Review of 1992 Contax S2 60th Anniversary Camera
Two years ago at a tram stop in Antwerp, I misstepped on the pavement's edge and fell over. It was a bit embarrassing and it wasn't helped by my own wife and daughter doubled up with laughter at my expense. 'Why didn't you put your hands out to break your fall' they asked. To them, it was the strange rolling fall of a short round man, a funny slow-motion accident. It could have been because as I fell my instinct was to protect the camera hanging around my neck. The fall wasn't that bad a couple of small cuts and a moment of humiliation but at least the camera was undamaged. Subconsciously I decided to risk injury to my elbows and knees rather than my CONTAX S2.
For me, having a strong connection with a camera, understanding it so that it seamlessly becomes a part of your shooting is important. I think that only by knowing your camera intimately can you concentrate fully on its primary purpose, making photographs. And because I don't have the capacity to know a multitude of different cameras nor do I want to, I do not have a big collection preferring to keep and use only what I need. That and I really don't like the idea of cameras sitting on my shelves unused.
One camera I do know well is my over-protected CONTAX S2. I sought and bought this camera for many reasons but overwhelmingly what attracted me most was its pure simplicity. Released in 1992 to celebrate Contax's 60th anniversary the S2 was a pared down, totally manual camera with limited features. In Contax's own words 'Simple is Best'. By selecting mechanical over electronic the S2 was an uncomplicated camera that turned its back on automation. In the 90s the best 35mm SLR's were packed with electronics and sophisticated automation reaching a zenith of auto-everything, most did not even have a winding lever. So Contax's daring gamble to do away with all but the most essential of camera operations was indeed novel for its time. Instead, they made a fully manual camera with a shock protected mechanical metal shutter that could fire at up to 1/4000 second. Dust and weatherproofed, using a traditional winding system, it was a reliable camera that was not dependent on batteries or electronics. Contax continued with its simple is the best philosophy on the S2's metering system. Fitted only with a spot meter that precisely targets and measures light in the central area of the viewfinder. Uninfluenced by illumination outside this critical area and with no other assistance from the camera it allows a photographer full creative control. Finally, the S2 was designed to use Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses, arguably one of the best ranges of photographic lenses ever designed.
I knew almost from the moment I got my S2 that it had the potential to be the right camera for me. A small, solidly built body that is designed with a nod to the classic SLR's of the 70s. The chassis is dressed with a warm-silver coloured titanium shell and wrapped in a classic black Contax leather surround. The pentaprism hump is wide and low with the CONTAX name finely embossed in black across its breadth. Dials either side control the speed and ISO selection, both turn with a precise positive movement. Next to the winding crank is the shutter button with cable release thread and engineered locking ring that completes the elegant top. The viewfinder is bright and has an interchangeable focusing screen. My camera is fitted with the standard FU 4 screen, a horizontal split microprism design. There are at least three other alternative designs available. With only the shutter speeds running vertically on the right side the viewfinder, it is uncluttered and clear. The set speed flashes red while the spot meter reading remains illuminated. Point the camera at something mid-grey read the number and set the dial or something like that!
And that is what I like most about the S2, it's a blameless camera. Blameless because you choose the only three important things when it comes to taking a photograph. ISO, aperture and speed. You direct the spot meter and you interpret its reading and that’s it. If there is a problem with the photo it's your fault nothing else. At first I thought this way of shooting would be a challenge but in fact, it is liberating. Free from options like metering and priority modes, exposure compensation, a viewfinder packed with flashing numbers and icons, with the S2 I am able to concentrate on taking photos. Allowing a photographer to take photos is what this camera does best. Simply best.
CONTAX S2 Specifications
Type: 35mm metal focal plane shutter SLR camera
Lens mount: Contax/Yashica mount
Shutter: Mechanically controlled vertical-running metal focal plane shutter
Shutter Speeds: B (bulb) 1 sec. - 1/4000 sec.
Flash Sync: X setting at 1/250 sec. or slower
Selftimer: Mechanical up to 10 sec. with mirror up
Exposure Control: Manual, TTL spot (ø 5mm centre of viewfinder)
Viewfinder: 95% field of view: 0.82 magnification
Multiple Exposure: Available using mechanical auto-resetting leaver under film advance winder
Depth of Field: Preview button
Dimensions: 135 x 90 x 51mm
Using SilverFast Ai Studio 8 Scanner Software
In my experience scanning is a bit of a dark art. It's not so much the actual scanning of the film, most modern scanners are straightforward to use with film flatness and focus height being the key issues. It’s what follows from there, the software driven inversion and colour correction. I've been scanning my own negatives for over eight years and have tried several different methods. Starting with EpsonScan then a short stint using VueScan before moving on to ColorPerfect with its requirement to make linear scans. These linear scans were produced with all scanning software settings turned off, so making a raw scan of the negative including its orange base and capturing all tonal and colour details unaffected by software at the scanning stage.
After weeks of tests and work with ColorPerfect, I decided that it was not for me, but I felt I had learned a valuable insight into the scanning process. I concluded that scanning was a three-stage process consisting of using hardware to capture and digitise data from a film negative, then using software to invert and colour correct the scan. Knowing that negative inversions were also possible with Photoshop I developed a workflow based around making linear scans, inversion, colour correction and post processing all with Photoshop, a sort of one-stop-shop.
I never thought this method was scanning nirvana but for some time it served me well. That was until I purchased an Epson V800 scanner. With its better optics and adjustable height scanning frames, I was at first absorbed by the massive jump in quality between the new V800 and my old V500 and for a while I continued scanning using my usual workflow and simply enjoyed the step up in hardware. The Epson V800 is supplied with EpsonScan and a licence for SilverFast SE8 Plus, soon I began to think maybe I should try this SilverFast thing.
