Thanks Tony

Unlike a lot of my photographer friends I rarely go out for an unplanned wonder with a camera.  Roamimg 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 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 make shift 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.

Close to Home

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 web site www.tomwestbury.com

© All Rights Reserved | Tom Westbury 2017

Son of a Gun

It’s really good to see some of my car photos featured alongside the work of some very creative photographers in todays latest Folio page on Son of a Gun Magazine.  Check out their site here, you’ll find some very absorbing interviews and outstanding features from talented photographers all around the world.

Enlightenment II

Following on from my previous blog post Enlightenment and after spending a bit of time this weekend reading Adobe Photoshop for Photographers by Martin Evening,  a book so big that I seldom find the courage to pick it up let alone read,  I discovered that Photoshop can automate the RGB levels procedure that I described in my previous post.  Essentially by using the Auto Option feature in a levels panel any scan can be colour corrected by 'Enhance per Channel Contrast' in effect aligning the dark and light point of the red, green and blue channels to the scans histogram.  The start point is set by default very low to the first 0.10% of each of the channels colour clipping but can set to whatever tolerance you prefer.  Thereafter the scan only requires mid grey identification,  you can do this yourself or use Photoshop by checking Snap Neutral Midtones it can find the most neutral tone or mid grey and allow for it.  In addition the Auto Colour Correction Options panel offers an alternative automated method 'Find Dark and Light Colours' using this method Photoshop will find blackest and whitest points on any scan,  again set to 0.10% but adjustable if you prefer.  From there simply identify mid grey by checking Snap Neutral Midtones.  Both methods work well and it's very quick and easy to see which is the most suitable starting point for any given scan.  Below is a short screen video that shows the process.

 

Enlightenment

Emerging from the dark art of scanning

 

About a year ago I purchased CF Systems ColorPerfect plug-in,  I was looking for an effective scanning workflow that would allow me to skip my scanners bundled software EpsonScan.  I covered my thinking in a blog post entitled Perfect Colour here.   At that time I had concluded that colour negative scanning was a three stage process consisting of scanning with no adjustments, removal of the orange mask and inversion then finally colour correction. Almost from the off I had my doubts about ColorPerfect and over the months that I used the plug-in my doubts never abated.  During that time ColorPerfect regularly inverted negatives with odd colours that needed extensive correction.  Using ColorPerfect to make these corrections while entirely possible was with its difficult user interface never going to be a pleasurable experience and so once again I was using Photoshop to make extensive colour correction.  ColorPerfect had become for me, simply an inversion tool and knowing that this is also possible with Photoshop I decided that some experimentation in the hope of simplification and consistency was overdue. 

CF Systems ColorPerfect inversion of a linear scan from an Epson V500

Now after some months of experimentation and testing for the first time since I started scanning over four years ago I've finally arrived at a workflow that is for me, straightforward, consistent and most importantly satisfying.  In doing so I wanted to share my experience and method.  First task scanning the film with all scanner software controls set to off and include a decent slice of orange mask.  This produces a good linear scan of the negative with no automatic adjustments from the scanning software.

• Follow these setting on EpsonScan to make a linear scan

 

• Opening the linear scan in Photoshop it is first necessary to neutralise the orange mask.  

• Begin with a levels layer and sample the orange mask with the white eyedropper tool thus indicating the orange mask as white; it will become black when inverted, as will all the other unexposed areas in the negative.

• After sampling the orange mask with the white eyedropper tool all orange base areas become white and subsequently black when inverted. Note the white areas under the trees that will become the deep shadows.

• Flatten the two layers.

• Invert the file: Image>Adjustments>Invert or cmd + I (ctrl + I on Windows)

• The now positive inversion is muddy and needs correcting

• Before correcting crop the border, this is not absolutely necessary however if you want to keep a border then be aware of it in your histogram during the next steps.

• Create a new levels layer.

• In the dropdown box select the red channel.

• Start by pulling the small white triangle under the histogram box left so that it aligns with the right edge of the histogram above. If there is a space on the far left of the histogram pull the black triangle toward the right to align it with the left edge of the histogram above. 

• To help find the edge of the histogram hold the alt key until red clipping is seen. Repeat the process on green and blue channels.

 

Initial inverted and colour corrected scan.

