I have been invited as guest speaker for the next Artist Lounge Talk, a quarterly evening event providing a forum for local art and craft minded people to listen to a professional artist (or in my case photographer) discuss their art experience and knowledge.
I will be giving an overview as to how I began my photographic career, my choice of subject matter and the founding of Stormlight Publishing. Photography has undergone rapid changes over the last decade brought about by the advancement of digital technology. Even so, I will discuss my preference for using a large format wooden field camera which I will bring along to show. Finding the balance between personal artistic expression and commercial needs is my aim in using both digital technology and maintaining the use of non digital, traditional, wet darkroom techniques. You are invited to come along for an evening of discussion and view some of my recent work.
Artist Lounge Talk, 7.00pm June 14th 2010
Cooper Avenue, Kenwick
for bookings and information call 9452 9903
A few days ago I visited Hyden a small country town about 350km inland, east of Perth. Hyden is famously known for its nearby tourist attraction Wave Rock, a 15 metre high, 100 metre long granite wall that has weathered into the shape of an enormous breaking wave. The rock is one of a series that are spread throughout the region and there is a strong Nyoongar history present amongst them. During the last century Europeans settled within the region to farm wheat. This is an area of low rainfall, about 300mm annually, possibly less now with the impact of climate change. Another 100 kilometres east and you enter isolated desert country.
An obvious photographic subject would be Wave Rock with all its immensity and streaked rock face, however, I was interested in other aspects of the rock. This fractured layer of granite, virtually an exfoliating layer from the larger body below, with its zig zag of lines, caught my attention. The early morning sun had just risen over the rock summit, lighting its western flanks and I was needing to look straight into it. Using the combination of the rise on the lens board, pointing the camera down and using the double dark as a lens shade, I was able to minimise lens flare, whilst preserving good contrast. The negative was given about half a stop more exposure with N-1 development, film was Tri X Pan.
Having been away during its launch I finally got down and saw a little of the FotoFreo 2010 in its last days. The biggest joy for me was at the Fremantle Arts Centre with the photographs by Qin Wen of the demolition of old Chinese buildings under a wave of new western style high rise. They were big images, about 1m x 1.5m inkjet outputs (see above pic), probably from 4×5 format given their great detail. The compositions had a theatrical air about them. You could really stop and stare into these images, seeing the new buildings on the horizon all the way forward to peoples’ faces, tangled powerlines, jumbled tiled roofs right through to intricate foreground detail. The images were almost monochrome at the edges, with wonderfully soft, muted colours, except for the woman in traditional red dress who was the thematic link in all images. The soft muted colours of this exhibition were also shared by Eugene Richards’ “The Blue Room” at the Fremantle Prison Galleries. So refreshing to see subtle nuances being displayed again in colour photography, rather than the gawdiness often associated with a heavy handed photoshop technique. Also squeezed into the prison was Brad Rimmer’s exhibition “Silence – the West Australian Wheatbelt”, one of the few local, contemporary works supported within the main exhibition program by the FotoFreo organisers.
Play a little with composition design. I was “down south” for a couple of days recently and covered a fair bit of ground, traveling from one country town to another. Whilst I wasn’t strictly on a photographic trip I took my 4×5 anyway, and some double darks loaded with T-Max 400 film. You never know what you might find. Through the car window I often glimpse fleeting images and compositions. My usual thoughts are that I would love to stop the car, get out and set up the tripod and camera, but usually time constraints apply, and the idea remains just that. On this trip I decided things were going to be a bit different. Rather than making a mental note of a potential image and coming back at a later time, I made an effort to stop and make a photograph. I figured if it looks rights now, let’s not wait until another time when probably the light – or inspiration – has evaporated.
I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Even though I am working with a slower 4×5 camera, it sometimes pays to have some fun, play a little, and take a chance by seizing the moment as it presents itself. The spontaneity of subject matter and composition can be quite refreshing.
The Belgium-French and Italy entries finally took home the awards. Italy won Best Wine Photography in the World with Lombardia, Il Mosaico del Vino, Andrea Zanfi, Gio Martorana, (Carlo Cambi). The Belgium-French entry won Best Book on New World Wines in the World with: Chile, País de Vinos y de Montañas Papianile Mura (Versant Sud). Congratulations to both the publishers and authors.
The real Margaret River in detail. On the day I made this negative it had been drizzling consistently with rain, a typical winter’s day with an overcast sky, and then a late afternoon burst of sunlight. The river was flooded with fresh rain and the noise of rushing water could be heard several hundred metres away from within the marri -jarrah forest from where I had emerged. The forest (now a proposed national park) formed a natural buffer between my grandparents’ farm and the river valley. I have fond childhood memories of the river in various moods, with its secret rock pools, forested banks, jumble of dark rocks and fallen trees. But it is during the midst of a winter flow, with the rush of water over submerged rocks, swirling around partly submerged peppermint trees, that the rhythm of the river is most mesmerising. Kodak Tri X 4×5 film, exposure was probably f22 at 1/2 second, Rodinal developer.
