Monday, July 10, 2023

Life is short, Large Format Photography is long

In our last episode of Large Format Antique Film Pinhole Photography, my antique changing bag had proved unreliable. The film had to be changed in the darkroom. On any venture out to use it, there would only be one frame available. I vowed to do just that. 

Starting with the 4x5 Pinhole Lab Camera's changeable film plane at 90mm, I went to the Fox Valley Photography Group's meeting early and captured the bridge tender's house of the Veterans Memorial Bridge. It's by the side of the channel instead of on the bridge itself since it's a lift, not a draw, bridge. The Lawe Street bridge in the right background was featured in my Photo Walk roll that took place across the main channel of the river a month later.

Staying at 90mm. We bought a monstera deliciosa for the fern stand on the lanai. The design of the spreading stems looked interesting in the late sun. I've mentioned my penchant for using business reply envelopes as reflectors to provide fill light in sunlit scenes. It doesn't take much of a breeze to introduce one into the scene as though Man Ray showed up in the middle of one of Paul Strand's exposures.

Switched the film plane to 60mm. The corner of this sheet was in the same slot with the sheet in front of it and the emulsion stuck to the base side of that sheet, the first time that's happened since Basic Photography Class with open-lab, metal spiral reels. Ergo, cropped a bit at the top and the right, missing the feeling of being under the canopy I was going for.

Remaining at 60mm. Regular readers will remember me complaining about the Chief Oshkosh Monument in Menomonee Park. They finally installed six, very prominent, new bronze displays explaining about the real historical figure, who was quite a guy, and the racist motives of the people who made the original monument. A real emotional visit now. It reminds me of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington.

The peonies bloomed explosively and overwhelmed their stems.  Decided to use a little resin column to pose a bunch in the dappled light. Reloaded and switched back to 90mm.

Out again with the film in the 60mm slot. The bridge tender's house on the Wisconsin/Ohio Street bridge in Oshkosh.

Changed to the 38mm, 121° setting for the film plane that hadn't been used yet. When I didn't have a particular destination in mind, I would inevitably start at Menomonee Park. I couldn't pass up this young woman playing a harp with her companion in a long flowing dress reclining on the blanket beside her. With the extreme wide angle I had to get much closer than it appears here. Unfortunately at some time before or after that exposure, the shutter was briefly opened while it was moving with the sun being drawn across the now heavily exposed negative. Fortunately this month's theme for the Fox Valley Photography Group's challenge is Light Painting. I couldn't really think of anything for the topic and this just fell in my lap. Took some doing to get this misty image from the very dense negative.

With the 38mm film plane again. We got another monstera deliciosa to fill out the fern stand.

Remember most of these were done on separate bike rides. Frustrated by the slow progress, one day I was looking at the changing bag wondering how to attach some elastic to the sleeves. Noticing a little cracking of the rubber by the zipper on the inner bag, I put it over my head and discovered many glowing rivulets where the lining had cracked. It had nothing to do with the sleeves. The bag itself clearly wasn't light tight. I ordered a new Paterson changing bag so I could continue using my box of free film.

I changed the film in the new bag on a picnic table by the shore, but kept it at the 60mm film plane. Another scene I'd done before, but in a different season,

I waited to change the film until I found another scene to photograph. I have been working on a series of the bridge tender's houses on the draw bridges on the Fox. Since I had photographed the Canadian National Railroad bridge numerous times, I knew it called for a narrower angle to just feature the little building. It was great to change the film, and with the Pinhole Lab Camera, also change the film plane back to almost normal at 120mm with the more appropriate .45mm pinholes.

Taking advantage of the easy changing at home, I switched the film plane and pinholes back to the 60mm and .28mm pinholes. Before I could go out again, the low sun nicely modeled all the plants and bird houses on the baker's rack. 

I refreshed the supply in the changing bag and left the 60mm film plane in place. It was too hot to wear a backpack, so I set out with just the one picture available for what looked like an active sky. It turned out to be too active. I grabbed the first available vantage point at the south end of Miller's Bay. Got within two blocks of home before it started raining. Camera just barely got damp.

The next day was cooler. I again left the film plane at 60mm and went out with the changing bag. In my recent piece going around the Menomonee Park lagoon, I realized I hadn't gone completely around it so here is the western shore to complete that circumnavigation.

Again the most interesting sky was toward the north, so I went for the sweeping curve of the beach.  Changed film at a picnic table staying with the 60mm setting. While extending the tripod, this dude about my age came and started sifting through the pebbles on the beach. I asked if he minded being in my foreground. He told me he likes to sort through the rocks on the shore, identify what kind of mineral they are and based on the extent of how they've been smoothed by the river, speculate where they came from and how they got here.

Reloaded and stayed at 60mm for my next planned subject, the bridgetender's house on the Main Street Bridge.

Waited until my next stop to change film and switched to the 120mm distance. The bridgetender's house project wouldn't be complete without documenting that there are two houses on the Wisconsin-Ohio Street Bridge.

On my way from Main Street I had seen this composition of walls and ladders. Reloaded and switched to 90mm and went back for it.

Large format photography is certainly slower than roll film. Although, using my Pinhole Lab Camera takes about as much time as getting a professional field camera out of the case and onto a tripod, even taking into account changing the film every time in the changing bag. 

The big negatives don't really seem sharper. Looking at these at full resolution isn't that much different than my smaller negatives, but at full screen they do have a realism about them I can't quite put my finger on. The complete lack of grain may have something to do with that.

The extra film available keeps overexposed areas from really blooming and softening edges. In the Chief Oshkosh picture, the side I wanted to get was totally backlit by the full sun. Exposed for the shadows, the massively overexposed sky didn't spread or diffract all over the foreground. 

There also seems to be an extended grey scale, which may be a feature of the Plus-X and not necessarily to do with the large format.

The Paterson Changing bag with it's very tight, double elastic sleeves takes some getting use to. You first put your hand through the the end of the sleeve and then push your hand through the second opening on an inner sleeve creating two separate seals. That elastic will probably get a little looser with use so it will be easier to get my arms in. There are seventy more sheets of the Plus-X to investigate further and I finally got my two 500ml bottles of Rodinal which had been back-ordered since March.

The 4x5 Pinhole Lab Camera has slots for the film plane at 38, 60, 90, and 120mm. The pinholes in separate mounts can be changed as appropriate.  The forty-year old Plus-X was semistand developed in the last few drops of the vintage Rodinal I have been using recently, diluted 1:100.

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