black and white, color, compact, D700, digital, documentary, Lumix, nikon

Annalisa Brambilla . Photographer

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The more pictures I look at, the less I am able to say why I feel attracted to some images. Sometimes the answer is not so much in the image itself but in the emotional attachment that forms between me, the viewer and the photo. It’s a strange umbilical cord that ties me to what I see, it has the power to turn me into the photographer who took the picture.

GL: Two pairs of feet, one black and white, the other color, two pictures from two different series but there’s some playfulness and intimacy that they share.

Annalisa Brambilla As If 9AB: These two images are parts of completely different works of mine, and also from very different phases of my life, both personally and photographically. There is not connection between them, at least not at a conscious level. The black and white image was taken at a spa in Argentina a few years ago. I decided I was going to work on my first proper photojournalistic story. I took a month and a half unpaid leave and I went off following a story about water, water scarcity and abundance. I had both a DSLR and a compact digital camera, for which i had a waterproof case. That’s what I used for this photo.

Annalisa Brambilla As If 5

As If, the series this picture is part of, came together when I decided to format my hard drive and bin it all. I ended up being caught up in a crisis about the meaning of photography. I could not find myself in what I was doing and I didn’t like my photographs. I started looking here and there more with a nostalgic feeling than anything else, and all of a sudden I looked at some images in a different way. I had my little humble epiphany and As If came out.

GL: A photographer about to ‘burn’ her pictures? May sound romantic, but it must have been a huge crisis.

Annalisa Brambilla As If 1AB: I was feeling defeated in my hopes, dreams and ambitions. I was about to press ‘confirm formatting’ when a friend of mine phoned me inviting me out. I told him what was going on and he suggested to leave it there for the moment and go out. I did. I took the camera with me. I got drunk. I took photos and the following day I turned up at the last day of the workshop that I was attending that week with my series. The series wasn’t bad, and I never formatted the hard drives.

Annalisa-Brambilla-My-Star-Wars-Family-18The color image is from My Star Wars Family. I took all the images mostly during the three months I lived with this family in 2011/2012. In this case the subject was quite clear from day one, even though it became clearer while in the process. As far as I remember I was helping one of the children taking a bath and Ibu, the little one, was messing around with us.

GL: How do you respond to the situations around you? How do your pictures get taken in the technical sense?

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family AsleepAB: I don’t have any mantra, any exercise. Sometimes I am luckier than other times. More often than not, when I really think I got a picture situation and all is there the result is pretty disappointing. At other times, as I go through what I shot, I find something I like. I see something that I didn’t really realize the moment it happened. But in all honesty, I wish I could draw and make all the pictures I didn’t take. I have the feeling those are the best ones.

GL: What are some of the best pictures that you didn’t take?

AB: Moments and portraits, some situations. Mostly portraits of people, interactions…. Those things you see and surprise you. You have no time to grab the camera, but also you may feel you’re intruding. I have this. And I let it go, I guess.

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family kitchenAs for technicalities, I’m not so fussy about that. I try to get the best possible file so that afterwards I can work on it more easily. Having said this, I don’t post-produce much and if I think a picture works I get over the fact that it is maybe overexposed or underexposed, badly composed or focused and use it anyway.

GL: Technically: what camera(s) did you use? Film? Digital?

AB: A digital SLR, a Nikon D700. I mostly use a 50mm, f/1.4 and sometimes an old 35-70mm, f/2.8 lens. I used to have an old Nikon film camera, darkroom and all and when I moved on to digital I thought of getting a Nikon so I could swap lenses and carry on with both digital and film. I, regrettably, never did. The color image was taken with this camera, I don’t remember the settings, probably high ISO, around 1600 or so, and maybe f/2.8, but definitely no more than f/5.6 and 1/60.

The black and white image was taken with the Lumix GF2, which I use with the 20mm, f/1.7 pancake lens. The settings were on auto. The waterproof case wasn’t the most perfect and I could not control the camera at all.

GL: How do you choose what camera to use for a given story?

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family picnicAB: So far, I have mostly used my Nikon D700. But I used the GF2 a lot during the family project. I really had to try to be ready all the time. I was staying with them as an au-pair, so I was also working and looking after 4 children. No time at all to plan anything and the house was quite big, three floors. So I would leave a camera here and the other one there and grab the one that was closer to me when I needed it.

