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.
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?
In the In Memoriam post on poodlewalks about having to put Kayla down due to her having cancer of the lymph nodes I mentioned that her love of being in, and walking in the local bushland, helped me to photograph the local Waitpinga bushland in the southern Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia. Being-in-this-world with her helped me shift away from viewing nature (the local bushland) as simply natural beauty; or its re-enchantment (mythos) on offer in today’s tourist industry.
Kayla helped my photography in the sense that being with her enabled me to see the detail in the bushland, see the transience of nature, discover particular settings and individual trees, and to become attached to the earth beneath us. By seeing the changes in the bush I started seeing nature as history. Natural history as perishable nature refers to more than our evolving conceptions of nature because nature itself changes: bark breaks and falls to the ground, trees are uprooted, plants die, animals are killed, the earth’s water becomes polluted from the chemicals in the farm, and so on. Nature shares with human history a passing away or perishing. Walking each morning with Kayla helped me become aware of the subtle changes.
This particular tree in the Waitpinga bushland is one that I photographed in different weather conditions with different cameras and films. On this occasion I used a 5×7 Cambo S3 monorail. It had been raining during the night. The colours were strange and intense. My coming back to photograph the tree’s frequently hanging conditions meant that it became my favourite tree in this bushland.
We have a small space downstairs that’s a storeroom, even though I had thought that I could set it up as a studio space. In this space sits a Cambo studio stand, a 8×10 Sinar P monorail and two background poles that I’d purchased in the 1980s, a fridge for film and dog food, two filing cabinets and a camera trunk for a large format camera. But the photography has not happened, and the studio space has become a storeroom by default. Every time I go into the storeroom I become depressed looking at all that camera gear just sitting there waiting to be used. I keep asking myself: how can I use this setup.
The photography has not happened for several reasons. The studio space only has a small side window and so the exposures are more than 1-2 minutes during the summer months when the afternoon light comes into the room. It is is filtered through the bushes in the garden outside the window and when it is cloudy the exposures are around 4 minutes. During winter the studio is quite dark, and though I did consider some studio lights, I didn’t really want to go down that pathway, or spend money on that kind of equipment. Secondly, though I considered doing still life photography, and experimented a bit, I wasn’t all that interested in that photographic genre. So nothing happened.
Then I came across the above archival portrait of Suzanne that had been made in the large downstairs room with its big window just after we had moved from Adelaide to Encounter Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula. I started thinking: well, why not portraits? Why not use the potential studio space to photograph our friends? I then remembered that I had initially rejected the studio portrait option as I’d thought that the 2 minute plus minimum exposures would be too long for people to pose.
Then I realised that long exposures incorporate time and the inevitable bodily movement of the sitter during that exposure is a representation of time. The tracing of movement through an extended exposure time is quite distinct from that produced by a series of instantaneous photographs. So why not turn what I’d initially thought to be as a negative into a positive?
Looking back over 2021 I can see that the Delta strain of the Covid-19 pandemic had a large impact on my large format photography during 2021. South Australia’s borders were closed throughout 2021 and that meant my photo trips had to be within South Australia’s state borders. Even so, apart from a 12 day camel trek from Blinman to Lake Frome plus walking in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, I stayed close to home in Victor Harbor. The exception was a trip to Melbourne and a visit to the Otways between Melbourne’s two lockdowns.
My large format photography in 2021 has been mostly done within my local area, with much of it being representations of the roadside vegetation along the back country roads. These roads are ones that I often walked along with the poodles in the early morning or the late afternoon. An example of the early morning:
The other reason that I didn’t really do that much large format photography throughout 2021 was that the public health restrictions designed to eliminate Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to concentrate on working on the images and text The Bowden Archives and Industrial Modernity project. This mostly involved researching and working on the text of the four sections of the project, and that meant sitting in front of the computer screen for most of the day, day after day.
Xmas 2021 was my self-imposed deadline for finishing the text. Then I could take a holiday break. It happened — just.
David Tatnall has started an online gallery at View Camera Australia for analogue photos made with both medium and large format cameras. The first exhibition: —August 2021–is now up. It was based around recent work — made within the year to August 2021. I sent 3 images for submission to August 2021, and one of them entitled ‘sea sky earth’, was included in the exhibition. It was made with an old 5×7 Cambo SC 3 monorail in the late autumn/early winter of 2021. It was early in the morning on an over cast day.
The image below is an outtake –that is, one of the 3 images sent for consideration. It is of a local wetland in Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It was also made with a Cambo 5×7 SC3 monorail as a part of an ongoing series of photographing my local area. This is the traditional country of the Ngarrindjeri people.
There are some great images in the exhibition, and it showcases both the strength of large format photography and the diversity of analogue photography in Australia. The audience response to the online August 2021 exhibition has been extremely positive. As a result of the positive audience response David Tatnall plans to do another online exhibition in October. It is a good idea.
Hopefully these images will help to uplift the mood of the people in Sydney and Melbourne, who have been in lockdown for some time; and those people in Brisbane and Adelaide have been in and out of lockdown; and those in Canberra who have recently gone into lockdown. People are anxious and under stress with the rolling lockdowns, which are designed to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 by severely limiting people’s movement.