Sunday, 19 September 2010

Thoughts on a Sunday Morning...

Thinking about portraiture a great deal at the minute and was reminded by John (thanks Mr Husdon) about the work of Chuck Close and the fantastic daguerrotypes he did a few years ago.. Was looking through his work this morning and found myself struck by the irony of the current situation; enrol on a digital imaging and photography MA which sets it's territory firmly (at least in it's sales propaganda) in the terrain of the contemporary, eschewing traditional methods of presentation and the like in favour of new avenues where technology is used instead of the traditional print!! This appealed to me at the beginning, I had some vague ideas about what I would consider doing and yet a trajectory is occurring which seems to see me heading in quite the opposite direction.

First medium format film; and this again I find hilarious. I never understood the whole thing with film, the endless rhetoric about the quality not being the same as digital, some mysterious quality being lost and so on. If I am honest I thought it was a sort of begrudging resistance by aficionados of the medium, who resented the ease with which digital technology usurped their hard won finesse and therefore dug their heels in and cried 'we shall not be moved'. But I take it back, I was wrong! Apologies to all aforementioned patrons. The external examiner suggested at the beginning of summer that I "beg, borrow or steal a Hasselblad" and shoot medium format. I like squares, they are a pleasing shape, and on the basis of that alone agreed. It is a delightful machine to use with a nice clunky shutter click but problems with light leaks and the general inconvenience of film, the dust, the margins for error, the things that just go plain wrong, saw me scanning the transparencies on Friday this really worth it? And then the prints changed everything. They DO have some quality that digital simply doesn't, a lightness of being, a subtlety perhaps, I don't really have the words yet to describe it. It is quite inconvenient really, but there we are!!!

Now in thinking about portraiture I was talking the other day to Mike about Avedon. Large format, he tells me, is the way to go!! In looking at daguerrotypes I expect the people to start talking to me from within the frame, like some of their spirit has actually been captured because the likeness, the life-like-ness is too great! This too, is bloody inconvenient. I don't know how to do either one and it is not really anything to do with digital imaging. So thoughts in my head this sunday morning are, should I actually just bite the bullet and try a bit of large format portrait photography. Would it be insane to continue spending all of my money on photography and just go to London and take a class in daguerrotypes (will I ever own any shoes again?). It would be comforting to begin at least one project on this MA in terrain I actually know something about but maybe that defeats the point of an MA? And if I add some kind of laser show or something would that sufficiently fit the remit of the course if I go all last millenium on the actual content. Answers on a postcard please.....


  1. Started writing a postcard, but thought this is a bit more sensible.

    You've got all the time in the world to do things you already know how how to do perfectly well, may as well challenge yourself and learn as much as possible, two years isn't that long, after all.
    Large format allows a totally different way of looking at your subject, it's perfect for portraiture as it's like staring deeply into your subject through a window, not a spy hole or a little television, you take all the time you need to capture a single image every few minutes at most, it cannot be rushed and reveals the essence of a person.

    I'll be happy to run through using the large format properly, you'd be fine to borrow the University's Sinar as nobody ever uses it, and we have hundreds of sheets of Velvia still. Would love to do the Daguerre workshop myself, utterly impracticle to replicate without your own science lab as it needs Mercury fumes(!) as part of the process, but an amazing thing to learn and a no doubt unforgettable day of goodness.

    I still have the possibilty to borrow a twenty grand wide band white light laser too at some point, so actually... it's not such a daft idea ha.

  2. i agree re the whole 'all the time in the world' thing and i think i may as well continue being outside my comfort zone and just learn the things I want to know about; the issue with being outside ones comfort zone is simply that it is uncomfortable but that's not really life threatening is it?

    I started this MA thinking about how a contemplative approach could be brought to photography and you are right, large format certainly lends itself to that. It would sharpen my technical skills for sure and the results are so worth the effort, if you want to run a large format workshop sign me up!

    I wonder does anybody else want to learn about daguerrotypes, maybe we could get a small group together and get that guy from london we spoke about to come up and do a training day of some kind. and re the science lab.....nothing is impossible, probably just bloody expensive!!!

    re the laser.....that may well yet come in useful.......thanks.

  3. I think the dagurreotype workshops have to be at his studio due to the nature of the medium, it doesn't really get more specialist, expensive or beautiful than the serious old school. Groups bookings reduce the price quite a lot though.

    I believe he also does Wet plate collodion stuff, Sally Mann style and all kinds of other bits and bobs.

    I might be doing a large format workshop later in the semester, but I can go through it with you whenever, s'not a problem. If you think it's for you a decent camera can be picked up for less than £300 and will last forever when kept properly.

  4. on a bit of a fact finding mission re daguerrotypes. I like the science element, it appeals to me. found a guy called Mike Robinson, check him out, he does contemporary daguerrotypes!! AND PS yeah i think you would be right re needing to go to London. was thinking about the wet plate collodion stuff today as well, funny you should mention it but then my head started to feel like it would explode.

    Think i will take you up on your large format offer whenever you have time. It is much appreciated, thank you. I feel intimidated by it but hey ho. realistically I should get my head around that before I think about even more antiquated methods.

    Been laughing to myself thinking that maybe all those years of studying science will not be wasted after all, could set up a shed somewhere with mountains of chemicals and crazy equipment and fuse my love of images with chemistry/science brain!! There is a certain kind of logic in that!

  5. I'm sure you'd get a great reputation with the local goatherds every time you blew the roof off your shack with another wacky photographic experiment! Sounds great though, right up my street, lunatic photography hermit is the golden path. starting to wish I lived somewhere with a big outbuilding for all my projects as the house is now full of clay dust from sanding sculptures.

    I shall be doing some large format in the studio myself soon, that would be a good time to learn on the job for you so to speak.