Sunday, November 10, 2013

Looking Through A Bigger Camera

27-alec-soth-blog480.jpg (480×337)
The photographer Alec Soth using an 8-by-10 film camera.

Photographers usually start off with a small format camera, 35 mm, then acquire more lenses moving towards the medium format. What happens when you move to the large format view camera? How as a photographer is your 'seeing' of the world changed? Do you become more considerate of the image you will produce or are you simply just looking for a better quality of photo at a larger scale?

With the large format the photographer carries the heavy equipment to site. Then takes precious time to set up the camera. Looking under a black cloak at an inverted image the scene is considered. The image is not instant as a digital will be. The ground glass shows you a preview of the image but its not final. The photographer judges what exposure is right and waits for 'the decisive moment' (Cartier-Bresson).

Stephen Shore in 'Uncommon Places'  was, at first intention, attempting to recapture 'American Surfaces' only this time in full colour and with better equipment. Yet he almost immediately found that this new equipment forced him to carry out his process in a different way.

"The view camera forces conscious decision making. You can't sort of stand somewhere, it is exactly where you want to be... So what happens is that you develop a kind of taste for certainty'.

Stephen Shore - Main Street, Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, August 18, 1974

Edward Burtynsky in Manufactured Landscapes tells in an interview how it slowed him down, made him methodical in his study and search for the image. How he sees himself in the final image.

"It's a contemplative approach. You find your way to the image slowly. ...I looked upon the ground glass the same way you might look at a blank canvas - a space to be filled. The beauty of it was that it filled so quickly and with such exquisite detail."

Ansel Adams in 'The Camera' suggests this contemplative nature of the view camera. he also comments on the way in which you take the photo. Like the opening image of Alec Soth the photographer can be in isolation from the world around him while giving complete attention to the image in front of him.

"With a smaller camera we see the subject through
a viewfinder, and release the shutter at the desired moment of exposure.
A view camera favors a far more contemplative approach,
partly because it is slower to operate... In addition
we see the image on a ground-glass screen that is in precisely the
same position the film will occupy when we are ready for exposure."

Ansel Adams - Yosemite Park
The detail a 4 x 5 or 8 x 10 format camera gives is the most impressive compared with medium format or 35 mm. Maybe this is why photographers move to a large format. Shore did this, he realised he didn't have to be as direct with what the subject was.

'Especially if I'm photographing an intersection, I don't have to have a single point of emphasis in the picture. It can be complex, because its so detailed that the viewer can take time and read it; they can pay attention to allot more.'

I want to investigate this affect, if indeed there is one, of the large format camera has on the psyche of the photographer. In an age where images are capture and instantly available is it a version of “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” (Robert Capa) or is there still a place for the slow process of the 'Bigger Camera'.

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