At first like ColorPerfect, I was not hugely impressed with SilverFast's interface. It struck me as a bit out of date with its passé graphic icons, its multitude of buttons and its extensive all-on-show navigation, which made it look daunting, complex and not that attractive. Determined to see some useful results from SilverFast and buoyed on by some helpful online instruction, in particular, American photographer Nick Carver's in-depth YouTube videos I persisted, trying to break the learning curve of yet another software and scanning method. This post is not meant as a review or an instructional piece there is plenty of more detailed and better information online than anything I can say here it is rather an update of my scanning workflow and an honest recommendation.
Quite soon I worked out the basics of SilverFast's operation and what struck me upon seeing my negatives displayed on its large preview window was the software's ability to render skin tones and true colour in general. Together with additional adjustments using the applications tools, most of which will be familiar to anybody who has used photographic software such as curves, histograms, exposure controls, universal colour adjustments, it was straightforward to achieve the desired result. But for me, SilverFast's killer features are NegaFix, its ability to synchronise adjustment and settings across multiple frames and iSRD its infrared dust and scratch control.
NegaFix is a dropdown menu of hundreds of different film stocks specifically built by Laser Soft Imaging to match the film stock that is being scanned and together with its automatic colour cast removal gives an optimum starting point to any inversion. Applying contrast, tonal and colour corrections to a single image in a set identical settings can simply be duplicated over to any other frames shot in the same circumstances for tonal and colour consistency. SilverFast's dust and scratch control feature is called iSRD and is without a doubt my favourite feature.
Before using it I used to spend tedious hours spotting out each and every scan, no matter how hard I tried to control dust it was always a laborious task to clean every photo. In the past I had tried Epson's ICE but found it uncontrollable producing strange artefacts and edges, and so I was doubtful that iSRD would work. It does and very well. Adjustable and controllable leaving only a few barely visible artefacts that can easily be corrected. This one feature alone has made scanning so much more enjoyable for me.
It wasn't long before I turned a blind eye to SilverFast’s ugly interface and became convinced that this was the next step forward in scanning. I have since upgraded from SE8 to Ai Studio 8 which features some additional controls such as multiple mid-grey neutral selections and multiple exposure scanning. For me, there is no looking back, the improvement is significant, indeed I’ve even set about going back over my old negatives to rescan them!
An Interview with Clara Diebler
Paris based photographer Clara Diebler's work centres around mysterious assemblages of people, objects and views. Working with film her multi-layered photography conveys contrasting emotional stories all in one frame.
• Clara, tell me a bit about you?
I’m a French photographer, born and raised in Paris, I have been photographing for over 20 years now. I love to travel even if I’m really shy and introvert.
• What first sparked your interest in photography?
Well, I have the feeling I’ve always done it. My father gave me my first camera when I was 10, and he taught me how to develop when I was 12, so, it has always been here.
• You photograph with film, what is it about film photography that suits you and your work?
Emulsion! The texture and how the light appears is the best.
• Your photography is predominantly composed of multiple exposures, ghostly combinations of portraiture and nature. What first drew you to merge your portraits with other images?
I was developing and as I often have my head in the clouds, I accidentally stacked two negatives… it was a portrait of my cousin dressed like in the 1920s and a view of the Palais Royal, in Paris and I saw a ghost floating, it was very moving!
• Multiple exposures have been around since the dawn of photography, in-camera, in the darkroom and most recently with software what do you think makes them so enduring and what captivates you about the technique?
What strikes me is the 'anachronism' of double exposures, you can’t tell the when and sometimes the where… so it has a universal side.
• So many of your photographs would make beautiful portraits even as a single frame. By combining them with additional images you are making something more, what is your creative approach to this image making?
Simply because it has never been enough for me, I always want to tell a story, to show emotion, and because reality is a strange concept.
• I see that you shoot mostly black and white, what is it about monotone that appeals to you and how do you feel about colour?
It doesn’t matter for me actually, I love both and I often shoot in colour.
• Without giving away too many secrets what is your method for making multiple exposure photographs?
I concentrate on textures, like the skin and leaves.
• Do you have a favourite camera and lens combination or even film stock?
Yes, I’m in love with my Nikon FM and its 50mm lens! But there’s no film I prefer, I use everything.
An Interview on PhotoFoto magazine
Jeff Rothstein is a native Brooklynite who has been living in Manhattan for many years. He has been shooting on the streets of New York City since the beginning of the 1970s. I was very pleased to interview him recently for PhotoFoto magazine in a two part feature, you can read part one and part two at www.photofotomag.com
© All Rights Reserved | Jeff Rothstein 2019
I always get a kick when one of my photos is left standing at the end of the day by the picture editors at Vogue Italia on their daily photographic showcase PhotoVogue
Model: Natasha Bush
Portrait taken using Kodak Portra 800 and Hasselbald 500c/m
I'm very pleased to have some of my prints for sale at Frame in Dublin. The guys there have been framing all types of art for over eight years. They have recently set up a new shop in the city's creative quarter on South Williams Street. At the shop as well as getting a good coffee you can view and purchase original artworks and photographs in the new gallery space that has been designed to offer selected works at accessible prices. What a great idea and I'm really glad to be a part of it.
Frame, 53 South William Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. T. +353 (0)1 2233218
PORTRAITS OF BLACK MILLWALL PLAYERS AND FANS
I’m very pleased to announce that I have my first photographic exhibition. It is showing at the Shortwave Café in Bermondsey, London during the month of October.