This is how I arrive at my starting point, a basic inverted scan ready to post process.  Dust and spot removal, sharpening and contrast controls are always necessary, often a mid grey correction and curve adjustment help finish the photo.  Obviously I don't for one moment suggest that what and how I scan is the best or only way, it's simply a refection of my experience as a film photographer. As such I'm always interested in other analogue photographers experiences and methods.  So please feel free to comment or discuss.

Finished photo, spotted, sharpened with final contrast and colour adjustments.

Photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak Kodak Portra 800 film.

Model: Rosie Gregory

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing Space

And the allure of the double portrait.

 

Portraiture is predominantly the representation of a single individual and for as long as there has been art there has been portraiture.  Although the portrayal of a single person has the power to arrest the viewer and tell a story without doubt the traditional strength of an individual portrait is often amplified with a double portrait.  When a picture features two people there is an added dimension, a natural sense of story that emerges due to our own supposed views of the relationships between the subjects.  All of a sudden the connection is not just linear, from the subject via the camera and photographer to viewer.  In a double portrait the relationships scatter in different directions.  It is these imagined relationships between the subjects whether they be lovers, enemies, friends, colleagues, siblings, family or even strangers that create for me, some of the most intriguing and fascinating portraits.  

For sometime I have been enjoying the work of Belarusian photographer Alexander Veledzimovich who truly exemplifies the strength of the double portrait.  His portraits regularly feature two people, they are exemplary visions of sharing space and so I recently asked him some questions about his work and influences.  

• Alexander firstly a bit about you? 

I live in Vitebsk, a town in the north of Belarus. People know of Vitebsk through the artist Marc Chagall who was born there and who then in Paris created pictures inspired by his childhood and youth in Vitebsk. I am 32 years old. I was a teacher for sometime in a collage but by chance became a photographer and I have been freelancing for over 10 years now.  At the moment I am in Warsaw, previously in 2010 I lived for 6 months in St. Petersburg and in 2014, I traveled around Europe for 5 months. 

• How and when did you discover photography?

An artist friend of mine had a Zenith with a 135mm lens and I liked how it all looked. I worked in America when I was a student and on the advice of my boss in 2004, I bought a Canon 300D. Probably in the second year I looked into the basics [of photography] and took pictures of concerts, friends, exhibitions, parts of an old town and even tried to make an improvised studio.  This all had little to do with the art of photography but it seemed that I had something.  Everything became more interesting after meeting Egor Voinov.   He told me to try and work with film and medium format cameras.  My photos gradually became different. Photography became a time for reflection, with the camera on a tripod and a cable release attached there came a degree of calm and concentration.

• Who are your photographic influences?

Ah, that’s a difficult question.  I like the honesty of the portraits of Oleg Videnin but at the same time I like the complexity of form of Evgeny Mokhorev.  I look for a harmonious combination of form and content, above all an ideal balance between one and the other.  For me, a good photo has visual beauty as I do not like abstract forms in which there is no meaning.  I also like the stories of Alec Soth and Cristina de Middel, they show the delicate line between reality and non reality in such an excellent way. 

• Why Portraiture, what does it mean to you?

Portraiture for me is a quiet world or place in which one can relax from premeditated photography.  I like the fact that I do not need to think about a subject and simply wait for when a person gives me the image.  In fact, after living in Warsaw for 6 months, I am realising that I needed to be in Vitebsk because for me, it is important to near the people I know in order to create new portraits.

• You work feels like a mixture of simple honesty and constructed vision with your use of subtle props such as guns, skulls and masks.  Can you tell me a little of how and why you make these portraits?

Usually, everything in a portrait stems from that person being photographed.  I do not like to photograph in a studio and I do not like to specifically pre arrange reconnaissance visits.  I like to visit my subjects in their home and wait and see what comes of it.  In this way I can make an honest and powerful photo, one which I can love even after many years.  Put simply, there is a person, there is me, there is a camera and random things around.  Of course, I select the things I like but everything depends on what the person understands, whether he holds a toy pistol or wears a mask.  My best photos are lucky improvisations

• Many of your photographs feature two people what is your interest in these double portraits?

Actually, a double portrait immediately creates a story; the observer looks at the photo in a different reality and tries to interpret the interrelation between the people.  In a single portrait, there is a stronger relation between the observer and the subject but it is more difficult to create a theme or story.

There is no doubt for me, that Alexander's unique and particular approach offers the viewer a memorable take on portraiture.  You can see more of his excellent work on his web site here.

