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Wednesday, May 23

The Robbins Files: Peeling paint!

I've written well over 600 posts for The Online Darkroom, the vast majority of which have been published for your unalloyed delectation. There are a few dozen, though, that have remained in draft form for whatever reason. Maybe more research was needed. Or I might have added a few photographs to a blank post and been unable to find the words to tie them together. These things happen from time to time.

I was looking through some of these draft posts, mainly to see if I could safely delete them, when I came across one that was complete and unpublished. A valuable collector's item possibly? Haha. It was the second (written 18 months ago) in what I thought was going to be a series called The Robbins Files (see what I did there?) where, instead of putting some effort into writing a new post and showing some fresh work, I'd dig some old negatives out and scan them. Anyway, apart from the first one I don't think I got around to doing any more. I thought I might as well publish the second one. Who knows, it might spur me on to make it an irregular feature. Stranger things have happened.

What can I say? It is indeed peeling paint. When I was a member of a local photography club for a couple of years that cry used to ring up - Not peeling paint! - whenever someone put forward such a shot for judging. The same complaint could regularly be heard at camera clubs up and down the country a few decades back. Magazines even wrote about this "genre" and warned readers to steer well clear of it. Peeling paint must have been original at some point but it very quickly became one of those hackneyed subjects that "serious" photographers wouldn't touch with a barge pole. Sort of like Bryce Canyon*.

In this second trawl through my old negative files, I thought it would be funny to show this pic which I took in the face of the Anti-Paint Brigade (peeling division). It's a Rolleiflex shot that wouldn't have been worth taking without the strong sidelight. It's a picture that, to me and me alone, says "Get it up ye!" to the blazer brigade. Mind you, I wouldn't have dared to enter it in a club competition. After all, people might have thought that I wasn't a serious photographer.

And now another random shot - you're getting them as I found them when grabbing neg bags from the shoebox. This is a forest near Scone in Perthshire called Druid's Wood. When I visited it with my late pal, Ken, it was so atmospheric that we thought we'd stepped into another dimension - and that had nothing at all to do with the Wiltonesque piles of magic mushrooms carpeting the wood. What bizarre shenanigans had taken place here over the centuries? Ritual sacrifices? Wild Kundalini-style sex games? Demonic invocations? Knitting?

The neg is a lightly cropped 6x9 cm effort from my old Mamiya Press and a 65mm wide angle Sekor. There wasn't much room around the stone circle although the lens has made it look almost expansive. This was about the only viewpoint I could find that let me fit in the stones without chopping them up vertically with tree trunks.

The sad postscript to this story came when I returned to Druid's Wood just a matter of weeks ago. The landowner had decided, in his wisdom, to fell all the trees. The special, quiet atmosphere was gone, possibly forever. Who knows? The stone circle is a bit of a hike from the road and I was too dispirited to make the effort to see what it looked like in the middle of this new Somme-like landscape. Sad. Druids, by the way, weren't quite as they're popularly depicted - white robbed, peaceful and dancing round Stonehenge at the summer solstice. Their apparent environmental leanings just cloaked their true character, vicious, blood thirsty and willing to trample on anything in their way in pursuit of their ambitions. A bit like liberals, I suppose.

Finally, here's a photograph to show you what patience can sometimes achieve - absolutely nothing. This is a bank of the River Isla and you can just see the black entrances to the swallows' nests drilled into the mud. I thought it would be lovely to capture a bird on the wing heading home for a rest and a cup of tea but, despite waiting for ages with my Mamiya Press and sitting still longer than I'd done since primary school, none of the buggers could be tempted home. Didn't they know that they could have been made famous? Ah well, show me a bird and I'll show you a bird brain.

* Personal bias alert


DevidM said...

It's a perfectly nice peeling paint shot but it's about half a century too late. Did you do peeling posters too?
If only someone would shout down HDR in the some way. I've accidentally seen a couple of club exhibitions recently and HDR is rampant. Not everywhere, but a plague spreads.
I do like the Big Rocks in Trees shot. You've got it just about right in my view. A pity about the felling, but that's Mother Nature's way. Something will return. You do well with bigger cameras and fewer lenses.
As for the swallows, what's Photoshop for?

