Elmar Surprise

I have just received my Leica IIIf back from servicing, a few days short of one year since it was sent for a rangefinder clean. It all seems to work now, apart from no flash contact, but to expect a camera to work perfectly after only a year on a repair bench is too much to ask

What does work with amazing quality is the ancient 5cm f3.5 (red scale) Elmar that came back with the body. A tiny and light weight lens that is so staggeringly good it is as good as the 50mm f3.5 Color Skopar on my now sold Vitessa from Voigtlander Braunschweig. The Voigtlander objective is perhaps one of the unsung glories of optical design. The Vitessa was sold as I never really got used to the coffee plunger film winding system. The barn door and bellows opening were a dream, as was the parallax corrected range viewfinder IMG_3724 jbaphoto140927d3516 jbaphoto140927d3515


Darkroom Darkness

Close the door and darkness, darkness darker than Stygian darkness. Blacker than Eli Jenkins Bible, blacker than the resting place of Chthulu. Black as the black of Agfa Record Rapid developed in Amidol (pray excuse my tears for this loss, which old photographers will understand). As black as Charbonnel Etching Ink (something I still have, and lots of copper plates and room for a new etching press). Black as the mind of Murdoch. A fine resonant black, that is until the coloured swirls of the eyelid moves start, a resonance from a not misspent enough youth

BlackAnd for doubters, not a single thread of gaffer’s tape to make it black

Only cloud is that I have discovered plastering and cornice cementing to be the stuff of divorce

Where To Next?

The new darkroom is almost ready, final touch up of paint and replacing the dry bench side

However, like how howbigglyever, the real question is where to next. During the months without a darkroom I have had time to think about where my work will go next. There is no longer a financial imperative to sell prints to Asian clients and I can do what I want, mainly growing vegetables. I have also been thinking about the bigger issue of the place of photography in this time. I first thought this internal debate was about the modernist/postmodernist transitional period I worked through and where my work will place itself in relation to that. But there are deeper concerns in my mind. Mainly do I want to do it at all, should I return to charcoal on paper, or to printmaking to explore things that engage me, or to grow the perfect savoy cabbage

I remember saying to a friend that there were only a handful of photographs still to be made by me, and that when I had made them all photography should, cease. All of it, everyone, no more photographs, no more photographers, stop!
I started photography as a way to explore those things and events that engaged me and I have returned to the same themes in a cyclic manner over the last forty five years. Each cycle treating the subject area a bit differently, like traveling along a spiral with different segments of the spiral being occupied by a different theme. I have always gone for large format clarity where possible as I have terrible eyesight and could see nothing at all until the day, when I was about seven years old, and I had my first phoropter experience. Until that moment I could see nothing. I love phoropters almost as much as the scent of a damp dog (another story)

Back to the present. My feelings about how photography is being used to show our world. Is it being shown honestly and need it be shown with photography at all? I am thinking of the rights of the subject and the responsibilities of the photographer to give respect to his subject

There are two workers who spring to mind with this thought, American Sally Mann and the Australian photographer Bill Henson. Mann’s work I enjoy for its quiet sensuality, but I share the doubts of so many other commentators, why did she, like the other Virginian photography Emmet Gowin, use 10×8″ for what appear to be family snapshots. Ten by Eight is very process oriented and there is no way it can be used quietly, so Mann’s children knew exactly what was going on and posed accordingly. Look at Sunday Funnies 1991 as an example. I have no problem with the making of these images for family use. What troubles me is their sale for world wide consumption for profit. I am reminded of the observation of Diane Neumaier on the wife-portraits of Steiglitz, Callahan and Gowin. “These awe-inspiring, beautiful photographs of women [read children] are extremely oppressive. They fit the old traditions of woman as possession . . . In this aesthetically veiled form of misogyny, the artist expects his wife to take off her clothing, then he photographs her naked . . . and after showing everybody the resulting pictures he gets famous . . . The subtle practice of capturing, exposing and exhibiting one’s wife is praised as sensitive”

Mann I understand to sit within the modernist tradition. Bill Henson is a different case altogether and is part of the Australian postmodernist movement which took off in the early 1980s. There was some real crap produced in this time, the worst of which is without doubt the cloying neo-Victorian pastiches of Anne Ferran. Back to Henson, it is not the portraits shown at Roslyn Oxley Gallery that the famous furore was about that trouble me. I see these as simple portraits of a young girl. I personally don’t like the oppressive gloom of the images, but the portraits are fine and the subject supported them and their making after she reached the age of majority, so the Braveheart woman can shut up. Where I take issue with Henson is the work shown at the Australian Pavilion during the 46th Venice Biennale 1995, wow, twenty years ago. The images are huge colour print assemblages made from cut sections of prints glued to a flat substrate. The individual prints have the same gloom that has marked Henson’s work for years. The result are large, shattered, dark, ominous landscapes with bits of rusty cars and brooding skies. Set into this ground and almost part of it are the bodies of young people some of which I remember as being smeared with stuff, but it is about eighteen years since I have seen the prints.