© All Rights Reserved | Alexander Veledzimovich 2016

Perfect Colour

If you've read any of my previous blog posts you may have guessed by now that I see scanning as the dark art of the hybrid analogue/digital workflow. Using a standard Epson V500 I’ve been scanning my negatives for almost four years and frustratingly still have not achieved enlightenment.  In February I finally purchased CF Systems ColorPerfect plug-in. Until now I felt that although inconsistent the results from the V500's bundled EpsonScan software were acceptable and the use of additional software would not be worth the disruption in workflow.  EpsonScan generally does a good job of converting scans, automatically applying black, grey and white points, but it can also be hit and miss.  Disconcertingly on occasion I've even found that two shots taken in the same light directly one after the other could look very different in preview.  It’s not the scanner, it's the software.  The automatic initial adjustments applied are exactly that, automatic and adjustments.  If these adjustments are there or thereabouts, then making small modifications is straight forward enough.  However getting control of these adjustments within the EpsonScans interface for anything more profound is not easy and so inevitably is done in Photoshop.  In reality using Photoshop to correct EpsonScans limitations.  So eventually tiring with EpsonScans variable results I thought why not try another way?  

It is not my intention that this be a review of ColorPerfect, for me it's too early for that but I have found the process of making RAW or Linear scans of negatives to be beneficial. By scanning negatives with no adjustments seemingly all information on the negative is captured.  I now think of scanning as a three stage process.  Scanning which is just that, scanning the negative as a negative, no adjustments, no sharpening, no dust removal. The next stage is conversion from negative to positive and the removal of the orange mask.  Finally colour correction, finding mid grey, contrast, highlight, mid-tone and darks adjustment.  In a conventional workflow scanner software such as EpsonScan or VueScan work to produce a final colour corrected scan in-line with all stages happening together in one process or it can be broken down and done separately, as I now currently prefer.

I hoped ColorPerfect with its vast library of film emulsions would somehow magically convert negative scans to positives while retaining the basic colour characteristics of each film type. The truth is as I see it, that ColorPerfect is a database of orange masks used to convert negative to positive. Thereafter its features are much the same as any other colour correcting software and in common with EpsonScan getting control of these adjustments is no easy process in ColorPerfect either.  ColorPerfect has some excellent colour correction features but they are hidden behind a difficult user interface that is neither intuitive nor graceful.  It does however convert an unadulterated negative scan to positive.  A scan that includes all information, effectively removing the orange masks and thereafter ready to go to Photoshop for the all-important final process of colour correction.  

I have no doubt that Adobes post processing either in Photoshop or Lightroom is more powerful, more adjustable and more user friendly than anything scanning software can offer and in this workflow there is no need to correct their limitations either. The conclusion? Well as yet for me, there isn’t one, only progress because colour scanning still remains a dark art. 

1975 BMW 3.0 CSi | Hasselblad 500c/m | Kodak Ektar 100

Controling Film Curl

001_sa.jpg

Something that has bugged me ever since I started scanning has been curly film. For 20 years I worked in the lithographic print industry and remember well the drum scanning machines and the lengths the operators went to to mount transparencies on the drum. Air cans, squirrel hair brushes, wet mounting in oil to avoid Newton Rings and optically clear film overlays to secure the transparencies completely flat around the drum. All a far cry from the plastic film holders with their flimsy frame clamps that are supplied with most flat bed scanners. 

While scanning all to often I've dropped in a strip of film, clamped it down only to see the film bellying out. Thoughts of wet drum scanning nagging in the back of my mind. My solution until now has been to weigh down the film. After developing and drying, my best option was days under weight to try and achieve a degree of acceptable flatness. 120 film is flatter but not always great. 35mm; especially black and white can be terrible, the plastic clamps doing little or nothing to help.

After speaking to to my friend Nicola Neri, a Milan based portrait photographer, who’s beautiful film portraits often feature film borders. Borders are an indication that he is doing something different, his recommendation was to purchase a sheet of anti- reflective glass and to simply lay the negative direct on the scanner bed and place the glass sheet on top. My initial experiment was to purchase a sheet of 30 x 20cm etched defused anti- glare glass from a local picture framing shop.

 

Etched defused anti-glare glass is slightly frosted on one side, It’s the type of glass that was used before the clear modern anti-reflective coated glasses in use today. By placing the negative emulsion side down on the scanner bed and then placing the frosted surface of the etched glass on the non-emulsion side, unsightly Newton Rings were avoided. 

