Revisit

Returning to Thamesmead

As a photographer, I’m always looking for new subjects to photograph. Sometimes though returning to a previous location can be just as rewarding. Revisiting a place will never result in replicating an earlier experience, things will always be different. Light, time, season and weather are near impossible to duplicate. Places evolve, walls, shops, buildings change. Using a different format or lens present new perspectives. Even being in a different state of mind and mood are factors that can lead to new photographic opportunities. So two years after my first visit, on a wet, cold and grey Sunday, I returned to Thamesmead. This time on a sharp and crisp winters day. With clear skies and cold blue light, I found low shadows and distinct contrast, this together with changes in the buildings and landscape resulted in a very different set of pictures. For me, once again proving the value of a revisit. 

All photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak TMAX400 & Kodak Portra 160 film.

An Overcast Summer Afternoon

Brightlingsea, Essex.

An Overcast Summer Afternoon was featured on the website of  Milan based C41 Magazine on 20th September 2017

All photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak TMAX400 film.

The Pergola Portraits

Great to see some photos from my recent shot with Talie Eigeland taken at Hampstead's Hill Gardens and Pergola on Photo/Foto Magazine. Check out their site, there are over 150 folios and interviews from talented photographers all around the world.

Model: Talie Eigeland

All photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak TMAX400 & Kodak Portra 400 film.

Residence on Kloosterstraat

Antwerp, Belgium.

The net curtains and blinds draped heavy in the windows of lower floor apartments, like fabric guards protecting the privacy of the residences on Kloosterstraat.

All photographed with CONTAX S2 and Zeiss 28mm Distagon T* ƒ2.8 on Fuji Neopan 400 film.

Cropredy Bridge

This short series of photos was taken at Cropredy Bridge Cars based in rural Oxfordshire. Since 1972 Cropredy Bridge have specialised in the restoration of classic Jensen cars, in particular, the famous Interceptor. The Jensen Interceptor is a genuine British classic, built at their West Bromwich factory from 1966 to 1976 it was a truly international car with its Italian designed body and American V8 power, it is rightly considered one of the most beautiful cars of the last 50 years.

 

All photographed with Hasselblad 500c/m on Kodak TMAX400 & Kodak Ektar 100 film.

Expired 1987

KODAK VARICOLOR III - A TRACE OF SOFT TOE

A couple of years ago I wrote about shooting a roll of 21-year-old expired Fuji Velvia 50. A friend had given me a couple of rolls that had expired in 1993 and I used one somewhat unconventionally for a series of portraits. I'm not much of a photographic experimenter but I do enjoy using expired film. Last month I was given a bag of various long expired films from a photographer who had converted to digital in the early 2000's. He had kept them in his attic hoping one day he might shot some film again. Finally realising that this would probably never happen he decided to give them to a good home, me. Now in my fridge, the bag is a mishmash of 35mm and 120 films all dating from the late 80's. What caught my eye were some rolls of Kodak Varicolor III Professional 160.  I wasn't familiar with this film and so did a bit of research online. Discovering that it was sold as a professional grade general portrait film and was described by Kodak as "Medium speed color negative film designed for fine portraiture, it combines a “soft toe,” moderate contrast, and moderate color saturation. For fine portraiture, these characteristics maximize the retention of highlight and shadow detail, with exceptional flesh-tone reproduction under controlled lighting".  I was pretty sure that I wouldn't get any soft toe whatever that is from my rolls of 29-year-old Varicolor, but it would be interesting to see what I could get. So in a pool of strong evening light and after shooting Rosie with some fresh Kodak Portra 800, I shot a roll. 

I exposed the ISO 160 Varicolor at ISO 64 and developed it in Tetenal Colortec C41 at 38ºc for an extra 45 seconds; 4:00, not the usual 3:15. The developed roll had a distinct blue sheen when wet, something I've not seen before however it did eventually dry back to orange. The negatives were very thin, apparently, an issue with Varicolor even when new. Kodak's own notes stated  "Because of the film’s “soft toe” and moderate contrast, photographers (under many circumstances) prefer to “build” slightly higher contrast and color by exposing the film at ISO 125. This also provides additional protection from potential underexposure". After scanning I made some simple post-processing adjustments with curves and some local burning-in of the dark areas to produce the final photos. What struck me were the flecks of blue sky coming through the trees, the intensity of this blue is curious. This for me is a kind of signature. Overall the final photos are a true testament to photographic film's ability to withstand the passage of time and still deliver beautiful images.

