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Friday, November 14

A new way of seeing

Photo 1

It's proving difficult to attune my eye to the more graphic and minimalist style I'm now in search of. Years of shooting a particular type of photograph has left me wanting to squeeze detail out of shadows that I know should just be allowed to go black.

But it's fun in a masochistic sort of way having to constantly deny myself the delights of a hint of zone 2/3 texture. The weather here hasn't helped. It's been so grey lately that there are probably no more than four or five stops in most scenes I'm looking at so it's difficult not ending up with some shadow detail on the negative.

Photo 2

I'm not sure yet if it would be better exposing for dark shadows or giving a more normal exposure and printing the shadows down. Ralph Gibson produced negatives with shadow detail but then over-developed them and printed for a contrasty and grainy look. I reckon much the same - but without the heavy grain which I don't want - could be achieved by choosing an exposure that leaves the shadows nice and featureless, giving just a little extra development and printing on grade two or maybe three paper.

As I thought, it's much harder coming up with interesting images in the graphic style than it is driving out into the country and shooting a misty landscape. No wonder Ralph said something to the effect that you can't just go looking for photographs: you have to create them.

Photo 3

Leaving it to chance means that my hit rate will tend to be very low. I can go out with a camera in this mode and not see an interesting image the entire day. That's an awful waste of time - although it obviously saves on materials!

Now for a word about the pics - all scans, by the way - that accompany this post. Photo 1 is just a picture of two bottles in a water butt but I liked the curve of the steel edge of the barrel. In the negative you can see the curve of a second butt towards the top left corner but I darkened that because it detracted from the simplicity of the shot.

Photo 2 is a photograph of an old greenhouse that has some nice tonality and texture in it but not much more than that. I find with a lot of these shots that composition is the crucial element and that's probably why I enjoy this type of photography so much.

Photo 4

Photo 3 was taken at the same time, more or less, as Photo 4. It's a scene on the staircase in my home. The early morning sunlight was playing with the window and casting some nice shapes onto the wall. The problem was about getting a sense of balance in the composition, something I find the SLR much better for than a rangefinder with it's less precise viewfinder.

Photo 5

The last pic, Photo 5, was taken from the esplanade in Montrose looking down on the beach about ten feet away. I wanted the foreground rock to drop away to black so used an orange filter to help depress the shadow values. There's still some detail in it but it's easy to print it down to provide a very solid base to the photograph and a contrast to the sunlit rivulets.

So that's where I am at the moment with my new approach to photography. In some ways it's like abandoning everything I've done up 'til now and learning a new way of seeing. I'm not exactly sure where it'll end up but it's an excellent way of challenging myself and reinvigorating my photography.


morris1800 said...

Nicely done Bruce all tricky to meter for optimum exposure . How do you approach shots like these?

Regular Rod said...

Nice project that can only serve to help you on the way!


David M said...

I really like these. It's hard to hit the spot between elegant abstraction and a what-is-it puzzle-picture.
May I suggest that you are making the road a bit steep for yourself?
You are combining two aims concurrently: seeing like your hero Ralph and printing like your hero Mr Gibson. I quite like the way my hero Mr Robbins prints already. We might think that seeing is the vital part and should have priority. After all, you can reprint the negatives in all sorts of ways later on. Please ignore this if it seems impertinent.
One of the things about viewing on screen is the accidental cropping of images as you scroll up and down. In picture 4, the stairs, if you crop the top down to the base of the white doorframe, I think you might like it - a little less descriptive but still on this side of recognisable.
Ignore this too if necessary.

Bruce Robbins said...

I like that crop, David. Thank you!

rlfsoso said...

Hi, very nice and interesting pics – Oh the pleasure of real darkroom printing – have to make do with a scanner… and grey weather as well ion 'ol Hamburg (Germany). Personally I like the greenhouse pic the most – just a feeling. R.

Nick Jardine said...

Hi Bruce

Nice to see some images from your new project, thanks for posting.

My favourites are the first two. I like the extreme tones of the milk bottles in the water, it's a really graphic image that appeals (and really reminds me of the fantastic shot you have of the stairwell looking straight up)

The greenhouse wall has some wonderful light and tonal gradations - the angular rigid frame contrasts well with the haphazard nature of the plant life.

Just out of curiosity Bruce, I wonder how the these three prints would look as a triptych - the milk bottles in water (1st print here), the road markings from the other week and finally the staircase shot that I mentioned above.

Thinking of them as one page in a book might trigger some thoughts on the project.

Horse Radish said...

40 year silver photographer here. Much the same experience, but I've taken a somewhat different tact.

In most cases, I prefer to get as much information into the negative as I can and the decide where to hold detail in the printing process. I VC split print everything on fiber paper so this is usually not a problem.

In some cases where burn lines are too complex to pull off in a wet darkroom, I will expose the negatives differently (as you suggest) for different interpretive approaches.

Zone System is marvelous but it can also become a rut very hard to exit :)