 

Unsightly Newton Rings are avoided by placing the etched surface of glass against the non-emulsion side of the negative.

However, there are three disadvantages to this: theoretically the film should be just above the glass for perfect scanning focus; not directly on it.  Only one scan can be made at the time, each frame needing to be masked and scanned before moving on to the next. Finally the scan is back to front.

The third point is no big deal it is easy to flip the image in post processing. The first and second are, and so to achieve the correct height and position the use of the scanner frames was necessary. Removing the clamp on the 120 frame was easy, a slight twist and out it popped. The next step was to have strips of etched glass cut to fit the channels of the film frame. On my 35mm frame it was necessary to cut away some small lugs of plastic that held the 35mm strip in place at the leading edge, this was required in order to get a clear channel for the negative and glass to sit in. With clamps removed the negative can be placed in their original position but clamped down by the weight of the glass. The glass now completely flattens the film and the frame holder keeps it at the ideal height and in position so that the software can make multiple scans. The total cost of the cut and polished glass was £12.00 (approximately €15.00/$17.00) and for me, a cost effective solution to control film curl.

Scanner featured is a Epson v500, glass is Matobel etched defused anti-glare glass.

So High in Soho

Neon, Rain and an October Evening Shooting on Film with Tom Sebastiano: a Sitter’s View

Wearing 140mm heels in always a vertiginous challenge.  Finding your feet, your balance and your poise for a portrait is an even higher ask. So there we were, Tom and I, in London’s drizzling Soho watching the orange glow of raven black taxi lights bleed onto the patent wet cobbles; hunting out the acid neon light I am so addicted to for my portrait.

Naturally a little peacock-like I found it quite amusing trying to find space to hold still for Tom’s camera in the indigo night inside the gay rainbow streets of London.  It’s not an easy task for Tom to find the right places for light levels or just a spot for us to squeeze into, whilst London sometimes saunters and sometimes rolls itself past. 

Clattering girls, wrapped couples, strutting gayboys, drunken huddles; London’s streets has it all. And now it has us leaning into stripper’s signs in doorways the tart pink glowing in my eyes; slipping down alleyways under the guttering street lamps; tearing a muscle or two twisting in Madams’ forbidden doorways: all like Alice running down different roads with Tom the Mad Hatter taking the twists and turns. 

 

 

The lights flick on and off as Tom shuts the camera lense; capturing the journey shutter by shutter.  The challenge from the sitter’s perspective is that you have no safety net of an image to see. You’re committed to film in a moment and don’t know how you look or how the frame will sit.  The moment is captured and you move on; you catch another and another and another. You have to trust Tom to tell you how to move yourself and where to look. 

Step Sitter II.jpg

A quick heel change from YSL suede boots into beetle black Jimmy Choos and I sit on the stained steps in Charing Cross station.  Strip lights that make you a little glue faced; the dirty floor littered with London’s trash; I think Tom likes to mix a little grime and grit into his images.  Relieved to be sitting after two hours of walking and standing I look up and I think about some of the more troubling clouds in my mind.  That’s the shot.  It took a whole evening of persistence and tenacity but now there it is and remains. That moment captured.

Rachel Donati is a professional copywriter specialising in creative content and brand communication.  I Shot Rachel with Kodak Portra 400 & Fuji Neopan 400 using a Hasselblad 500c/m

 

OnFilm Photo

I was really pleased to be featured on the community work page of todays OnFilm Photo website. This is a great new site that amongst other things showcases the work of talented film photographers together with a short interview. In addition there is a swap centre where people are swapping film from around the world and a flea market where you can buy and sell things! Worth checking out for sure.

Expired Experiments

The resilience of film was made evident to me in my friends darkroom last week. Just for fun and experimentation we decided to mix some old powdered chemicals in the form of a Nova Pro-Speed 41 Press Kit.

'How old is the kit ?' I said.   

'I last one I used was in 2003 and it was old then' he replied hopefully.

So who knows when the kit was actually past its sell by date but the deal was one film each to see what we got. Nova marketed Pro-speed 41 as a kit for professional press photographers. The kit came with full documentation for airport security and was sealed in zip lock labeled bags. I can imagine a press photographer in the 90's setting off to some far flung place and processing their work in a grimy hotel room at the end of a days shooting. 


