Thoughtfactory: large format

a minor blog about the trials, tribulations and explorations of large format, analogue photography in Australia

on location: seascapes + time

A behind the camera photo whilst I was on location for a large format photo session earlier this year. 

The camera, for those interested,  is an old  5x7 Super Cambo monorail from the early 1960s.  The location is  the eastern side of Rosetta Head, Victor Harbor, in  South Australia. The time was around  late February 2022 -- which is the cusp of  summer/autumn in South Australia.  

I was photographing light, clouds and sea  at Encounter Bay that morning.   I was fortunate  that there was no north or south-easterly wind blowing. The coastal winds had been particularly strong and persistent in the late summer,  and they continued throughout the autumn and winter months.  Rosetta Head can be, and usually is  buffeted,  by the coastal winds which makes large format photography difficult.  

The photo session  was initially associated with  this light project,  but over the winter/spring months  it slowly evolved into  a seascapes project.  Seascapes made sense as I lived on the coast and the  sea was ever-present. 

The large format seascapes  are made in the early morning  -- just before or just after sunrise-- if there is cloud cover,  no rain and little wind.  The exposures are around 30 seconds and so time is incorporated into the image.  A lot happens during those 50 seconds: the light changes, the clouds move  across the sky,  and the sea  shifts incessantly.  This constant state of flux makes change central.  

These conditions mean that there is only a narrow  window of  opportunity to make the  photos. Often I have carried the camera and tripod up to the top Rosetta Head  only to be defeated by the wind that has sprung upon the rain sweeping in from the sea.    The narrow  window of opportunity arises because  the   location is on the edge of the southern ocean.  The next land mass to the south is Antarctica.

The long exposure and changing conditions means that the resultant image cannot be predicted. It usually  turns out to be quite different to what  I'd pre-visualized based on a stringing together of the digital snapshots. 

The differences between the  version made with a good digital camera and that of large format film can be quite marked. Chalk and cheese really.  It has taken me a while to accept the differences and to reject the digital snapshot version as the standard. The digital look was the standard or yardstick  because all the early seascapes were made with a  hand held digital camera (a Sony A7 R3) on the poodlewalks and I became accustomed to the appearance of the representations of the digital snapshots. The  aesthetic of the digital snapshot was shaping my idea of the photographic. 

The film representations  were different, often radically.  Initially I rejected them as inferior.  It took me a while to realise that it was the length of time of the exposure that was making a difference,  and to accept the indeterminacy, uncertainty and enigma of the filmic image. If the digital snapshots were  instants of time then the filmic images were more in the way of time as becoming.  

Kayla, our standard poodle, accompanies  me on these photo sessions since they  are incorporated into the early morning poodlewalks 

The routines is that we walk from the car along the side of Rosetta Head to the location and  Kayla awaits patiently whilst I set up the camera and make the photo. Then we  walk back to the car, place the camera and tripod in the car, then continue on with our  poodlewalk.  

In the last month or so I  have made some black and white seascapes before sunrise with the 5x7 Cambo but I have yet to develop the sheet film. These exposures are over a minute and so time as duration becomes ever more present; ie., a seascape in the process of being  formed.