Black Millwall is a series of portraits of black Millwall players and fans and is a part of a larger project called Millwall’s changing communities: Memories of football and neighbourhood in South London.
The project was originally triggered by media coverage of the death, in 2012, of Tiny, a highly regarded black Millwall supporter. To the outsider, being black and being Millwall would seem a contradiction, certainly strongly at odds with widely held popular images of what Millwall fans are all about. (In)famous for the chant ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’, Millwall Football Club is historically known less for its footballing achievements and more for a fan base with a reputation for intimidation and racial abuse of opponents. But although the wider popular image of Millwall remains clouded by this reputation, it is also a perception that blanks out both the lesser known history of black Millwall fans and decades of Millwall involvement in a local community increasingly dominated by black and minority populations.
Working together with researchers who aimed to collect oral histories of black Millwall fans, my involvement was to make a series of portraits featuring some of the participants who have been interviewed. The resulting portraits are on view together with an accompanying documentary film, Millwall, Black and White: A portrait from the terraces, from the 9th to the 31st of October.
Thank you to Ole Jensen, Chris Haydon and Quince Garcia with whom I worked with on this project.
Online Photography Magazine Issue #8 - July 2018
It was really nice to have my small series La Playa featured alongside some great work by fellow photographers in Untitled Collective magazines Issue #8 this week. Check out the Untitled Collective project there's plenty of excellent photography and some very good past issues available to download there too.
An interview with Ian Howorth
Effortlessly slipping between beautifully cinematic portraits and a quiet documentary style view of the everyday, Brighton based photographer Ian Howorth’s work suggest still stories that evoke the subtle characteristics of the past.
• Ian, tell me a bit about you?
I’m a photographer/aspiring DP living in Brighton
• How did you come to photography?
I arrived at it by chance really - having been doing video for years, I became frustrated at the time it took to get a project off the ground. A friend asked me to shoot an event for him at a time I was going through a particularly difficult break-up and it slowly matured from there.
• When I first came across your work it was your portraiture that captured my attention. For me, they are created scenes floating somewhere between cinema and documentary. Can you tell me a bit about your portraits and what portraiture means to you?
Yeah, that sounds about accurate! I just like feeling, and for my images to evoke a response from within themselves rather than through added text. It's no surprise for me to say that I have a preference for nostalgia - I simply prefer the aesthetic, but there’s also a story here.
• I'm guessing that cinema has had a big influence on you, how does it affect your photography?
Yes, a huge amount! For me, Cinema is still the pinnacle of image making - creating a visual aesthetic to match a story or idea or emotion. Photography, however, is different, you’re having to tell your story through individual frames - so sometimes they can feel contrived - cramming too much in and be too literal or leaving things out and make them too vague. That’s the challenge though and looking back, also the fun. You never really stop learning and adapting as you change.
• Your urban landscape work has a melancholic feeling, a kind of celebration of disused spaces and objects with a compelling retro aesthetic. What attracts you to these places and settings?
I think it's that in itself. Where I live there are loads of places that celebrate the retro aesthetic through mimicking the vintage look... - I have no interest in that. For me, to find a place of interest, it has to be very much without ‘irony’ - it has to be of the time. If it's old or dated it's because it's been kept that way due to its aesthetic merit or because it's simply been forgotten about. These places are getting harder and harder to find due to our rampant modernisation. For me photography has become much more than simply a finished product - it has become a way by which I can understand things better - the place I live, the people I meet but also about myself and my commitment to doing what I love to do.
• In your series Three Lions, I can see an alternative sort of anti-charming view of England’s south coast, what was the foundation of this series for you?
Haha, that's a very good observation. To be honest there is no easy answer for this - the world is full of beauty but it's also full of crap, and both deserve to have their time in the sun. Things are what they are, whether we photograph them or not, is almost irrelevant - that doesn’t stop them from existing, the difference is only that some of us chose to document them. Gosh, that almost sounds like I’m being defensive! I have felt like an outsider the majority of my life after having moved from place to place during my formative years, so I’ve always been drawn to isolation and places where you can get almost lost and totally consumed by. England is somewhere I’ve been visiting since a young age, and I still very much feel like an outsider looking in - I still don’t feel like it's in my blood - I’m still trying to figure it all out.
• You photograph with film, what is it about analogue photography that suits you and your work?
Initially, it was an experiment - I wasn’t sure what to expect, or the reason why I was experimenting. Two and a half years on, I find that I like the fact that each film stock is reasonably definitive in its look. With digital, I was finding that I never really knew what my edits were meant to wind up like - there was no context. With film, each stock has its own personality and I found I was happy to relinquish my control over to whatever film stock I chose. I realised that to do that fully, I would have to shoot everything to eventually settle on something for a specific look I was going for. It's very difficult to talk about in an objective way - saying you choose something over something else, is almost an indirect way of saying it's better. It can be read that way at least. Film has a vibe - it's something I’ve come to expect now after staring at scans thousands of times. - it has certain “fullness" to it and gentle softness that I think is unmatched by digital. For now.
• Do you have a favourite camera and lens combination or even film stock?
No, no favourites - they each serve their purpose. The Mamiya 7 and 80mm f/4 is the one that impresses me the most whenever I get my negatives back though!
• Which photographers have inspired and influenced you?
William Christenberry for his unabated commitment to documenting his hometown, Gregory Crewdson for instilling in me ‘the concept’, Harry Gruyaert and Joel Meyerowitz for their beautiful use of colour and simply ‘knowing’ the value of emotion in light.
• Finally, what or where would be your dream location?