GL: How do you prefer to operate your cameras?

AB: I rely on the camera’s light meter, shoot one image, check it, and compensate exposure accordingly. I mostly use aperture priority, or manual mode, depending on the light situation.

GL: You’ve mentioned that you don’t like to do too much in post. How much is that ‘not too much’?

Annalisa Brambilla My Star Wars Family mouthAB: I don’t retouch my images very much, I get bored quite quickly so I do an overall adjustment and some details, depending on the photo. The color image is very close to the original, I balanced the white a bit better and added a contrast curve, just to adjust the image’s depth.

The black and white is a different story, I cropped it a bit and turned it into black and white. The series this picture is part of was my first attempt at translating feelings into images. In a certain way black and white simplifies your life, it’s both direct and evocative. I wanted the light in the upper side of the image to be like an explosion, so I stretched the contrast there playing with layers and masks.

GL: How do you feel about color? With the My Stars Family you are sticking to color. With the As If series, it’s all black and white.

AB: I think color and black and white. I’m not at all a fan of the strict rules some have about photography, about styles, signatures and all. Different stories deserve different approaches and require different expressions. My Star Wars Family had to be color, it was such a strong element in general, it would have been crazy to erase it. As If had to be black and white, and not only because the pictures came all from different series/times/places. Black and white and a few shades of grey were the right colors for transposing what I was feeling, and this is what it was all about.

GL: In my mind, there are two kinds of photography. One is more about the individual image: you happen to create something that is just right. The other is more about the act of photography: the beauty is in the series, in the repeated act of taking pictures.

AB: Yes, one is more about aesthetics and the magic of photography in itself, and the other more about the process. Evocation vs narrative, unless you are someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson and you get the two to marry and ‘live happily ever after’. I find fewer and fewer single images that ‘prick’ me. It’s more often series. Also a story on a page, the layout/design, the sequence and size of images – all that, which belongs to making a book grabs me more at the moment.

GL: How do you feel about photography now?

AB: It’s like an intense relationship. There’s always tension.

(To see more of Annalisa Brambilla’s pictures visit her website at annalisabrambilla.com. All images © Annalisa Brambilla and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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black and white, digital, Johannesburg, nikon, street

Yolanda van der Mescht . Photographer

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Yolanda van der Mescht 1GL: When I first saw the picture of the Man on the Bridge, I thought he was a preacher calling to God. And there was some intangible contradiction between his formal gesture and the informal urban setting that I found very exciting.

YM: While the majority of my photographs are unchoreographed, this was part of a conceptualised shoot. The photograph was taken on the Nelson Mandela bridge in Johannesburg at 9 o’clock on a winter’s morning. I wanted to connect with the post-apartheid spirit of South Africa. The man (a friend of my sister’s) is a business analyst who holds dual citizenship of Nigeria and South Africa. I was interested in exploring the dichotomy of being a successful foreign black man in South Africa.

GL: How did you come up with the shot? Was it all prompted by the location? Or was the primary force his body posture?

YM: The location and posture were incidental. I wanted a city landscape as a backdrop, we happened to pass the bridge and I was immediately drawn to it. Initially he was just walking along the bridge and then as the shoot progressed that barrier between subject and photographer disappeared and he was no longer playing a part but just being. For me photography is more about feeling than thought. Words that come to mind are intuition, premonition, magic. I see photography as a form of metaphysical alchemy.

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 2I have always been drawn to photography. I got my first film SLR when I was 21, but at the time I couldn’t afford the cost of film and developing. The camera ended up gathering dust and I eventually sold it. When I moved to Hong Kong in 2006 I started taking photographs with my mobile phone camera. I took photos of anything, whatever caught my eye. I was smitten. I bought a Canon G7, then upgraded to a Nikon D7000 and now I have a Nikon D800. Photography has become a way to express my personal thoughts and feelings and I find that it is a lot less incriminating than words. It also speaks to anyone anywhere in the world as it transcends the constraints of language, it is in itself a universal language.

GL: What equipment did you use for this picture?