Bruce Robbins said...

I might have one or two peeling poster shots filed away somewhere. :)

MartyNL said...

I really like the peeling paint shot, it’s been perfectly executed.
And Druid's Wood is also an excellent photograph and for me at least, has an air of ‘Fay Godwin’ about it.

I really do think that the qualities of the larger negative shines through in these shots.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I'll agree with Marty - that Wood shot is deffo Fay if ever I saw one and yet another example of why I need a Mamiya Press!
That camera suited you actually Bruce - every picture you've shown from it has something that fitted in with your sort of vision - it's a great photograph.

As for peeling paint, I never knew it had such a bad rep - it needs to be done well, but I wonder if Minor White showed up now with some of his abstract forms - would that cry still go up? Probably. They're an artless bunch are the majority of 'photographers'.

I'll agree with David too - HDR photos - Human Discretion Replacement - makes me want to say, just take a fecking picture. It is endemic.

Bruce Robbins said...

Don’t know about Minor White but there’s a white (Morris) Minor that lives not far from me. The Mamiya was a good camera but I found it too heavy after a while. Mind you, it wasn’t any heavier than the SL66 and a lot easier to hand-hold. And 6x9 is a great negative size. Hmmm...
As for Fay, we’ll it’s nice to think I might have even one shot in her style.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Minor White Morris Minor - isn't he up for the Turner?

Yeah I can imagine it is heavy, but nice quality Bruce - you could fund with all those 35mm's you have - the format suits you!

Jim said...

With a billion photos taken everyday, peeling paint is merely symbolic of just about any shot from cat photos to the homeless. Having said that, a well executed composition like yours will always be appreciated.

DavidM said...

When you're out and about, hunting down the Elusive Snap, you could take a bag of OM1s, because they're such pretty little creatures with their big appealing eyes and fluffy tails, to satisfy your inner camera-geek. Then you could take the 6x9 for taking pictures. You have got some good stuff in this posting. Even the paint-shot...

I don't know what it is about camera format that influences the quality of seeing. We know that bigger cameras produce technically better negatives and more expensive digital cameras produce better files, but that's for another place.
I don't mean technical quality, but the quality of vision (for want of a better word). Is it the slowing down? Is it the awareness that there are only eight (or whatever) frames available? Is it that a lack of automation involves the photographer's brain to a greater extent? It might be simply that only experienced photographers buy these monsters. Dunno.
It isn't a rule that holds to the top of the curve. Very large, ULF images look uniformly dull to me; typically, they seem to be centred pictures of some brow-beaten wife or assistant staring witless into the lens. I must concede that there might be exceptions. There might be an optimum format and it might just be 6x9.

Dave Jenkins said...

"Their apparent environmental leanings just cloaked their true character, vicious, blood thirsty and willing to trample on anything in their way in pursuit of their ambitions. A bit like liberals, I suppose."

Very, very apt analogy, Bruce.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Anyone can get a taste of 6x9 without breaking the bank - any old box camera, like the Agfa models etc, is fun to use and really gets you into the mode quickly. 6x9 is a wonderful format with the right balance of proportion to negative size. Oh for an Alpa!

Bruce Robbins said...


I would agree that there is a difference in approach between the formats but, in my opinion, it's more to do with the involvement of a tripod. Handheld 35mm frees me up and a tripod roots me to the spot. With 6x9 and above (6x6, too, in the case of the SL66) I'm usually using a tripod. Leaving technical quality aside, I think I take my best photographs on 35mm. The overwhelming number of images on the blog are shot on the small format. I sold the Mamiya Press years ago but were I to pick one up in future then it would be for use "McCullin style", hanging round my neck with ISO 400 or 800 film in it - like a big OM1 in fact.

Bruce Robbins said...


I have a feeling that we'd get on very well. :)