Tripod... It's a Monopod

On a recent family day out we visited Hampton Court Palace the famed Tudor residence of King Henry VIII.  Sited on the River Thames at Hampton some 11 miles from central London this 500-year-old royal palace remains one of the largest Tudor buildings in England.  I don't usually take a camera on outings like these, beautiful palaces and castles don't whet my photographic appetite.  Even though I live very close to the palace I had not been there since I was at school and at this rate, I may never go again, and so as a sort of challenge, I thought why not?

Shooting Kodak TMAX 400 film I was fairly sure that there would not be enough light to hand hold and so I bought a monopod with me.  Sure enough in the interiors rooms at ƒ8 I needed 1/8, well within the usable limits of a monopod.  Before shooting any interior shots I asked the staff if it was okay to use a monopod.  The staff member consulted with a colleague on her walkie-talkie and said that a monopod was okay, however for future reference a tripod was not.  At this point, I also established that the photos were not for commercial use and that in effect I was a tourist like the hundreds of others visitors surrounding me, all happily shooting away with their phones and DSLR's - on ISO6400 no doubt.  Albeit I was using a rather strange contraption, a film camera.

A little later I was in another wing of the palace and a guard came up to me to say that I was not allowed to take photos using a tripod, I told him it was a monopod and that I had sought permission and that it had been granted.  Of course, he went off to check and so as I wondered out of the room yet another guard stopped me and asked if I could wait (and not leave the room) while they awaited their response.  "No, if you want to find me I will be in the next room" I told them.  Having no desire to stand about waiting because they didn't know their own rules.

10 minutes later while standing in the garden with my wife and daughter a senior guard came up to me and politely told me that photography is not permitted in the palace with tripods.  It's a monopod I explained.  He said that they were not allowed either.  Okay no problem, “But can you tell me why I had been told it was permitted when I asked and now it’s not?"  He pointed to the two bands around the cuff of his red jacket in a puerile implication that he was in charge and went on to say that tripods are a health and safety concern as other visitors can trip on them and that they damage the floor - like shoes don’t!  Furthermore, he went on to say that basically, they don’t like “proper" photos been taken by photographers, "Only tourist with point and shoots cameras really".  Apparently, the people at Historic Royal Palaces get snooty when unofficial photos appear on the web and in publications he added.  Er… what do they think it is, the 1980’s?  It could be argued that phones can take a perfectly good photo of an interior and moments later it will be on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or any other website.  All this, while I'm still loading a film in the back of my camera and fiddling about with my light meter.  He even asked me what type of photos I was taking?   I couldn't see the relevance of the question but my response was measured and polite "I’m taking photos of the palace, like everybody else."  Later at home I looked on the official Historic Royal Palaces website and this is the one and only rule surrounding the whole debacle, nothing about health and safety, nothing about monopods and certainly nothing about “proper” photography.

• The use of tripods inside the building is not permitted unless arrangements have been made in advance with our conservation team (to protect the floors from the tripod base so that it doesn't cause damage).

The protection of cultural treasures and valuable antiques is an important job no doubt, but hassling paying visitors who have not done anything wrong I'm sure is not. I might just go back to photographing empty doorways in Staines at midnight! 

 

 

Thamesmead

A couple of weekends back I met up with fellow photographer Andy Feltham for a wander around one of London’s largest 1960's housing estates, Thamesmead. I'm still trying to understand what attracts me as a photographer to this type of brutalist architecture. The buildings are often formed in geometric modular blocks linked together by skywalks and surrounded by parklands or in the case of Thamesmead, a large lake. I guess it's the mixture of forms that appeal to me along with the symmetrical lines and shapes. This together with the concrete!  Concrete with its grey, raw and often unfinished surfaces cast into brave shapes, strong blocks and open expanses. On closer inspection surfaces reveal details of their casting method, impressions of wooden planks can often be seen, a tiny bit of natural interest on an otherwise unremitting manmade construction. All this mathematical design interacts with perspective and along with the texture and lines work with light and shadow which for me, almost create photographic compositions automatically.    

I don’t necessarily see beauty in the style itself, in fact it appears to me that unless scrupulously maintained the surfaces are very prone to unsightly weathering, pollution and water staining.  Constant cycles of hot and cold crack facades and rust streaking from the internal reenforcing bars mark walls and surfaces. However these details have their own photographic qualities and contrast strongly with the modernist and utopian ideals of their original designers.

While wondering around we met a guy from Leeds who's girlfriend was at a conference in London. He chose to spend his morning visiting Thamesmead! In conversation he asked if we were members of the Facebook group 'The Brutalism Appreciation Society' a group with over 30,000 members, so it looks like I'm certainly not alone in my attraction to brutalist architecture after all. 