I’ve always thought its the US, but now I realise that everywhere has the potential, you just need a good idea, and lots and lots of time to come up with it.
It's a brilliant website that's dedicated to all things analogue. There's plenty of great film photography to look at along with insightful articles featuring many excellent photographers; well worth a visit at iso400.it
Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Portra 400
An Interview with matt Peers
Birmingham based photographer Matt Peers' series, Portraits of Employees, Deceased, Left, Retired portrays the shared spaces of a working factory in north Birmingham. In it, he explores what it means ‘to go to work' in a post-industrial north Birmingham and the fast disappearing traditional workplaces that are being replaced by an ever-expanding service economy, especially in England's industrial heartland. I wanted to know more about the project and his photographic influences and so I recently asked him some questions.
• Hi Matt, tell me a bit about you?
I think if you looked up Average Joe in the Dictionary you'd find me there. I've the full 2.4 nuclear family and the hair and waistline to prove it. For the times I'm not thinking about or actively practising photography, I'm an IT Project Manager at the local University.
• What first sparked your interest in photography?
For me, my interest has been a long history of lost time and opportunities. When I was 11 I got a 110 camera kit for Christmas and I remember being consistently complimented for having a 'good eye' by the grown ups I showed my pictures to. Naively, I thought that was just a skill, like bowling a cricket ball or kicking with my left foot, that I could pick up and put down when I wanted. My interest would pique when I went on holiday, but then wane again till the next trip. In the days pre digital and social media a work colleague even purchased some of my holiday pictures, but it still didn't occur to me take it further. Then, in my mid 30s two significant events happened; becoming a parent and studying for a degree in Psychology. Becoming a parent meant that I had my camera with me all the time; allowing me to practice and to get to grips with the more technical side of the camera. It was the degree course, however, that really opened my mind as to how photography can explore the big questions - in particular the relationship between the individual and their environment.
• How did you come to shoot this series?
It was very close to one of the University campus buildings that I would regularly walk past, often wondering what was going on inside. Next to a brutalist ex polytechnic building, it looked like a relic from the industrial past. At certain times of the day plumes of steam would rise from its roof leaving a strong chemical odour in the air, and for me that just added to the whole mystery of the place. One afternoon I decided that if I don't go in and ask I'll never find out. I thought there would be a number of reasons why they'd say no - Health & Safety, the need of supervision, not interested, etc, but to my surprise the Managing Director was very supportive of the idea of allowing myself and a colleague and fellow photographer inside to document the interiors for a potential project. On their initial viewing many people thought the project was about an abandoned factory, but I think its state of disrepair is symbolic of manufacturing in the Midlands and the country as a whole.
• I’m interested in what you say about it being symbolic of manufacturing in this country, can you elaborate a little on your thoughts and how it affected the series?
The onset of ever expanding automation, 3D printing, our nations trading relationship with its immediate neighbours all contribute to an uncertain future, but when you consider the decades of employment this factory has supported, the place of work and the role as employee has radically changed. We now have a service based economy with its identical retail, distribution and call centres, hot desks and anonymous non person specific workstations. The boundaries of the working environment have come down - employees can be uprooted to their home, to the café; to wherever the unit of activity can be completed. Apprenticeships, working our way up the ladder, a job for life, security, an industrial fortnight, the coach trip to the coast with work, the Christmas do, the carriage clock and the retirement party...most, if not all are now consigned to the past. These images, I hope, act as visual reminders of human life existing within a declining industrial landscape.
• How soon after you walked in did you realise that you had found a special place?
The reality was far better than my imagination! I don't have a very good poker face so I must have looked like a kid in a sweet shop. For quite some time the employees were utterly bemused as to why on earth I was photographing their workplace with such a gleeful look.
• Did you shoot the entire set in one visit or did you return?
I'm grateful to say I was allowed to return regularly for over a year, which enabled me to take my time and explore a number of ideas.
• For me, there is a melancholic feeling expressed in the tired personal items worn signs but especially in the faded photos of staff. What were your feelings when you were in the factory - did you see a theme right away or did a story emerge after you shot the photos?
Initially I thought the project would be about environmental portraits of existing staff in their workplace and how it has shifted over time; but the more I visited the more it became apparent it was about echoes of the past and the lives spent there that needed to be explored. Then, on one visit, I found a Kodak box of portraits of employees from the 1940s. Marked in biro on the lid was 'Portraits of Employees, Deceased, Left, Retired'. It was like a sign from on high as to the project's name and direction.
• Can you tell me about how you approach a shot, what attracts you to a scene or place?
What I'm looking for are places and occasions where juxtapositions to a notion of the social norm may appear; a chance to find the incongruous within a scene and, ultimately, I hope, striking a chord with the viewer. Light is incredibly important, as the meaning and the emotional response to an image can change dramatically depending on the type of light available.
• I notice on your website that you have several photo series, for example, The Future's Bright and the excellent Bourke's Regulars. Can you tell me how important is a series or project, as opposed to a single image, is to you and why?
I think it is really important to produce bodies of work within a project, as the framework of a project allows you to continually ask questions of your ideas and the images you're creating. For individual images to stand out they have to make an impact, whereas the narrative and mood of a project can be built through sequencing more subtle, less 'immediate' images. The attention grabbing, quick turn over demands of social media favours immediately arresting single images as opposed to presenting a wider project. Don't get me wrong, I still take plenty of individual images for their aesthetic qualities, but my natural instinct is to create a narrative structure where ever possible, even if that is through a short monograph or a brief blog.
• Can you tell me about your plans for your next project?
