Frenchman Peak is an exposed coastal granite peak located in the Cape Le Grand National Park. From the summit you have 360-degree views of this remote national park and its stunning coastal scenery. The peak is an important place in local Aboriginal culture and is named Mandooboornup. It was the surveyor Alexander Forrest in 1870 who gave it the European name Frenchman Peak.
Granite domes and white sand
I made this image during a visit to Frenchman Peak in 1990. My tent was set up at Lucky Bay campground just set back from the beach. This is one of many stunning coves and beaches within the park. Other nearby coves include Thistle Cove and Hellfire Bay. All the beaches have fine squeaky white sand that is blindingly bright in direct sunlight. These sands amplify the clarity of the Southern Ocean turning the beaches almost turquoise in colour. Bald granite domes dominate the headlands, punctuating the beginning and end of each bay. In those days the beaches were almost deserted in the off-peak season. I rarely saw more that one or two cars a day.
Taking time to explore
I spent several days walking along the coast and nearby peaks with my view camera in my backpack and my tripod resting on my shoulder. On this day I had hiked the slopes of Frenchman Peak, stopping frequently along the way to explore anything visually appealing. I found some interesting displays of moss gardens and pincushion plants as they tenaciously clung to life on the granite slopes.
The day had started off bright and sunny with a steady onshore breeze. By the time I had arrived at the summit, the clouds had rolled in and the breeze dropped right off.
Distance versus detail
This change in light also changed the whole nature of my surroundings. The dominant glare of distant beaches was replaced by a softer presence. As my eyes adjusted to the light foreground objects became more detailed. The bright distant beaches diminished in their dominance. Distance was giving way to foreground details and objects. Shadows opened up to reveal delicate details in the stone texture, wood grain, leaf litter and bright red flowers. The foreground colour also appeared more saturated than when in direct bright sunlight. The red Calothamnus flowers contrasted brightly against the verdant green.
After marvelling at the coastal views afforded to me along the trail I now found myself staring instead at the composition in front of me. It was a strange moment of realisation as I became conscious that this was a photographic composition. My problem was that where I was positioned there was a steep rocky slope at my back. I could not climb it to gain height (or a tripod footing), nor could I move back and gain subject distance.
Saved by simplicity
I would just have to make the best of the situation. My camera kit consisted of only one lens, a 90mm Grandagon. For the first six years which I owned a 4×5 camera this was the one lens I possessed. This focal length has wider angle of view than a normal 150mm lens, allowing me to include more of the subject into the composition under such cramped conditions. I simply accepted that I had to make the composition work with what I had. Sometimes after lots of effort a composition just doesn’t work. However, on this occasion, I think it does.
Frenchman Peak summit
Placing my chin over the centre of the tripod I placed it into the position I thought best worked for the image. Pulling my wooden 4×5 field camera from my rucksack I set it up on the tripod. Then I quickly added my 90mm lens and with my head under the focus cloth brought the image into focus on the screen. In the low light the white lichen on the rocks took on a gentle glow. Shadows opened up with delicate details. And the red of the claw flowers stood out against the green. The image imparted a sense of stillness and peace which I was feeling at the summit.
I carefully measured the scene for exposure using my one-degree spot meter. I made a single exposure on Fujichrome 100. With only 12 sheets of 4×5 colour transparency film for the entire 4-day trip my exposures were frugal.
When I finally saw the processed chrome at home on my lightbox I was initially delighted. Everything was better than I had hoped for. The contrast range and colour was just held within the film’s range. Only there was one problem. A speck of dust was photographed into the top left-hand corner of the sky. Dust is always a problem with sheet film for two reasons. First, the film substrate can become electrostatically charged with handling, thereby attracting dust. And second, the film’s large surface combined with manually loading of each sheet into a film holder also increases its exposure risk to airborne dust.
Roll films, on the other hand, do not suffer from dust imperfections so frequently. 120 roll films and 35mm cassettes are loaded at the film factory in a dust free laboratory environment.
Imperfections are part of the film photography’s material process. I accept that I much rather have made the image with its dust than have no image at all. I eventually printed an original Cibachrome 12×16 print of Frenchman Peak from this transparency in a friend’s darkroom. That fine speck of dust is visible but you have to really look for it. It is just a reminder to me about the medium of photography. Mastering your control of materials is awesome but in the real world things still happen outside of your control. These days you can easily remove dust from a digital scan with just a click of the mouse using photoshop. No need for a second thought. Maybe that’s a loss to the skill of craftsmanship?
I am guessing at the identity of the bush on the summit of Frenchman Peak. Based upon an Esperance Wildflower Blog site I think it may be Woolly Net-bush – Calothamnus villosus (check out this useful site). If you know for sure let me know.
Wista 4×5 wooden field camera, 90mm Rodenstock Grandagon lens, Fujichrome 100 4×5