It would seem that one of the big advantages of the Nova kit was its flexibility of developing temperatures. The instructions recommended an optimum temperature of 38º but the enclosed printed table gave development times from 32º - 43º as well. For my part I choose to develop an expired Fujicolor Pro 160 film and so it was with some apprehension and relief when the negatives came off the spiral and I saw the film, it looked good with a decent orange base and strong negative images. But it wasn't util I scanned them that the true durability of analogue photography was made evedent to me, in spite of using an old kit of chemicals and expired film I was still able to see some decent images, for colour if not content!

 Mamiya RZ67 with Fujicolor Pro 160NS developed in Nova Pro-Speed 41 Press Kit chemicals at 34º for 4:45 minutes.

Finding Mid Grey

Scanning colour negatives can be a challenge, the orange mask can seriously interfere with a scan and not all scans look or feel right straight off. Scanner software can do a good job of automatically balancing out the orange mask but the verity and differences these masks make can still leave colour casts. These therefore need to be manually removed and so a degree of colour correction is often required.  

After scanning this frame of Kodak Portra 800 with an Epson v500 at 2400dpi and saving as a TIFF file using Epson Scan software, the scan appeared to me too warm/yellow and not how I recall. Skin is a key colour in any portrait and can be used as a powerful colour control. For me, a good starting point for any colour correction is to find mid grey and these are the steps that I use to do it with Photoshop CS6.

• Start by adding a new layer above the background layer.

• Next fill this new empty layer with 50% grey by selecting Edit>Fill. In the pop out window use the dropdown menu to select 50% Grey.

• The new layer will now fill 50% grey. From the blend mode dropdown menu set the grey layer to Difference. Difference blend mode works by comparing 50% grey with the image below it and by looking for differences between them. Areas in the layer which are different from the picture below it show up as in unnatural yellows, purples and blues, but any areas which are the same between the layers show up as black. In other words, by using Difference blend mode, the areas which are not different become the darkest parts of the image, and can be used to locate any areas that closest to mid grey.

• Finding the mid grey areas is now as easy as finding the darkest part of the Difference layer. To do this add a new Threshold adjustment layer. With the Threshold window open move the arrow under the histogram to the far left i.e from 128 to 1 the image will go from black to white.

• Now by slowly moving the arrow back to the right gradually small areas of black pixels will appear on the white background. These areas are the areas of the image closest to mid grey.

• Select the colour sample tool from the eyedropper fly out tool panel and by zooming in close to the black pixel areas use the colour sample tool target a black pixel zone. 

• Next add a Levels adjustment layer and toggle off the Threshold and Difference layers by clicking on the eyes to their left. The colour sample tool target will still be visible and this is the exact area should be targeted by the set grey point eyedropper from the layers window.

• With the set grey point eyedropper selected, click directly on the target. All colours will now be neutralised based on this mid grey pixel, effectively colour correcting the image. It is further possible by using the opacity slider to get additional fine colour control. 

• Finally clear the target and delete the Difference and Threshold layers.

 

Hunting the Everyday

It has been almost 40 years since the term “New Topographics" was coined by William Jenkins, when in 1975 he curated a show of American landscape photography held in Rochester, New York. The show consisted of over 150 black and white prints of streets, warehouses, city centres, industrial sites and suburban houses. Taken together their aesthetic was one of banal ordinariness. At the time the reaction was generally unfavourable however over time the influence of the movement, has been pervasive. Almost as a counterbalance to traditional unspoilt landscape photography these ‘man altered landscapes’ with their roads, trucks, industrial zones and empty cities have found increasing favour amongst photographers.

I have a propensity for this type of photography myself and follow many photographers who propose this style of photography amongst which is Pavel Petros a photographer living and working in the Czech Republic. I have always been struck by the his approach and strong sense of locality with its simple translation of light and place, so I recent asked him some questions about his photography and influences.

 

• Pavel how did you discover photography?

It attracted me ever since I remember but in a serious and consistent way I started in 1999, when I was at the university. That’s when I got my first film SLR. It has however turned much more intensive in last couple of years.

• It is clear that you are inspired by New Topographics but how did you discover this distinct style of photography?

Yes, New Topographics is a direction of photography that charmed me. I first encountered it in Flickr groups devoted to this genre.  I loved all the photos showing a landscape in a different way - as a landscape that was touched by a human activity.  Soon it became the vast source of my photographic inspiration. 