I'm continuing to work on two projects - The Future's Bright and From Around These Parts. The Future's Bright is an exploration of the notion of how we are living the reality of an imagined future of the past. I'm a child of the 1970s and I remember how the advances in technology would be addressing the social and personal ills of the day...but the reality is a muddle between this imagined future and the mundanity of everyday life. From Around These Parts, is an ongoing social portrait project where, regardless of national or local identity, we were both from around these parts.
• Which photographers have inspired you most?
I'm a big photobook collector, so I will regularly look at Harry Callahan, Elliot Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, Joel Sternfeld and Joel Meyerowitz. In contemporary photography, I'm a huge fan of the work of Alec Soth, Sian Davey, Niall McDiarmid and Matt Stuart. It's not just the known names though, I get daily inspiration and motivation from so many fellow photographers that I follow on social media too.
• Finally, if you could spend a couple of weeks anywhere in the world to shoot a project, where and what would you like to shoot?
So many places and so little time...but I think it would have to be a tour of the former Soviet Bloc to explore the brutalist architecture from the Communist era. I'd have to knock on a few doors to see what's on the inside, of course…
Matt Peers' photographic study represents an increasingly rare insight into a type of workplace that is evaporating fast in modern Britains increasing service oriented economy and a valuable piece of documentary photography. You can see more of Matt's work on his website.
© All Rights Reserved | Matt Peers 2018
Using Kodak TMAX Developer
Until recently, I developed my black and white film using Paranol S a one shot Rodinal type developer by Tetenal. I’ve developed Neopan, Tri-x, TMAX, FP4 and even Ferrania P30 with Paranol S and up until recently never had any issues. A few rolls ago something strange happened, my negatives developed very thin with barely any image on the celluloid. Thin negatives could be caused by underexposure, expired, contaminated or incorrectly mixed concentrate. Cold developer or insufficient agitation could also account for the problem. Although I felt confident that none of these factors was an issue, I could not be sure as I developed the film in my usual robotic way and was not expecting anything unusual to happen. So I decided to try one more roll, this time paying attention to make absolutely sure I did everything correctly. This third roll came out even thinner, almost transparent.
Not wanting to risk using that bottle Paranol S anymore and as I now mostly shoot TMAX films this presented me with a good opportunity to try Kodak TMAX Developer. Easy to use the 1 litre liquid concentrate is meant for dilution at 1:4 making 5 litres of working solution in total. Each 1 litre mixed batch develops up to 12 rolls, with extended development times as needed or 6 month shelf-life, whichever comes soonest. This is not intended as a review of the developer itself more a report of my initial findings using it. To me, the first results appear to have a wider tonal range with better shadow and grain detail. I guess this should be unsurprising as it has been optimised for TMAX films but nevertheless, it feels like a progressive improvement over Paranol S. Probably the real test is trying it on other film stocks?
All photos shot with a CONTAX RTS II and Zeiss Distagon 28mm ƒ2.8 on 35mm Kodak TMAX400.
• Developed for 6:45 minutes at 20ºC with continuous inversions for the first 15 seconds and 5 inversions every 30 seconds thereafter.
• Stop with Kodak Professional Stop for 30 seconds at 20ºC
• Fix with Kodak Professional TMAX Fixer for 5 minutes at room temperature
• Wash for 10 minutes
• Scanned on Epson V500
• Dominique, tell me a bit about you? I'm 44, I live in Paris, where I work in a video game studio, and in my free time I enjoy exploring film photography through personal projects, or most of the time day-to-day photography.
• How and when did you discover photography? I had a first insight through the story of my grandfather, during WWII he was an aerial photographer in the French army, the image of the plane in which he flew hanging on the wall impressed me much. As a child I also keep vivid and joyful memories of these family slides show sessions my father used to do for us, my family would gather around the projector and every slide was an occasion to remember some good times. That could be the purpose of a whole evening. Later on, I experienced my first shooting with my his Pentax reflex and started a long life passion.
• Why photography? I love a lot of things in photography, most important of which is this possibility of engraving time, like small little pieces of time, memories you can contemplate, I enjoy this feeling when you look at a picture and you can feel again the moment. With photography I can fight the passage of time, I guess. I also like the truth in photography, I mean it's the reflection of reality. Of course you can always alter it through various processes, experiments or choices like black and white vs colours, whatever is the artistic touch, this is still is a testimony of reality. Another reason is because I love the light, how it falls around and changes things and atmosphere at every moment, and photography allows us to see it, to seize this.
• A lot of your work is portraiture, what does a photographic portrait mean to you and why do you like shooting people? I like portraits, that's the most difficult exercise for me, like a challenge, and I like to shoot people I know, it's like a conversation, a special moment we share.
• I notice that in many of your portraits there is a subtle indirectness. Often your subject is looking away from the lens or have their back to your camera. Sometimes you portray only body parts such as legs and shoulders. Can you tell me a bit your approach to portraiture? That's right I have an indirect way to take portraits, I like details, because that's the way I guess I look at people, often I focus on a detail, something which catches my eyes, and often I remember people that way, some details about them, some simple things like the way they stand or sit, or a ray of light on a shoulder, or a delicate roundness of a body, I like shooting details, not showing all, just like a hint.
• In addition to shooting people a lot of your work features vignettes of daily life, corners of rooms and the details of ordinary objects, as exemplified in your series, Daily small wonderings. What attracts you to these subjects? There again it's the urge to keep memories of anything that moves me, and because I like simple photography, just what I see before my eyes at moments, I like to shoot life. I'm not really interested in very elaborated staged photography, even if I do admire it in other's photographs.
