Another old print, but still a firm favourite of mine. This sepia toned black and white photograph was made from the balcony of the Tate Modern in London, overlooking a temporary stage where dozens of couples were dancing the salsa. It was Summer, around six years ago.
As a professional photographer I have several cameras. The one I use most often is not working as well as I would like it. The autofocus is fast enough but pretty inaccurate, which for someone who is a children’s photographer most of the time, is more than a little frustrating. The sharp roll-off of highlight details requires careful management when shooting in the sun, and whilst I’m busy complaining, I now long for greater dynamic range and resolution than its sensor offers. Sitting here at the start of the new year, and considering the purchase of newer equipment that will cost many thousands of pounds, it’s somewhat ironic to think that many of my most successful images have been made with the most basic of film cameras, some of which are several years older than I.
This photograph was made with a camera constructed almost entirely from cheap plastic. Possessing a wobbly lens, a film back taped shut to prevent light spill, and a single shutter speed of roughly 1/60th of a second, it cost less than the lunch I had eaten moments before this capture. Peering through the tiny viewfinder I made a rough guess as to where the frame edges would be, set the focus to a distance depicted on the lens by a mountain, and tripped the shutter. Hopeful of a good result, but without any real expectation, I forgot about the film until a batch were ready to be developed in the darkroom.
This one jumped out from the contact sheets so went straight into my enlarger. It was exposed onto Forte Fortezo paper for 56 seconds, with just the stage area dodged so as to make it lighter. For a further 35 seconds I burned in the sky, and used a piece of card with a hole in it to selectively shine light and so darken the tent in the lower-right corner. The print was developed in Ilford Warmtone developer, bleached slightly and then toned in a weak thiocarbamide solution. It was finished in a 1+9 Selenium bath for one minute, washed and air dried.
I’m well used to the the unpredictability and shortcomings of this camera. They force creativity and with so little technical control, place the emphasis firmly on ‘seeing’ instead of operating. For a family portrait commission this lack of control would be impractical, and the very unpredictability that encourages experimentation in my personal work, would be a fear and total distraction on a paid portrait shoot. Context is everything – both for me, and other professionals who wield basic gear in their spare time.
In reality the camera I want to upgrade has served me well, and been used by others to make many of the most memorable and recognisable images seen publicly, since its release in 2008. But the bar is always being raised, and with each evolution in technology, a want for the latest features becomes a strong desire, which eventually the mind rationalises as a ‘need’.
Anyway, The Pro Centre emailed a few days ago with some attractive discounts on the Hasselblad ‘H’ range. I’ve long desired one of these beauties. A little longer on their website in the New Year, plus a few more commissions, and who knows – I might just find I need one.