YM: I used the Nikon D7000. At the time it was my latest acquisition and I was keen to try it out. As I am self-taught I am cautious to spend a lot of money on equipment. The picture is uncropped. I used a Nikkor 18-105mm DX VR Lens, which is the standard lens that comes with the camera. Shutter speed: 1/400; f-stop: f/5.6; ISO: 100.

GL: How much do you usually work with in ‘post’ with your stills?

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 1YM: It definitely depends on the shot. With this picture the ‘post’ was limited to a black and white conversion and some minor adjustments in the brightness, contrast and midtones. As I find post-production rather tedious and I would not entrust it to anyone else, it has definitely motivated me to become a better photographer in the sense that I try to minimise the need for post-processing.

GL: Most of the images on your website are black and white. What draws you to it?

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 4YM: I took this picture with the intention of turning it to black and white. I have nothing against colour, but I love black and white. If the composition and perspective are not perfect the picture might succeed as a colour photograph but definitely not as a black and white photograph. In a black and white photograph there is nothing that distracts the viewer from the emotion, the message. I think Robert Frank said, “Black and white are the colours of photography.”

GL: Do you ever work on film?

YM: I don’t work on film, but if I was not faced with time, space and financial constraints I would absolutely love to. I have succumbed to the instant gratification of digital photography.

GL: I noticed that in your street photography you are usually quite far from your subjects. You observe from a distance.

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 3YM: I am an introvert by nature, so I am acutely aware of personal space. When I shoot portraits there is certain level of familiarity and intimacy. The subject is obviously aware of me and my camera, the subject has to let me in, connect with me. For a few hours we become emotionally involved and I am allowed to enter his or her personal space, I can get up close and personal with my subject. But with street photography I am just a passive observer, I don’t want my presence known. I don’t want to alter the course of events, I don’t want to influence anything. I am just an outsider looking in, leaving my subject unaffected, untouched. Distance definitely makes this easier. I guess there is a certain amount of voyeurism attached to my street photography.

GL: What do you like about the Man on the Bridge the most?

YM: I like the lines and his expression, to me we stopped the time-space continuum at exactly the right moment. I take pictures because I want to. The feeling of capturing a moment that will never be repeated again is unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Yolanda Van Der Mescht - Street 5

(To see more of Yolanda van der Mescht’s pictures visit her website at www.yolandavandermescht.com. All images © Yolanda van der Mescht and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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35mm, 5D, analogue, black and white, canon, color, digital, documentary, leica, rangefinder, travel, USA

Elaine Mayes . Photographer

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Foreword

This blog is just as much about my love photography as about my interest in the people who create images. But to be honest, I am more interested in people than in photography. L1ghtb1tes is a hi-tech excuse for me to meet people. Dear Elaine, thank you for meeting me and letting me to get to know you a little bit in this strange, 21st century manner. And for those of you who do not know her yet, well, meet Elaine Mayes.

The Coach

Elaine Mayes Autolandscapes Coach

GL: Simple, elegant, lonely – these are the words that came to my mind when I first saw your picture of this coach.

EM: Well, this is the old bus image… I like it a lot. It is part of a series I did called, Autolandscapes. The series is from my moving car while driving from San Francisco to Massachusetts in 1971. It was 6 AM, I was driving my car East at about 65 mph in Utah. I really got lucky.

GL: How did this picture happen to you?

EM: Most all my photos are spontaneous reactions to what I see. In the case of the Autolandscapes I intended making an image each time the landscape changed. I love the idea of skill combined with serendipity. I also was interested in formal issues and the way when one shoots out the side of a car the near landscape is blurry. I further wanted to make images that felt still and like there was not movement at all. I wanted to see what normally goes by too fast to be seen the way a camera can stop motion.

GL: What camera did you use?

EM: A Leica rangefinder camera, and the shutter speed was 1/500th of a second at either f/16 or f/11. I always try to have my camera ready. I judge my exposure by knowing how the film will respond to particular light circumstances. I used a 50mm Leitz lens and Tri-X film that I processed myself using Rodinol or a similar developer. There was no digital system then, but now I use digital, and my newer Autolandscapes have even better stop-motion because the system can employ much higher shutter speeds than a 35mm film camera.