• I’m really interested in your crossover collaborative project, Dessine-moi un tattoo, can you tell me more about it? This is an ongoing project, keeping the skin as our main common thread I've asked Regis de Changy, a Bic pen artist to draw on some of my prints. He is specialised in tattoo-like drawings using Bic pens and I found interested to give like a second life to some of my nude photographs, we also wrote some prose to accompany our mixed "Bic-prints", that's a duo poetic work, I wish I could do more collaborative projects like this.
• I see that you are an analogue photographer, has this always been the case and why do you choose to shoot film? I love film, I love grain. I love to take time. I love to wait for my negatives to be developed, sometimes one year after shooting. I love to be in a darkroom. I haven't shot anything but film for years. I wish to be able to keep it this way on and on :)
• You fluently go from colour to black and white, but do you have a preference? I'm a black and white film photography person, that's my favourite colour :) plus, I'm monomaniac with Tri-X, I love this film, the special grain and contrast which I enhance in the darkroom, I can rush through Paris hunting for a sole Tri-X film if any, but I sometimes enjoy switching with colours from time to time, like a breathing, which always surprises me. I guess I tend to shoot in a black and white way even in colours.
• Do you develop and/or scan your own work, if you do why? I develop every black and white film myself at home. I use Rodinal chemistry. I like that part of the process, it's inseparable from my pleasure at taking views, it's a whole thing, depending on how I shoot I then develop accordingly. I send my colour films to a lab in Paris and then I scan all my negatives myself using an Epson v600. I like to be able to control all the process in black and white, I'm still learning and I like that.
• Do you enjoy photographic experimentation? All my colours photographs are shot on expired films, mainly because I like the versatile happening on the colours, it's like a playground, I use it sometimes, just to test things, but I 'am more driven by black and white results :)
• Which photographers have inspired and influenced you? I like William Eggleston, Sally Mann, Raymond Depardon, Sarah Moon, Martin Parr and many others ...
© All Rights Reserved | Dominque Conil 2017
I'm really pleased to have two of my photographs Suburban Stories and Winter Pool selected for this year's Hepatitis C Trust’s Photography on a Postcard fundraising lottery.
The Hepatitis C Trust is the national UK charity for hepatitis C. Founded to raise awareness of the virus, it provides information, support, representation and works to end discrimination against people living with Hepatitis C.
Every year the trust raises money through its annual secret lottery Art on a Postcard. In October the trust will branch out and introduce Photography on a Postcard. Their intention is to replicate the success they have had in the art world with photography. The Hepatitis C Trust held an open call for upcoming photographers to show alongside invited established photographers such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Martin Parr, Dougie Wallace, Edmund Clark, Chris Steele Perkins, David Hoffman and many more. The resulting 1500 postcard sized photographs will be displayed at The PrintSpace in Shoreditch from 12th - 27th October.
Throughout tickets will be available that as well as raising money for the trust will guarantee a randomly chosen photograph on a postcard after the show closes. All the money raised will go to The Hepatitis C Trust’s campaign to eliminate hepatitis C from the UK by the year 2030.
Winter Pool was shot with CONTAX S2 on Kodak Portra 400 film, Suburban Stories was shot with CONTAX RTS II on Agfa Vista 200 film.
This summer I went to Manchester twice in one month, on my first visit I spotted an area in the city centre just off of Portland Street and thought it would make a good photographic location. The area was a mix of Victorian brick passages and arches beside a 1960s office complex, a perfect urban landscape, maybe? So on my second visit not only did I bring a camera I asked my friend Paul Turner who lives nearby out for a beer-and-shoot. After, we chatted about how an area is worked by two individual photographers and how interesting it would be to compare our photos; especially as Paul shot digitally and I used film. It was from this discussion that I asked if he would like to write about the subject for this blog post.
The Difference by Paul Turner
After a bite, we headed out to a place in the city centre as a starting point and we both happily wandered around exploring angles, shapes and colours, the kind of stuff that gets us photographers fired up. When out and about you can't help but see similar options for shots and there was some overlap on what we noticed, this is a big part of the pull of going out with someone else, you can both pool ideas and two pairs of eyes are always better.
Despite occasionally becoming separated, we did, in the course of the evening, pounce on the same opportunities for compositions. Things and places often present themselves as gifts in condition and framing. Consequently, we ended up with a small number of the same images. Well, I say the same image, not strictly the case because Tom was using his trusty Hassleblad with 80mm lens, so, 6x6 square, and I was using my full frame Nikon D750 and so 35mm format.
The images are going to differ slightly of course, but in what way and why? Well, the framing was very similar indeed but what struck me about the difference was that often debated one between film and digital, the framing difference was there but almost incidental. The difference in how each medium reacted was the most noteworthy.
For the purposes of this piece I am only going to be talking about the direct comparison of these shots because the whole subject is huge, the idea of comparing these images came about after a discussion between the two of us. It isn't often that you can directly compare a set of film and digital images taken at the same time, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity. I'm not going to be talking about mono film/digital or anything like that. It is purely about these images and to that end it is interesting to see the shots side by side as a comparison...
The first thing that struck me, and I have noticed it in the past when looking at film alongside digital, is the way in which film can render point light sources; it is much gentler and more natural; I think it is more as the eye sees light sources because of the diffusion. Digital, on the other hand, is clinical in its treatment of point light and star points can usually be seen, depending on aperture type and setting. Nevertheless, in order to get light to behave more as the eye sees it with digital, it requires a bit of processing to tame that sharpness in the original file, this isn't an easy thing to pull off and can look forced and unnatural. I don't bother usually, just accept it as it is. Film on the other hand just does its thing and light has a soft transition from source. It pours out and exudes in a lovely smooth glow. Contrast is also worth looking at too. Film has less of it in the case of these images, but I am so used to seeing film it looks right, well, it looks filmic. I'm searching for a word but only filmic fits. Maybe that's it then. It just has its own quality and we should just leave it at that? Rather than trying to emulate it? No we, it seems, are always trying to emulate it. Whether it is a preset as a digital setting or an Instagram/phone widget we are always trying to get it 'filmic'.
