abstraction, critical writing, film, water

Encounter Bay seascapes

April 14, 2023

I have been looking at some recent scans of the seascapes that I made during 2022 with my vintage RolleiflexF TLR. This is a 60 year old camera and so it is no surprise that the elements of its Planar 75m lens that were joined with balsam glue have recently separated. Apparently the issue of lens separation is often associated with the camera having been exposed to high heat situations during its life.  It can be repaired through baking the lens to de-glue the elements, but there is a risk of the elements cracking from the baking process. I decided to go ahead with the repair.

The 2022 seascape images that I made with this Rolleiflex TLR looked quite different to what I’d expected. From the traditional perspective of the quality of the image that is produced by a digital camera you could say that these are degraded images and so failures. That is how I saw them when I’d scanned the negatives and then compared them in Lightroom to the digital images made at the same time. I had initially thought that the degraded images resulted from the lens being salt damaged like the Leica M4-P due to by a rogue wave sweeping over me — but it was lens separation not a salt ladened camera.

Rolleiflex TLR
seascape, Encounter Bay, #1

I put the scans to one side and forgot about them. Some time later I went back and re-looked at Gustave Le Gray’s mid-19th century coastal photography of Normandy and the western coast of the Mediterranean.   I concentrated on his seascapes, that were made using the wet-collodion process and from different negatives (one for the sea and another one for the sky) being combined to produce an image that showed both sky and sea in one unified, double-structured picture. He produced an album of sepia brown toned seascapes of albumen prints called Vistas del Mar. These are images from the prehistory of an instantaneous photography, or pictorial instantaneity, which emerged after 1878.

I found these images created by the combination of two different negatives taken at different moments with different exposure times stunning. They also raised the issues of how does photography represent time? How does photography figure the temporal nature of the medium? What kind of philosophy of time, if any, can be found in photography?

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1 Comment

  • Reply David Hume April 15, 2023 at 8:39 pm

    Hi Gary… I very much like seascape #1 – the image that you chose as the header for your blog post. I think it’s great. I’m not as fond of the one above that you’ve used on the Facebook post but that’s no matter. I read your blog post as always with great interest and got a bit lost in the complexity, but that often happens to me.

    Here’s my take on what’s going on.

    I guess I would see this as exemplifying an empathy between the artist and their medium. In your act of observation we firstly have a record of that act – that record being the negative. The negative provides the first approximation of what you, the photographer, intended. Now the process continues as you decide firstly what to do with the individual images and secondly how that will fit in with a body of work based on the intentions that led you to make these images in the first place.
    Here’s where it gets interesting because of the curve-ball you were thrown by the lens separation (coupled, I also feel, with a long exposure.) In this case there has been a serendipitous aesthetic gift from the lens separation that you have been able to appreciate and exploit. What I wonder is if this will lead to a sustained body of work. I think there’s a very delicate balance between using this one-off gift, and destroying it by overusing it in which case it becomes merely an effect, and thus loses the charm and delight that is evident both in the image and your reaction to it. What I detect in the way you’ve reconsidered this event and the work it produced is that your aesthetic has already been broadened by it, and I see that as the main thing. In looking at any of the images you posted in the article I did not once wonder what, if anything, was wrong with the lens, I just thought they were great images, but not like those you would normally set out to make. I hope this quick reaction to what is obviously well thought-out by you is useful and does not come across as dismissive because of its brevity. Cheers.

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