I used a Leica because it makes high quality pictures, and I like the rangefinder system because it allows me to see the image without seeing any distortion caused by a lens. I prefer normal or wide angle lenses because I like maximum depth-of-field.

Time

elaine-mayes-across-america-13

GL: Why did you decide in 2010 to embark on a new (photographic) journey that in many ways is a reflection on the 1971 trip?

EM: I photographed across the country West to East only twice. My two trips called Autolandscapes (1971) and Across America (2010) were my way of recording my moving from one coast to the other with the car full of my belongings, nothing more. The journeys came first. The decision to photograph them came second. All my work in some manner reflects my life, as my subject matter comes from photographing my life experiences. I am not trying to document my life, but my photography always accompanies my life, and in this sense I see my images as creating a diary of my life experiences.

GL: What has changed for you in those four decades?

elaine-mayes-across-america-10EM: Now the world is more crowded than it was in 1971. What has changed for me is that I have gotten older and have had many more life experiences. In 1971 I was 34 years old. Now I am 76 years old and have experienced more dimensions to life than when I was younger. I no longer teach photography. In 1971 I had been teaching photography for only three years. I have moved to many places since that time, and I have lived nearly a lifetime.

GL: To my mind both Autolandscapes and Across America are about time. First, about time in the sense that you also mention, in the form of more or less motion blur, i.e. a side-effect of shutter speed. Second, it is about your perception of how time passes while on the road. Personal time. And finally, it is about time as a reflection, time measured in decades when you look at your American landscape and you realize not only how much it has changed but also how much you have changed.

Elaine Mayes Autolandscapes HighwayEM: For me both trips are about the same, except I have had a lot of practise and have done many other projects in between. None of my interest is beyond the way I see and the way a camera can work except for my formal horizontal idea the first time, and my long-standing idea that I am interested in things in the world. I am primarily an observer and feel that what I have to express is part of what I make, not something extra or added.

None of this work had for me anything to do with time passing except that being in a car for hours can be boring, and I wanted to distract myself from being bored. Of course when I photographed during driving I was taking the idea I began with and went one step further. The photographing had turned into an idea. The blur to me is not a side-effect of shutter speed, but in a physical sense is about what happens with relative motion seen up close and then photographed. Then with the digital camera one can stop the blur except for up close because a faster shutter speed is possible. I believe we don’t look at the blur because it is distressing to the eye, until of course one decides to focus on it. I always choose my “good photos” after the fact, when I see them either on contact sheets or in digital files.

Digital

GL: Technology plays a major part in both journeys. First, your beautiful Leica. And now a digital camera. Why did you choose digital the second time?

EM: I changed to digital for economic and personal reasons. I lost most of my income in 2008 when this country had its downturn. I lost my major source of income (the bank I had invested in all my life went broke) and have been trying to learn to operate with less. This has meant much confusion and living-style changes. It has meant moving around and renting my houses for income. Along with several times staying with friends because I rented my houses, I moved back to New York from Oregon, renting my Oregon house, and in the moving back I decided to repeat my focus on taking pictures while traveling.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes06I chose digital for practical reasons. The world changed, and I needed to change with it. I did not decide to minimise blur, but I found that my digital camera when set on automatic can render a sharper image because it uses faster shutter speeds. I learn with every effort, and I try always to keep learning. I wish the world had stayed the same, but life in fact is about change, and the cultural changes that I don’t much like are the way it is. I feel it is important to go with the flow, to embrace what is necessary in our changing culture.

elaine-mayes-across-america-07Also, in 2010 my eyesight was very bad, and I broke my glasses the first night out, so my partner, Randy had to do all the driving. All the photos on the second trip are from the passenger seat. I needed cataract surgery, and I could see well enough to shoot pictures with my practised method but not well enough to drive a car. I bought drugstore close-up glasses so I could see the image later. I used autofocus and auto settings, primarily with my new 5D Canon camera with its zoom used mostly on its most telephoto setting which was about 60mm. This meant I was free to take pictures without much technical consideration.