Despite all the above, digital images are clean, they are able to show a large degree of dynamic range and detail with little loss in quality throughout, thus scenes are rendered accurately and if handled in a balanced way, a clear depiction of the place. They are a superb starting point for any rendering, whether needing a filmic look or not we have a great representation of a place and its lighting condition(s) complete with large dynamic adjustment potential, provided the original exposure is done correctly. Is it as it was seen by the eye while there? Well, it's a good start, filmic, maybe not but hang on where's that Portra plugin? I see contrast rendering and light quality differences in these shots to be the main points of note. Colour shifts are there throughout the comparison but I don't think they are as affecting to the feel of the pictures. On a personal level, maybe film has qualities that I recognise and is more natural to my eye, I don't know whether it's through seeing more film images throughout my life and it being tied up with my nostalgic heart, or that it's is just softer and more natural, I can't be absolutely clear. Both formats strike a chord on different levels, I'm not going to say if one is better than the other, just that there are differences and they can be stark.
Medium format digital is being rolled out steadily so any format will eventually be catered for and digital detail is available to all. Film is still available, albeit at a price, but it is still being produced. What I will say is, it's a great time to be a photographer, few would argue with that? Ultimately I'm choosing both formats, they are both valid tools for expressing creative intent and ideas, after all, isn't that what photography should be about? Now, wasn't there a chippy somewhere here...
Unlike a lot of my photographer friends, I rarely go out for an unplanned wonder with a camera. Roaming around spontaneously searching for a shot is not my strong point and although I keep a camera in my car just in case it’s unusual for me to use it. Having said that it doesn't stop me trying and so last week when I found myself in between appointments with an hour to spare I got my camera out of the boot and went for a walk. I was in Brentford an area of West London on the Thames. I knew from previous fleeting visits that behind the high street there were quite a few old industrial buildings, warehouses and boatyards that once supported Brentford’s previous life as the London terminus of the Grand Union Canal. The Grand Union Canal was built to link London with Birmingham and Brentford situated at the confluence of the River Thames and River Brent was well place to be the final southern point for all the freight and goods that were traded between the two cities.
While wondering about looking for a shot I stopped to talk to Tony a demolition worker on his tea break, he was curious as to why I was shooting in ‘such a dump’ and I spent a moment explaining my particular visual take on the dull and mundane.
‘I've got an old film camera, I think it’s an Olympus.’ he told me.
‘If you’re interested I only wanna a score.’ he added.
Disappearing behind the security gates that acted as a barrier for the half-demolished building he was working in, he went off to get it. I carried on photographing an abandoned sofa on the pavement. A few minutes later he emerged waving small black camera above his head.
‘No, no it’s a Canon’ he shouted to me from across the road.
I went over to take a closer look and to my surprise in his hand was an almost perfect Canon A1 sporting a 1980 winter Olympics lens cap and even an original protective plastic cover over the inner film pressure plate. I told Tony that without a battery it was impossible to test and suggested that once powered up and tested he could certainly get something for it on eBay.
‘I can’t use eBay mate! if I get a battery would you be interested in it for a score?’ he said.
For any non British readers a score is London slang for £20, and for £20 I was interested. I told him that I pass Brentford quite often we agreed that if he got a battery he would call me. To my surprise about 40 minutes later I got a call.
“I’ve made a battery and tested it, it’s working okay” Tony told me.
He had ingeniously taped together four 1.5V button batteries with a brass bolt as the positive top cap.
‘It adds up to 6V, so it’s okay’ he explained.
Sure enough, it was and powered by Tony's makeshift battery the 37-year-old camera came to life, its red LED’s displayed brightly in the viewfinder and I could hear the shutter firing at all speeds, everything worked. We exchanged and as he disappeared again behind the security gate he reminded me to send him the photos I took with it.
So maybe I’m not that good at just going out and finding a shot but at least on this occasion, I found a very nice camera... thanks Tony.
An interview with Tom Westbury
I have been enjoying the photography of Southampton based photographer Tom Westbury for some years now. His work principally centres on urban and suburban vistas, comprising of compositions of the everyday and ordinary. Ordinary yet to my eyes quite compelling, his particular take on the tradition of the man altered landscapes is a balanced analysis of the space that together with his subtle use of colour and tonality creates a particular consistency; a sort of signature. I wanted to ask him some questions about the development of his photographic approach and to get a better understanding of his thinking and influences.
• Tom firstly a bit about you ?
I'm a 35 year old British photographer. I was born in Manchester but have spent most of my life in the South of England and now live in Hampshire. For a day job I work in a communications team for the National Health Service.
• What first sparked your interest in photography ?
I was never really into photography until about seven years ago. I started a new job which involved some photography; portraits, events, corporate stuff. I was given a DSLR and decided I'd learn how to use it in manual mode. I've always been quite technical minded and like to learn how things work. I quickly fell in love with photography from there, and within a few months I was hooked and it was my main creative outlet.
• How would you define your style?
The word 'straightforward' comes to mind. By which I mean just presenting things in an unadorned, unaffected way, and making the most of the camera's ability to capture realism, detail, and clarity.