•So which photographers works inspire and influence you?

There are many names. For example Stephen Shore representing the New Topographic movement and contemporary photographers like Alexnder Gronsky known for his photographs of Russian landscapes. But also from closer to home Czech photographers, Jindrich Streit, Viktor Kolar and Vladimir Birgus all brilliant documentary photographers.

• Your work has a strong sense of locality to it, it’s as if you work in an area very well known to you, can you tell me more about your locations and how you choose them?

I live in the north eastern part of the Czech Republic, close to the border of Poland and Slovakia. In this industrial part of the country I have a full time job where I commute from my village to the city. This journey determines the locations where I take pictures, however I don’t choose locations, I choose subjects. Hypothetically, If I was in Paris, I would photograph a recycling facility or abandoned houses on the periphery rather than the Eiffel tower. This quite well describes my attitude.

• Light and weather plays an important role in your work do you often revisit the same places time and again?

Sure, light is essential for any resulting photo. I mean, if I see a super awesome object but the light is not good, I would skip shooting it as the photo wouldn't be any good either. But it works also other way round: often boring subjects and places can result in an extraordinary picture with the right light. For me, photography is an exciting hunt of boring, common, everyday and ugly stuff captured in favourable light.

• Can you tell me a bit about how you approach a shot, what attracts you to a scene and how you work a particular place?

I think most challenging part is finding a subject. I explore the streets, backyards, generally, areas in the periphery. When I find a subject, the easy part of the job comes up – composing and pressing the shutter. I would take three or more shots of one subject just to make sure I have that particular image in the box. Then I move on.

• I noticed that you shot some photos in southern France recently, was it an easy transition for you to anchor your style in this new environment?

I had a wonderful time while on holiday in France taking pictures. I quickly adopted strong mediterranean light as ‘my light’. We stayed in Nice in the middle of the summer touristic season. I took advantage of it and photographed people more often than I normally do. Among all the tourists with cameras I felt invisible and free to capture people without being noticed. If I were noticed I was just another tourist without knowledge of local language. If I had more time I would have explored the periphery of the city and the countryside outside of the city.

• So if you had two weeks to spend anywhere in the world (to shot of course) where would you go?

But two weeks is too short a time to get under the surface of the place! If you asked me what to do with two or six months, I would say any place I haven’t been to before. I’m sure I would find exciting stuff to capture anywhere. It doesn't matter whether it is a little village in Siberia, the streets of the Bronx or old slaughter house in Bulgaria, it depends on the light and the subject itself.

• What role does post processing play in your work?

I like to keep things simple. I try to capture the photo right out of the box. I reduce post processing to very little fixes like strengthening or sharpening. Of course, if it is black and white a conversion is needed since I shoot digital.

• Do you have a project for 2015?

I don’t know if I will get to it this year, but I would like to publish a book of monochrome photos.

For me, Pavels work is, the more I look at it superbly constructed and considered and far from simply images of the mundane and boring. His ability to apply his own understanding of composition, light and structure transforms these scenes of the everyday. You can see and read more about Pavels work in his first book Silent Encounters and I certainly hope he produces another monochrome book to accompany it soon.

© All Rights Reserved | Pavel Petros 2014

Illuminating

20:30 on a late July evening, two photos only moments apart. Mary sat with her back to the setting sun; the numbers on the meter weren’t great! There was just enough light for one shot, before a compulsory move to the other side of the table. Now sat facing a rapidly setting sun the golden rays transformed the scene and at least gave me the light I needed.

There are many reasons why I like film anticipation is one. Between shooting and seeing the result my imagination has time to reflect on what might have been captured. In the days that pass while the film is at the lab I usually forget the details and as is often the case (but not always) it’s a pleasant surprise to see the results a couple of weeks later.

I have tried to build some sense of anticipation when I use my DSLR by not looking at the LCD screen, it may seem counter intuitive, after all being able to check as you go along should be a good thing? But by resisting this temptation I learnt an even better thing. For me, constantly looking at the back of a camera is a habit that interferes with rhythm and distracts the connection between my subject and I. But worst than that ‘Chimping' undermines my own photographic instinct, it’s better to trust my own sense than a small screen, and in the end if I ever have a doubt I just look at my film negatives.

All photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak Portra 400 film.