 

So High in Soho

by Rachel Donati

 

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. 

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

 

Getting my hands wet

Just before Christmas I temporarily swapped cameras with my friend, he now has my square format Hasselblad 500c/m and I have taken in to care his beast of a Mamiya RZ67. I love to borrow and swap cameras, it's a chance to experience a different machine, feel and see what can be produced and well just try something else. The Mamiya is big and feels like a statement even before I take the lens cap off. Its 70 x 56mm negatives are also big, full of detail and easily the equal of what I'm used to in terms of image quality. For me, it's a refreshing change to have landscape and portrait available and in the case of the RZ67 via a nifty switch and revolving back, so there is no need to turn this monster of a camera on its side. But best of all I have three superb Mamiya Sekor lenses to play with, a wide 50mm, standard 90mm and portrait 127mm. It really is a great camera but be warned you'll need a battery and probably a tripod!

Moreover, I've finally bought some chemicals to develop my own black and white film and so now after a 29-year hiatus I getting my hands wet again. Back then I processed black and white film for a living. I worked in the darkest reaches of a lab where I spent most of the day sleeping and developing the odd roll of film, that was until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The lab had a contract with the Racing Post, a daily newspaper dedicated to horse racing. Every day the sports photographers would drop off their day's films, anything between 30 and 50 rolls of the stuff and I only had two hours before they collected them again for the printers. And so I'm kind of an experienced novice!  With tanks, thermometer and jugs in hand, I lost no time and so here are four photos from my first two rolls, well my first since 1986!

Redux

Two years ago my sister had a summer party, there wasn't much parking space outside her small cottage and what space there was taken up by a magnificent Buick Wildcat, all 18' of it! I lost no time finding the owner amongst the guests. Andy seemed quite unperturbed by my desire to photograph his car. The detailed explanation of my photographic methods, the use of medium format film and my love of cars, in general, was probably unnecessary as he agreed to meet up the next Sunday.

The following weekend during Andy's lunch break we met at the industrial estate where he worked.  I didn't want to use all of his free time so I shot my roll of Ektar 100 fast. My final frame was a portrait of Andy in the driver's seat as he left. For me, this photo has a special significance, back then I sent my films to a lab for processing and scanning. One thing that had bugged me though was that often scans which came back from the lab were terrible. Being new to hybrid film/digital workflow I was never certain if it was bad scanning or my own camera work. In fact, it was that portrait of Andy which was the final straw, it came back from the lab as a totally unusable scan. Because I could see it's potential I inevitably felt compelled to finally purchase my own film scanner and learn to scan myself. I could not believe the difference between the lab scans and my own first effort, without any experience I managed a decent improvement; one that certainly left me with no regrets over my recent hardware purchase.

Two years later and quite a bit of scanning later too I have finally embarked on my redux project, that of scanning all of my old lab scanned negatives to see if I can extract any other presentable images. I started with Andy and the Buick Wildcat and if there is one thing I know now for sure is that "If you want something done properly, it's probably worth trying yourself"

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.

Assembly

With a roll of Ilford FP4+ 125 loaded in the CONTAX S2 and Zeiss Planar T* ƒ1.7 50mm mounted, I shot this short series with Sky. They were all taken in natural window light. I've never been much of an Ilford user, but I have to say that this film greatly impressed me especially as it expired in 2005!

 

Expired 1993

FUJICHROME VELVIA - 21 YEARS IN FOIL

A while ago my friend gave me her late father's old cameras and lenses. In the camera bag pocket were two rolls of expired Fuji Velvia 50.  The boxes were covered in mildew. However, Fuji sealed their Velvia in thick foil wrappers and so even though they were 21 years out of date and been stored in the loft space above a garage, through many hot summers and cold winters, I figured it was worth shooting just to see what I got. 

Velvia is a highly saturated daylight colour reversal film that's popular with nature and landscape photographers, both of which I'm not. But I do like portraiture so after shooting Izzy with some Kodak Portra 160, I thought why not try that old Velvia? she's got beautiful red hair and the meadow we were in was sort of a landscape! 

The transparencies were a real surprise to me, they were so punchy and vivid, but in hindsight, that is to be expected from Fuji famous film. What I didn't expect is the beauty and robustness that emerged from such old and uncared for film. They did have a colour shift toward magenta, possibly due to age, that was reasonably corrected with post-processing. The overall final result suited my unorthodox experiment... using Velvia for portraits!