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Friday, July 5

HMS Peewit - A New Project

Timewarp: An officer's billet 70 years on

There's a farm just a few miles from my home that has a few interesting-looking barns - at least that's what I thought they were. A couple of months back, I drove into the farmyard and had a wee chat with the farmer, only to discover that the "barns" were in fact WWII hangars. The farm had been requisitioned in 1942 and turned into a training base for the fleet air arm - HMS Peewit.

Aside from the hangars, there are a couple of runways, some brick buildings which housed generators and another, larger brick structure that I was told had been the command post. In I went, after making my way through nettles and brambles, and the photograph above shows what I found. It was gob smacking to see that what I assume must have been an officer's billet was still recognisable as such.

Beneath the window and noticeboard on the far wall is the bunk bed that the officer must have used. Right next to that against the right hand wall is a safe. Most poignant of all, though, is the station's crest above the safe. The adjoining room to this one still has three bunks in it but little else. I'm not a particularly touchy-feely person but I have to say that I always feel a strong connection when I visit places like this. It's happened too often in the past to be mere imagination. In fact, I have a very strong affinity for the war years even though hostilities had been over for 16 years when I was born.

The print above was taken on the Rollei SL66E using the 40mm Distagon - roughly equivalent to a 24mm lens on the 35mm format. The camera had to be tripod-mounted as it was dark inside and the exposure was around 16 seconds at f8. The film used was Fomapan 100 and its horrendous reciprocity failure accounted for the long exposure time.

I'd been reading Bruce Barnbaum's The Art of Photography and was interested in his approach of basically rating the film at around half the box speed and then placing zone three shadows on zone four. With the halved ISO rating, that really places the zone three tones on zone five. Bruce then cuts the development to control the highlights. This moves the lower tones away from the film's toe and gets them onto the straight part of the curve.

I thought I'd give it a go, exposed as Bruce suggests and cut the development in Spur Acurol-N by around 20%. This was my first try at this technique but I don't think I'll be repeating it. Yes, there is lots of shadow detail and, yes, the reduced development makes the window highlights very printable. BUT, there is very little sparkle about the negs. At least with Fomapan 100, the mid tones are quite muddy and lacking separation. I had to make the print above on grade five to try to put a bit of oomph into the scene. It was the same story for the few shots I took outside on the same day.

Photographing the command post, I was a bit rushed and failed to stop down enough to ensure front-to-back sharpness. All-in-all, not one of my best efforts! The results would have been better had I given more normal exposure/development and burned in the window highlights. I'll also use some lens tilt on the Rollei next time I tackle this scene for extra depth of field. I'm not at all happy with the print I scanned for this post but it at least gives you an idea of what the place is like.

And I will be revisiting it as I'd like to document what's left of this naval training base before it disappears for good. There are a few pillboxes, radar posts, etc, that I reckon will be gone in ten years but would make an interesting project. Most of the structures are in the sort of condition where passers-by would hardly give them a second glance and that's usually the stage when the landowner decides it would be safe enough to quietly "disappear" them.

The plan had been to use the 5x4 Speed Graphic I bought a couple of months ago for this project but I think I really need wider than the 135mm lens I have (40mm equivalent on 35mm format) for the interior shots and the SL66E's Distagon fits the bill nicely. I'll just have to come up with another project for the Speed Graphic...


morris1800 said...

That's a great find and a great result. I am not familiar with the exposure/dev technique you employed but how did you approach metering the scene to input into this technique.

Hein said...

Hi Bruce, if you still consider using large format, you might want to have a look at the 90 and 65mm Schneider Angulon lenses. Small, light and (sometimes) dirt cheap, with your speed graphic a cheaper barrel mounted version would be sufficient. Yes, the 65mm is for medium format only, but it covers 4x5 if stopped down to f/32 (and the 90mm covers 5x7 at f/32).


I wouldn't mind a wide angle for the 5x4 but my "photography account" is now completely empty and not likely to be replenished for some time. :-(

Hein said...

That's why I suggested the old (non-super) Angulon, I've seen a barrel mount 65mm go for 11 Euros some time ago... Though that seems to have been an exception and might still be too much at the moment (I can relate to that). Good luck in replenishing your photography account!