• Tom your focus is very much on urban and suburban landscapes, often framed by buildings and structures, can you tell me a bit about your interest in this area and how it may have evolved from your photographic beginnings?
I used to do a lot of painting and drawing and my initial forays with photography were about using a camera to create 'instant paintings' of 'beautiful' subjects. After a while through reading and discovering about photographers and photography, I started to realise that photography has inherent qualities and it can be about more than recreating paintings and pictures with a camera. One thing that particularly interested me was how images of quite ordinary objects or scenes could take on a different quality when framed and separated from reality in a photographic print or image. In other words, worthwhile images could be made from traditionally overlooked subjects or scenes. Obviously, discovering the work of photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore played a big part in this, and also the many contemporary photographers who are continuing this way of looking. Quite quickly it was possible to see meaning and value all around, in everyday places and spaces, and I started to focus more on these types of scenes, which tend to be in urban places or the borders where urban and rural intersect. I also have an interest in documenting the kinds of places we inhabit and what these places say about us and our society - so there is an aesthetic and a documentary angle in what I'm currently doing, which is what keeps it interesting for me.
• Your description of ‘the borders where urban and rural intersect’ is very intriguing, can you tell me more about these boundary areas and what in particular interests you about them?
Good question. I think it's because these areas are often unplanned and untidy - they reveal something different than carefully developed urban areas or purely natural landscapes - you get to see a break in the facade.
• I notice that you have an ongoing series of photographs that feature new build housing developments. What is the interest for you in this theme?
I find new housing developments in England to be fascinating. They tend towards a particular aesthetic which is a kind of pastiche of traditional styles, often eschewing modernity in a uniquely British way. I think these new estates tell us a lot about British aspirations and a sense of conservatism when it comes to residential architecture. This attitude is epitomised by the Prince of Wales, and reached a sort of pinnacle in his Poundbury development in Dorset which is the ultimate rejection of post-war ideals. I also feel quite strongly about the state of the property market in the UK, the relentless pressure to own property (despite this becoming more and more out of reach for many people) and I want to try and document this in some way.
• Can you tell me about your practical approach shooting, what attracts you to a scene or place and how you work a particular area?
It's still quite spontaneous. I try to have a camera with me at most times, and just keep an eye out for compositions or places that could work. More recently, I've started to plan out locations using Google Streetview or just by driving around. I have a real interest in Brutalist architecture so I'm also trying to visit some of the more iconic sites if I'm in the area.
• A lot of your photos feature large empty expanses in the foreground is this a conscious compositional tool on your part?
Yes and no. It's partly for technical reasons - I haven't used perspective-correction lenses, so to prevent converging verticals I keep the camera level, which tends to reveal more foreground. At the same time, there's often a lot of interesting details and textures in the foreground which can add value to an image, so I've learned to love empty and crumbling asphalt and pavements! I've recently picked up a shift lens though and I'm keen to start experimenting with this, but I'll still try and include foregrounds if I think they're needed in a composition.
• You seem to actively shoot in flat light, the sort of dull unexciting light that so many photographers deliberately avoid, are we all missing something?
Haha! Tom we live in the UK so we have to take what we can get! Seriously though, I actually think that this flat light has a lot to offer a scene. It tends to level everything out tonally, minimising shadows. Combined with a film like Portra, it results in a very neutral and deadpan feel which suits a lot of the subject matter and gives images an 'objective' quality. Having said all that, I'm a fan of magic hour as much as the next photographer - I just don't find myself out shooting as often at that time of day.
• You shot film, what is it about analogue photography that suits you and your work?
For me film has a great dynamic range and a colour-response that most closely resembles the image I have in my mind's eye. This means that most of the work is done in camera and in developing, and I don't have to think too hard when post processing. Medium/large format film can give extremely high definition images and is much more affordable than medium format digital sensors. I also develop and scan my own film (again, partially for financial reasons!), so there is a sense of being involved in more of the image making process. For the last couple of years, I've mainly used the Mamiya 7 camera, which is a medium format rangefinder camera. The camera has the perfect combination of image quality and portability, so it's really hard to justify using anything else, at least in terms of the way I work.
• Who are your photographic influences?
I struggle a bit with influences because I think we soak up so much subconsciously and I'm probably influenced as much by music or graphic design for example as I am by photographs. I also look at hundreds of images on social media everyday which must be effecting the way I see and shoot. So rather than influences I'll just mention some photographers whose work I just really love. William Eggleston, Fred Herzog, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Robert Adams, Alec Soth, Gregory Crewdson, Walker Evans, Nadav Kander, Polly Tootal, Alexander Gronsky, Todd Hido to name a few. Cinema is a big one for me, too - especially the work of David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick and Sofia Coppola.
• You and your camera can go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I think there's a lot to be said for staying close to home and working within a limited radius - really exploring deeply your immediate surroundings. But if I had to go somewhere else, I would like to get lost in small-town or suburban America - just because so many of my favourite images are steeped in this culture. I would also like to spend some time documenting a place where the pace of change is still rapid or accelerating - China is an obvious one, or India.
• What’s next for you?
I want to show my work to more people to get feedback and help to edit it into more coherent series, take a more planned approach to my practice to develop the themes I'm interested in and make more prints!
For me, Tom Westbury’s photography offers an absorbing view of the urban and suburban scenes that surround so many of us. Knowing a little more about his thinking certainly adds to their appeal. If you want to see more of Tom’s work you can follow his gallery tom_wesbury on Instagram, or visit his website www.tomwestbury.com
© All Rights Reserved | Tom Westbury 2017