Even in this age of digital cameras, there is still something truly amazing about Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative film. Rated at about 32ISO (rather than the recommended 50ISO), this film is capable of recording superb detail and tonalities. With Polaroid Type 55 4×5 film, each exposure yielded a positive 4×5 polaroid print and a 4×5 negative that could be used in an enlarger for printing. My approach to using this film has always been to treat it like regular film, compose the image and expose carefully, then process the film when I get home. Using the Polaroid back I would do this processing in my darkroom, keeping any light exposure of the negative to a minimum until the negative had safely cleared in a sulphite solution. Then I would complete the processing with a wash period, photoflo immersion then dry just like a regular film. You now have a 4×5 contact print in one hand and a perfectly usable 4×5 negative in the other, what a bargain! This image of the Dune Cabbage is an enlargement from Polaroid PN 55 made on Forte graded paper. This Dune Cabbage (Arctotheca populifolia) was photographed near Cape Leeuwin, Augusta in Australia’s south west, although this successful dune coloniser is widespread around coastal regions, it originated from South Africa. Apparently the leaves can be peeled and eaten as salad or lightly steamed. Here’s one I prepared earlier.
Beseler dichro 45s enlarger modification to reduce fan vibration.
As my stock of graded photographic papers ran out I recently replaced my Zone VI cold light head on my Beseler MX enlarger with a second hand Beseler Dichroic head. This would allow me to take advantage of the fibre based multigrade papers. However, I struck a problem in that the internal cooling fan seemed to be creating a lot of vibration, noticeable all the way down to the lens turret. I decided to replace the existing fan with a 12volt DC axial fan used in computers. This not only eliminated the vibration but was also much quieter. Below is a description of what I did.
Modifying Beseler 45S Dichroic Head Fan to Reduce Vibration
Disclaimer: Warning! modifying or making alterations to any electrical equipment can be dangerous and should only be carried out by a qualified electrician. The following describes how I replaced the 115 volt AC internal cooling fan of a Beseler 45S Dichroic Colour Head with an axial Thermaltake Smart Case Fan II 12 volt DC , so as to eliminate vibration and thereby improve print quality -sharpness. Please also note that in Australia the AC power is 240 Volts and I am using a step down transformer to convert to 115 Volts AC, because I already use 115 Volt AC Zone VI cold light head and stabiliser as well as 115 Volt AC RH Designs Anayser Pro.
When I finally got to use the dichroic head on my Beseler MX 4×5 enlarger and the 250 watt globe was considerably brighter than my Zone VI cold light, dramatically reducing exposure times.
However, I knew I had potential problems with the head. When I touched the lens barrel to adjust the aperture I could feel a significant amount of vibration. I have used a Super Chromega 6×7 colour enlarger with an inbuilt fan and never felt vibrations to the extent that I was feeling it with the Beseler. Eventually a 11×14 inch print made with the Beseler head when compared to the same print made with ZoneVI cold light, confirmed for me that vibration in the Beseler head was causing softer focus prints. Which kind of defeats the purpose of using 4×5 format in the first place. It was time to have a peek inside the big black box and find out what was going on.
The Beseler Dichroic 45S head I own is not the computerised model. I am assuming it was made around 1997 from a label I found inside. The internal fan is located opposite the 250 watt 82 volt light source. Above is a close up picture of the head with its back removed, revealing the column style fan, mounted on a U shaped chasis. Beseler dampen the fan in at least two points of contact with the head:
1) the blue coloured dampeners located left and right of the middle of the fan where it attaches to the U chasis and
2) the 4 rubber dampeners used to connect the U chasis feet to the floor of the head. Refer to the arrows in the pic above.
Whilst the blue dampeners looked OK, the 4 dampeners attaching the U chasis to the head were compressed and hard from age. This was not surprising given the age of the head. It was obvious that the fan mounting would have to be removed and the rubber dampeners replaced.
The head has two 115V power leads, one for the fan and one for the light source. There is also a switch located at the bottom left front of the head which turns on the fan. As a safety feature the lamp will not run unless the fan switch is on. However, the lamp will run even if the external power cord to the fan is unplugged, so long as the fan switch remains in the ON position. For me this provided the options of installing a new non 115 Volt fan or removing the fan entirely to make an external fan unit as described by Philip Morgan in this link http://www.philipmorgan.net/photography /external-cooling-system-for-beseler-45s/.
Removing the head from the enlarger and disconnecting both power cords I set about removing the fan. First by removing the units top cover and rear panel which are hinged as one piece. Then, I removed the fan blades by loosening the sur clip, then the nuts around the two blue rubber dampeners, unplugging a black lead to a switch box a white lead from a plug near the base of the fan. This now gave better access to remove the 4 nuts connecting the U chasis to the base of the head.