Photograph by Bill Henson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Bienalle 1995

Photograph by Bill Henson, Australian Pavilion, Venice Bienalle 1995

My issue is with the use of the people, the vulnerability of whom comes through very strongly in these images. Henson claimed he protected the models and was very secretive about the making of the works. But they trouble me, who are these people and why did he use them in this way? Questions, bloody questions and I don’t know the answers, but these are things to be sorted out before the next set of images of women

As well as the 10×8″ portrait work in the new studio, a co-building with the darkroom, I make the Leicasnaps this blog is mainly about. But I see the snaps as that, honest pix of friends, mainly Rae, and primarily for our use with possible use of some garden snaps in a mixed exhibition with the new still lifes I have planned

Time to take a break from these thoughts are there are real things to do, not with cameras, but with brushes, drills, saws and hammers and stuff, real stuff

Print sorting, really print culling

As well as three new portfolios to be photographed and printed before my second twenty one year survey show, rebuilding the darkroom and building a tiny six by five metre studio to use for the 10×8″ work I am sorting the extant prints, mainly the work from 1994

This is to help Rae with her plans for the show. Big argument time as I tear up any print I don’t like, has become in any tiny way damaged or is not printed well. Lots of stuff to tear up and lots of screams of “what are you doing, I like that print”. Too many prints means time to be totally obsessive about print culling

But, in amongst the stuff from 1994 to now there is a lot I am actually beginning to like

Rebuilding, a lot more than the darkroom

The darkroom rebuilding has more elements to it than just physical. The physical aspect is enough, with lots of reconstruction problems to sort out, like replacing termite eaten support sills without the almost supported wall falling on those underneath, Graham, Glen and myself about ten days ago. Sorted that one with sliding chocks, a totally new timber restoration solution that came to me at four in the morning

The other rebuilding is my visual mind, how to use my work to reflect the state of the world as it is. The world disasters that we are being covered by, layer upon layer. Global warming, the Pacific Gyre, deforestation, Tony Abbott, everything. I am not sure that black and white photography is the right medium, but I am not abandoning it yet, just considering its place in the work

I almost sold the 10×8″ Sinar Norma kit about a week ago, but the buyer only wanted the body, not the lenses and the stuff, lots of stuff that with the 5×4″ Norma kit make the Normas a complete studio centre. So the 10×8″ Norma body sale did not go through. However, in the meantime I am working with just the little Leicas, making notes and sketches in the garden book and writing ideas in the photography note books

Physically the rebuilding goes sideways as well. The plans for the garden are being reworked, including the size of the karesansui, with a brick path between the darkroom and the planned karesansui. This will give easy visual and physical access to the darkroom/shed supports so any further damage or movement can be seen and Gina’s offspring defeated. (Gina because a termite queen is a fat white almost unmoving object of revulsion, like a mining heiress)

The new work to come through and from the new darkroom is a much bigger challenge. Fifteen years onĀ  I don’t feel the approach taken in Forest Threnody is right. Perhaps I need to travel, this appeals to me, and the Leicas are just right for this . . . to be continued

see also

Darkroom Mark II, and on to Mk III

BUILDER, a very talkative builder, has just left and he is going to do the deed, SOON

So, and useable by friends who are willing to travel this far for a few days, the Darkroom Mark II will be working in about ten days. Even smarter than it was twenty years ago, and more logical

Darkroom Mk III will occur in the Spring, be extended deeper into the shed and have an island wet bench so that big prints can be handled by two people from both sides . Also, if the extension is taken forty inches further, a narrow dry bench for the 120 and 35mm enlargers can go in on the other side of the wet bench leaving heaps of space for big sheets of paper and stuff either side of the 10×8″ and 5×4″ enlargers

This set-up would also make the place perfect for group tuition, but I don’t think my patience is up to that any more, as some of you might have noted

Peace, Calm and Equanimity

There are few things that cause me annoyance. One of them is people wanting me to engage in idle banter when I am working, especially with large format

Working in the recent fire ground with a Linhof, rapidly changing light and the difficulties of working with LF in a disastrously dusty and windy environment a Grey Nomad caravan stopped near the ute. People got out, one brought out a DSLR and started wandering towards me in MY landscape. Rae tried to head her off and told her the light was changing rapidly, I was busy and that the fire ground was dangerous, especially to anyone wearing thongs/flip-flops on their feet. This one was not going to be put off and she waddled on “What camera is that?” I waived her away, at which point she stole a snap of me and the Linhof. Driven away without politeness

Another time a caravan stopped when I was digging in the garden and a Grey Nomad jumped out, strode through my garden and started to photograph the house and the outside of my darkroom. When I challenged her she said she was “A fine art photographer who liked to photograph derelict buildings in the country”. Also riven away without politeness, but after a few moments her husband started to get out of the car, amazing how a long handled garden fork can make a Grey Nomad retreat

Usually these days Rae heads such people off when I am working, gives them a card and warmly suggests that if they are interested I will be finished in a very few minutes and would be glad to talk about what I am doing and show them the image in the back of the camera. Sales have come from these encounters, so I am generally welcoming. Once the dark slide is in the cool box and the exposure logged I become my normal calm and engaging self, all gentleness and light, peacefulness, warmth and engagement