By the way, I always set my digital cameras 1/3 stop under so as to not overexpose the whites. On the second trip I decided to look in any direction not just out the side, and I was thrilled to discover that the shutter speed was making the background very sharp indeed, and also the foreground was less blurry. I also used a G10 point and shoot Canon when I left my battery charger in a motel room. The Canon 5D with its zoom was the cheapest good way for me to continue working. Its limitation is its inaccurate finder.

Reflection v. translation

GL: How much do you usually work with in ‘post’ with your stills?

EM: I like digital printing. I like digital photography less than analog otherwise. I prefer digital printing because it means more corrections can be accomplished than when using a darkroom. (I had given up working in the darkroom because it was impossible to maintain one while living in a number of places.) But I almost never crop my pictures because I believe the entire frame is the photo, and I like the 35mm film shape.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes04I remain interested in light and how to render light with both technologies. I fear that digital-only trained photographers will never know the wonder of light and light senstive materials. I bring this kind of knowledge to my digital photography. I never manipulate except to correct color and contrast. I have never been interested in “creating” photographs but always interested is seeing them and then making prints that are true to what I see and what the camera can do. For me the difference between analog and digital is reflection v. translation. I remain attached to the idea of reflection, and I bring this idea to my digital efforts.

Seeing what there is to see

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes08GL: There are obvious visual parallels between the two series. Were you looking out for these? Or does this come from the nature of the project, as there are only so many types of views you can have from your car?

EM: I was not trying to be parallel. I was just trying to photograph in the best way possible with the materials at hand. I did realize that I was revisiting an old project, but I never thought about the changes except when they occurred. I am not much interested in technique but want to see the world. I try to live in the present and see what I see, and my entire life I have been trying to see what I see only.

elaine-mayes-across-america-05The main difference between the two groups is letting go of the horizontal idea some of the time during the second round. Both trips were for me journeys that I photographed quite deliberately with the equipment I already was using at the time. Both trips involved primarily seeing what was there to see. I found more culture near the road on the second trip. The first trip was only a few years after the interstates were built, and the roadside culture then was primarily truck stops. Now there is more traffic and more business next to the road.

GL: Why did you choose color for the second series? To avoid nostalgia?

EM: I have been using color since 1978 and also before for commercial work. It was not possible to make for me good color images in 1971. But as technology changes, I do my best to use the best of the new methods. My work primarily has been in color since 1978, so choosing color was natural. In 1971 color was not as good as it can be now. I originally was worried about permanence, and black-and-white was the only way to get images with a long life. With digital the images when properly stored and printed using archival materials can last. I love black and white, but color is what the world is about. Black and white offers greater abstraction; color shows us more or less the colors we see without cameras. I appreciate showing the colors of things in the world. I say more or less because the materials used always affect the results. Photography is always an abstraction because with black and white or color the world becomes flat.

GL: How does digital photography ‘feel’ to you compared to your Leica? Did your DSLR change your approach during the second trip?

EM: I do not change my approach except for the limitations of the technique availalble to me. I do take a lot more photos with digital because I can, and digital does not cost as much as did film, so I can expose more exposures without spending a fortune.

elaine-mayes-autolandscapes14I like and prefer fixed lenses, so that seeing is part of my collaboration with the equipment I use. I would love an M9 Leica camera, and maybe one day I will be able to afford one. I have lost a lot of potential photos using point and shoot cameras, and I find it difficult to take the pictures I want to take. Maybe someone will award me a Leica soon, or maybe I will sell some prints so I can afford to purchase one.

If I could afford a good quality rangefinder Leica I would get three lenses and not look back. I would get a 35mm, a 50mm and just possibly a 105mm. But I would most likely use only a 50mm and a 35mm. Maybe I would get a 28mm, too. I like to use one simple approach without changing my vantage point by using a zoom. I like to work with my eyes, my emotions and the materials I have. I believe that the technical part should be best for what I want to do. I am not the least interested in technique except for making the best seen photos I can.

(To see more of Elaine Mayes’s pictures visit her website at www.elainemayesphoto.com. All images © Elaine Mayes and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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8"x10", analogue, black and white, Earlsfield, London, London, studio

Jason Pierce-Williams . Photographer

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Jason Willams 1 Tramp

GL: I was lucky enough to be in your studio when you took this picture. I have never seen anyone actually use such an ancient, large format camera and I had the impression that you were ‘just’ taking a picture. It was about an hour later, when you developed and showed me the 8”x10” negative that I realized that looking at it was drawing me into a mysterious world, where everything was in some ways more real than the person who has just left the studio.