I initially tried dampening the fan by using 5mm wet suit material as additional gasket between the U shaped chasis and the head. With the fan blades cleaned up and the new gasket in place I reassembled the head. Placing the head onto the enlarger, I turned it on. Everything worked, the vibration felt at the lens had much improved, but there was still some which I felt was still likely to affect print quality.
I was talking to a fellow colleague about the fan vibration when he suggested I use an axial fan to replace the column fan type that came with the head. On further investigation of this suggestion I first started looking for 115 Volt AC axial fans. Whilst they are available mainly in the US, freight charges made them uneconomical. I then decided to look at computer fans as they came in a range of sizes with inbuilt speed controls.
I eventually settled on purchasing a 90mm Thermaltake Smart case Fan II which runs on 12 Volt DC. It had two bearings (which I hoped would give smoother longer working life) as well as options for full speed, manual speed control or temperature control. Rather than physically modify the walls of the head I wanted to attach the fan case to the rear panel of the head using the existing air flow grate holes to pass the securing bolts through.
After removing the original fan, I taped up and placed an insulating cap around the exposed white lead as a safety precaution. (I also taped up the external power cord to the fan so it could not be accidently plugged in). Next, I cut a 5mm wet suit foam gasket for the fan case to sit flat against the inside of the head’s rear panel. The fan direction was orientated to expel air from the unit. As the fan case area was smaller than the air flow grate in the rear panel, air had to be prevented from being sucked around the air fan exterior. To close this air gap a rectangle of firm black plastic sheet was cut to cover the grate with a whole the size of the fan cut into the centre for the expelled air. The 4 bolts provided with the kit secured everything into position, passing from the fan case through 5mm wet suit gasket, the black plastic, the air flow grate terminating on the outside of the head with washers and nuts. The 12 Volt DC power cable was also passed through the air flow grate to which I attached a common 240 Volt AC to 12 Volt DC converter to power the fan.
The fan unit was wired so that as soon as I turned on the power to the enlarger/analyser pro the fan automatically turned on and stayed on. After reassembling the head, it was placed onto the enlarger and turned on. The fan operated beautifully and I couldn’t detect any vibration when I touched the lens, the axial fan design had made a big improvement. If you are having vibration problems with your old Beseler 45S then you may want to consider this as a possible solution.
Gourmand Book Awards 2010 Finalist: just 12 months ago that I completed publishing my book Pemberton Wine Region, Western Australia, so I was surprised to be informed that it has won two finalist categories in the Gourmand Awards. Judged by an international jury, Pemberton Wine Region has been awarded Best Wine Photography Book in Australia and Best New World Wine Book in Australia as part of the international, 2009 Gourmand Awards. The book now qualifies to represent Australia in the Best in the World Awards to be announced in Paris, February, 2010.
For the fifteenth year, the Gourmand Book Awards attracts over 6000 entries worldwide. As my first book and as a “one man show”, it is gratifying to have my book recognised by an international jury as equal to some of the best books from the biggest publishing houses in the world. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the Paris results in February 2010. There are not too many Australian wine books that explore on a single region.
Detail of Rock Thryptomene, Margaret River region. The relationships and spaces formed between the living and the inanimate often create a fascinating visual harmony. These wind pruned, stunted coastal Rock Thryptomene sit high on granite sea cliffs just north of Margaret River. Their tendril like branches of rough, fibrous bark and miniature hard spiky leaves are further testament to this harsh environment. The cliff tops are exposed to the height of winter gales which sweep up from deep within the Southern Ocean, sometimes with hurricane force. Grasping a root hold in shallow soil depressions between boulders, their branches spread outwards, caressing the very surface of their rocky domain, twisting and curving back upon themselves in a graceful, almost calligraphy like gesture.
The exposure information is as follows: Film was Tmax 400, 4×5 format, 90mm lens, f32, 1 second exposure, developed N+1. I was interested in experimenting with the contrast of a duplicate negative by toning it in Kodak Rapid Selenium toner diluted 1+3. I toned initially for 3 minutes, but could not detect any change in density, so continued up to 10 minutes. There was still no change so I tried straight toner for two minutes without dilution, still no affect. When I contact print both negs side by side there is no difference. I have only recently started using TMax 400 4×5 film, and this is the first time I have ever tried toning it. Previous toning has worked with Tri X 4×5. Maybe it is something to do with the chemical state or silver content of processed TMax films? (This is the New TMax film).
"I go for long walks in the bush or along the coast with my wooden field camera, a few sheets of film, a tripod and sometimes a tent and food. I like to take my time to absorb the environment, to rediscover and to reconnect.My direct involvement with the materials and technique for making an expressive photographic print is of importance to me, so I continue to develop my own films and hand print all my black and white silver gelatin prints in my darkroom."more...