Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Was . . Fr-a-a-a-a-a-med!

A warning to the curious. I typed the piece below and I fell asleep. In the field of human typage it is probably about as dull as it comes. Please do not operate any heavy machinery whilst reading this. Please do not look after small children whilst reading this. Please do not drink anything other than strong tea or coffee. Failure to comply with the above will result in serious snoozing and I cannot be held responsible.
(a note to readers . . yes I know I said it would be a weekend only thing, but this is too dull to dampen your Saturday so I thought I'd post it today)

Our title for today was quothed by the late, great Alex Harvey, and who am I to disagree with such an electric performer. By all accounts he could hold a Glaswegian audience in the palm of his hand, which is no mean feat.
I'm quoting Alex, because frames are wonderful things - we take them for granted and yet here they are, scattered all over our world. If they weren't around this page, all this text would be off and running, making a nuisance of itself; they stop the walls of your house from falling into those gaps you had made; they keep your pictures neat and tidy; they can define an enquiry; they are even used as an aid when gurning.

(This is what happens when you try to gurn without a frame. See . . . .everyone wants in on the action. Had I been framed, I would probably have won.)

With regard to photography, frames are your best friend, but incredible as it seems, the humble frame is the last thing on a camera manufacturers mind. Early handheld cameras were beset with squinty little windows that hardly let the sun in, they were just a very rough view of the world. Things slowly did improve (and obviously I am not in the slightest demeaning those wonders of miniature camera making, the Leica and the Contax) but despite improvements, even at the height of film SLR evolution, whilst the image might well have been bright and easy to focus, there was one very important point missing.
It is at this point that I hoist my trousers up to my chest, take a puff from my Meerschaum and get incredibly eccentric.
You see (whisper it) I am one of those photographers who believes in the full frame photograph.
I just can't crop an image. The way I see it is thus: I looked at the scene, I composed a picture within a frame and that is the way I want it to look. Maybe it is just me, but as far as I can tell it makes me, photographically, one of the least popular people since Genghis Khan.
Why? I don't know actually.
I really like composing through a viewfinder, and when I get something that fits that little frame-set I have in my mind, I release the shutter. Very often it doesn't work, but every now and again I manage to lasso in a part of the world, that was fully formed, galloping around just waiting to be framed. And then I print it on photographic paper . . .you know, that stuff that you can't inspect in daylight!
It is here that a very important factor comes into play and it is all to do with what you can see through when you make the photograph. By this I mean the viewfinder. (For the interests of this article I will discount 'viewing screens' as they are, for all intents and purposes, the works of an idiot). A good viewfinder is a thing to behold. and yet they are often regarded as a sideline, just a thing to focus with. And it is here that my second point of conjecture comes in, because I have to have a 100% viewfinder, or as near as dammit.
94% and 92% and even 97% ones are common, and that's fine if you are going to crop, but I don't. So you see, 100% has to be it.
In any image, there are certain things at the edge of a photograph that are important. One is the vertical and the other is the horizontal - sounds logical to want to include such elements within your photograph doesn't it . . but if you aren't seeing the whole image it isn't as easy as it seems. With a 100% viewfinder, you can align those verticals and horizontals virtually perfectly (or make them super squinty, if you so wish) and your photograph will be as you envisage it, but if you are operating with only say 94% of view, it is bloody tricky getting it right - you have to compose and align and re-compose and to be honest the whole thing is a bit of a faff.
When you are operating close-up, things become even trickier as the room for error increases proportionately with distance to subject matter. I could go into the rocket science of reproduction ratios and so on, but I won't. It is entirely obvious - try it for yourself! The closer you get, the bigger the problem.
Even taking a humble portrait can be beset by discrepancies with not being able to see what is exactly at the edge of a frame. You are making a portrait of someone- they look incredible, the lighting is perfect and they're behaving naturally - you make the photograph. This is going to be a good thing, you know it. You develop the film and your subject is just as you expected apart from one sixteenth of Uncle Henry's beetroot, whisky-addled fisog attached to the photograph! Were you a cropper you would crop it out, but as I said before I'm not and Uncle Henry has just become a problem, because in the split second after you captured their likeness, someone tripped and you watched in horror as a pint of beer washed over your subject in slow motion. Do you see what I am getting at?
Henri Cartier-Bresson apparently did not crop - he is always cited as Mr. Full Frame and when you see his photos you realise you are in the presence of an eye that was finely attuned to what his camera was capable of doing. However in the case of one of his most famous early photographs (Behind The Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932 . . you know, the one with the man and the puddle . .) the final print was cropped, because he only had a moment, and there was part of a fence in the way! If he'd had a 100% viewfinder he'd have been able to deal with the matter in even more of a split-second than the usual split-seconds he normally dealt in.
The 100% viewfinder is a rare beast though, they made it onto very few cameras at all - the ones that did sport them tended to be 'professional' . . .and even then. Pentax? nope the LX was close, but not quite; Minolta, well yes, the Maaxum 9 was by all accounts; Olympus? No, not even the mighty OM 1 and 2; Canon, well yes their professional lines starting I believe with the F1 and onwards; Leica? No and I have no idea why. Also, the majority of cameras built for the 'general public' did not sport them.
So, I turn my thoughts in another direction, where herds of very reasonably priced cameras with 100% viewfinders are running rampant across the plains of Secondhandshire. They belong to that most incredible family of cameras, the Nikon F series. I won't detail a long discussion on them here as that will be the topic of several later FBs, however suffice to say, if you want a camera that will be a friend and a reliable tool; that carries a weight to it that you never forget; that features a viewfinder showing you as near as a gnat's eyebrow exactly what you are going to record on your film, then do yourself a favour and choose an F.
I currently find myself in possession of three Fs. An  FTN Photomic, an F2S, and an F3. They are all three quite different, but they all enable me to make photographs where I am in control of what my photograph looks like.
But all is not doom and gloom, because even if you have a percentage-challenged viewfinder, or even one of the dreaded LCD viewing windows (ok, viewing screen . . .) you can still try to compose to your best ability. You don't even need to use any film; no 01010101's need be harmed in this exercise! Just take your camera or device, and start composing. Be acutely aware of verticals and horizontals; try not to keep using that zoom button and move in on your subject - get as close as you can; then move away; alter your POV - jump on a chair, lie on the floor. In other words there really is no need for, say a landscape, to be a view from a distance, or a portrait to be a view from about 4 or 5 feet away. Try and think outside of the frame, to what the end result will be. If you practice hard enough, you'll find that the frames in your head will drop away and the only ones that will count will be the ones holding the little piece of the world you have captured in place.


The above shows the importance of being able to see everything.
The camera was a Pentax MX which did not show me 100% of what I wanted, hence the droopy horizontal from the hoarding in the upper left of the picture, and the presence of part of the letter C on the left vertical; also the cut-off of the point of the chin is a bit poor. If I had been able to see the image properly I would have framed tighter, but alas that was not the case.
This is a full frame photograph, and though the right vertical is fine, it misses the beat - everything is just ever so slightly off.
The lens was a marvellous Pentax SMC-M 50mm f1.4, which was lovely. Oh for a better camera though. This being said I enjoyed my time with the MX, it was very light and easy to use, but I found myself more and more missing the solidity of my F2. Plus the frame spacing was starting to go, which was annoying, so I returned it to the vendor. I really hope it finds a good home as I did a darn good job of replacing the light seals!
On the photograph above, I find the Phillips screw-head particularly gruesome.

Film was Rollei RPX 100, at EI 80, developed in HC 110 (Dilution B) for 11 mins at 20C. A very nice combo.

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