JPW: I took this picture as part of an ongoing photographic project which I’m calling “Local”. This is a series of large format portraits using black & white sheet film and a full plate field camera.

Being something of a photo historian, I am interested in old things. Old cameras, old film, old, often dead photographers. I am also intrigued when technologies can be stripped down to their most basic forms. A paper plane floating through the air is fascinating and delightful. A 747 jet, although the same principle may be involved, is alien and somewhat intimidating. I feel the same about cameras. The camera which I am using for this project, is a more than 100 year-old Sands and Hunter full plate bellows camera, made on the Strand, in a location which now sells a superior make of umbrellas, if I’m not mistaken.

GL: This picture is the opposite of what you’re doing as a wedding or a street photographer, when you’re catching amazing moments. Here you prepare for you picture. But in the end, you’re still capturing a single moment that needs to reflect something essential about your subject. How would you describe the difference between street or documentary photography and studio photography in this creative/emotional sense?

JPW: This is a complex question as it points to both the underlying common project of photography as well as its diversity. The most obvious answer – although not necessarily the most accurate or complete one – might be that most street photography is more or less captured through stealth. Hence the enduring appeal of the small, quiet Leica and Contax cameras. Small and quiet but also so fast and intuitive that one can capture shots which no other system could achieve. An old and enduring argument is that through stealth, one captures a more intimate, private, unguarded representation of the subject since they are unaware of the act of photography.

On the other hand, when there is a more explicit “contract” between photographer and subject – when the subject is aware of having their photograph taken – then this may elicit a whole gamut of responses as the subject attempts, perhaps even struggles, to project the desired construct which, somewhere in their psyche, they perceive as being most representative of who or what they are.

This rarely happens in fast street photography. Subjects generally don’t have the time to gather their wits enough to give this idea of self representation / projection a great deal of thought. But it does happen when the contract between photograph and subject is more explicit. And it is here that portrait photography becomes, for me, more intriguing. With stealth photography, a photographer can choose their moment and record, or even, to a certain degree, construct narrative within an image, shooting in such a way as to elicit or provoke a certain conjecture about the subject’s place in and relevance to the environment in which they have been observed and subsequently frozen.

This can be interesting enough, but it is the nature of street photography, or street portraiture even, that the identity of the subject is very much woven into the wider environment and narrative of the “street”.

GL: I’ve seen you work in your studio. You moved with a clear purpose. There was nothing stealthy about your approach. The opposite: I felt like you were going for ‘the kill’ with an undeniable determination.

Jason Willams 5 Pastry ChefJPW: A studio is more like a laboratory; empty, functional, faceless, it generally has no other purpose than to examine the subject under totally controlled conditions. The lighting is controlled by the photographer. The subject, to a degree, is controlled by the photographer, in terms of clothing, physical position, even facial expression in the more commercial examples. But the major difference between studio and most street photography/portraiture is the nature of the contract. For a start, it is undeniably there. The minute a subject steps into a studio there is a set of shared, although often elusive, even contradictory expectations. And it is how this contract plays itself out in the image which often makes the “straight-up” portrait such a fascinating document. A straight up portrait often says as much about responses to photography itself as it does about the subject. In fact, one could go so far as to say that this is what straight up portraiture actually is; a document recording a subjects response to the action of being photographed.

GL: What do you see in the tramp’s eyes?

JPW: The image of the tramp is a particularly powerful, albeit elusive example of all this. I could have shot him any number of times, walking to and fro around the local backstreets, and this may have yielded interesting results. But the studio image really struck me. It is a young man, shabby, with a poor posture, peering into the camera with large brown eyes. But the eyes give nothing away. He meets what he must understand will be the public’s gaze with a sort of weary pragmatism, disinterest, even. It is a gaze which reveals absolutely nothing at all. It is entirely unengaging – and hypnotic.

The clothes, the posture, the mad, frazzled hair are all indicators of what should be an individual under a certain degree of stress. And yet he appears as calm as Buddha.

