Swamp sheoaks Canning River
Living in Perth I am lucky to be so close to the Canning River and its reserves. There are kilometres of cycleways and walkways traveling up and down the river, passing through parklands of flooded gums and sheoaks, were you can always find some peace and quiet. Then there is the river itself, which is wonderful to paddle your canoe or kayak on. Upstream near my neighbourhood, the Canning River diverges into many leads with dead ends. The river banks are covered with bushland, giving you an impression you are anywhere but in the city. There is a multitude of bird life from ducks and swans, even large kites.
This image of the swamp sheoaks, Casuarina obesa, was taken during Spring, just on dusk. The little white flowers (Hesperantha falcata) open up only in the full shade or very late afternoon. Like so many of our most successful weeds, Hesperantha falcata originates from South Africa, and it literally carpets sections of the Canning River reserve. In previous years during Spring, I have resisted making a similar image, because I did not want viewers to misinterpret these as wildflowers native to the park. Eventually, I decided to work amongst the swamp sheoaks over the course of a 12 month season, recording the changes in their immediate environs: from sombre deep winter tones to abundant white of spring flowers, then to the stark black charcoal from summer fires. Even though the photograph may not show an ecological ideal of native bushland, it never the less offers a glimpse of its seasonal state during these times.
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 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.
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).