The image of the local tramp, for me at least, is one of the better examples in this series of portraits, of what we might call, (trivially perhaps), the “enigmatic” in straight up studio portraiture.

GL: You’re obviously emotionally attached to your equipment. What is your full plate camera like?

JPW: It is remarkably easy to use, particularly when used in a studio environment. I rebuilt the original lens board to take a more modern Compur, 8″ lens, yielding a moderately wide angle of view for an 8”x10” format. The camera is a full plate 10”x12″ format, but I masked off the viewing screen so that I can shoot 8×10″ film in the modified dark slides.

Jason Willams 3I chose this format through historical interest, but also because large format, as distinct from 35mm, is a very, very different experience altogether, both for the photographer and certainly for the subject. Peering into a 100-year-old antique machine, for probably the first (and last) time in one’s life, can elicit an entirely different response than a grab shot on a smaller, hand-held format.

GL: So is large format a technical or a philosophical choice for you?

JWP: Well, the results are breathtaking. There is a level of detail which 35mm, or even medium format could never hope to achieve. And it is this which, at the technical, or optical level if you like, lends these images such an immediate, inescapable veracity. A tangeable, almost shocking realism which, as the format gets larger and larger, reveals more and more, in my opinion, of the central tenets of what photography actually is: the power it can wield as a document of not only reality but also, in a sense, meta, even super-reality.

It talks and elicits responses about reality which is not something we naturally do. Our perceptions of reality are at best, dubious, at worst, chaotic, barely considered at all. Looking at a photograph is like stopping time and space – which is precisely, at the technical level, what a photograph is. My point is that when an image also yields a level of detail to be studied, at our leisure, in a way we could never, ever hope to achieve in our everyday scrutiny of the world, then the image, as I say, becomes not only a document of reality, but a document about reality. There is only one other artistic, intellectual enterprise that I can think of which comes close to achieving this – I mean provoking and challenging thought and conjecture about what we think we mean when we consider reality – and that is not a great departure from meta-realism, in a word, surrealism.

GL: How do you light these portraits?

Jason Willams 2JPW: It was and is important to me that all these images are lit and shot in exactly the same way. I may shoot tighter or looser depending on the relevance of body shape, clothing, posture etc, but the light is the same, one large soft box over a Bowens strobe, a large reflector set to the other side, a reasonable amount of distance between the subject and the background to yield a little blur, and that’s it.

The reason for keeping everything the same, however, is that it is important to me that the photography doesn’t get in the way, so to speak. It all needs to be democratic and even-handed, otherwise there would naturally be issues as to why I shot one subject in a certain way and not another. It is important, if the subjects are to be given any kind of voice, however elusive that voice may be, that the hand of the photographer is as unobtrusive as possible.

GL: What about aperture and shutter speed? What motivates your choices?

JPW: I used a light meter on the first couple of shots and got f/22 – f/32. I still check but it’s pretty much a formality now. Shutter speed doesnt mean a great deal but I keep it at around 1/125th as older lenses can start to get a bit suspect at slower speeds. The aperture is more important of course, particularly shooting on such a huge format. The larger the format, the shallower the depth of field when shooting at equivalent distances since the focal lengths become longer and longer.

In short, shooting at f/5.6 is virtually impossible, and largely pointless. Besides, I don’t want massively shallow depth-of-field, I’m going to get them anyway on the tighter shots, even at f/22!

GL: Do you work with your portraits in post?

Jason Willams 4JPW: With regards to post-production, I’m very sorry to admit that I scan the images. I want to, and will, contact the negatives onto double weight fibre based paper at some point, but right now, the quickest way of getting the images out there is, of course, to scan. It’s a pity, as the whole thing just winds up as pixels again, but it doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the online viewing experience. Well, it makes no difference at all beyond the purely intellectual objection of knowing they are scans and not prints….because I just told you!

(To see more of Jason Pierce-Williams’ pictures visit his website at wwww.jasonwilliamsphotography.com. All images © Jason Pierce-Williams and are reproduced with the permission of the author.)

György is a cinematographer teaching photography courses in London. To book a class or for more information visit www.dslrphotographycourses.com.

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