Saturday, February 04, 2017

(Elephant Gun) An Interesting Session

Morning . . I know, but it's a metaphorical one, not a literal one.
I am an elephant fan having been raised on a steady diet of Babar and more Babar . . especially that bit in "The Travels Of Babar" where the elephants paint eyes on their bottoms, colour their tails and use wigs on their rear-ends and reverse to the crest of a hill to put the wind up the oncoming rhino army! It's pure gold.

I'd had a number of negatives from April 2016 that I needed to print. I'd sat on them and sat on them and actually wondered when I was going to get a chance. You know how it is - other things get in the way and before you know it time has flown and you're no further forward.
Anyway, frustrated by my lack of photographing in the latter part of last year, I was (over the Festive period) determined to go and see what I could do. 
So, Hasselblad loaded with expired TMY 400 I went out late on one gloomy Monday and came home with an elephant. Now this wasn't in the slightest apparent to me at the time. It was only when I made the prints that it struck me.

More of that in a minute, but firstly back to the negatives from April. As mentioned in FB from last year I'd had the opportunity to photograph at a place I knew very well. It was a childhood playground and exceptionally dangerous, being as it is, a crumbling 15th Century Tower. 
Health and safety would have kittens these days - but back in the early '70's Steve crawled into long lost barrel-vaulted cellars, accessible from a wriggle through old grass and a tiny gap in the masonry, and together we part-climbed the crumbling stonework and just generally footered around. 
In the 1990's when my Mum was still alive, we climbed the 'renovation' and had a lovely flask of coffee and some sandwiches looking out from our vantage point over a part of forgotten Scotland.
These days however it is fenced off all around and literally falling apart thanks in part to the over-use of CEMENT to patch a place that would only have ever known LIME.
(S'cuse me whilst I get my Hi-Viz jacket on)
Lime is a sacrificial binding material and allows movement of the substrate and the passage of moisture and frost and time through masonry; cement is a solid lump of impermeability - fine and solid yes, and initially maybe it looks like the perfect answer, but when frost gets in behind it, the original stonework "blows" and so starts the slide into oblivion. 
It's definitely not the sort of thing you'd use on ancient stonework - just ask Historic Scotland.
It was this (albeit well-intentioned) use of cement that has caused the Tower to age quicker in the past 30 years than it ever did in the previous 300.
I'm not even a builder, but you just have to read about it, and before you know it you can see how totally wrong it is.
Anyway, surrounding the Tower is a wonderful Oak wood - it is quite small, but some of the Oaks are around 500 years old, so entirely comensurate with the age of the Tower. 
I've walked through this wood my whole life from the age of 7-ish and I love it deeply, as one can only love the familiar landscape of one's childhood.
I've only partially photographed it before, and then not seriously and have always wanted to go back with the skill and the gear to do it justice . . and . . . I'm still not there.
How does one capture atmosphere?
Especially an atmosphere leaden with history, dark deeds and a slumbering peace bought by blood and death?
Damn near impossible if you ask me.
You'll see what I mean from the following:

Wilderness Garden
This incredible, dense patch of wildwoodedness grows on the site of formal 17th Century gardens

View From The Motte
The stonework you see is the 'refurbishment' - it is all falling apart now.

I think, in reviewing them, I need to go back again (what an excuse) and expose more than 1 roll.
On that day we were there, we were beset with cloud and snow showers and a rare glimpse of sun  - the below shows the view from the car whilst a shower was on. The snow isn't apparent as it wasn't lying, but it was baltic. The 'flare' is actually a sleet shower passing through.

I was desperate to capture the feel of the place, but have failed I think. 
Never mind eh!
Also. and it has taken me a while to realise this, the Distagon is very prone to flare. I have the correct Hasselblad hood for it and use it all the time, but if you look at the second print, the flare is obvious as 'sun spots' - pentagon-shaped grey smudges. I was shooting into the light there, but I need to be more careful.

The prints were my usual Adox Vario Classic (until I get it finished). Grade 3 to compensate for its age. The negs were Pyrocatted. Meow, Yeow, Mo-o-o-o-w!

And forward 8 months - that time machine is amazing, but it needs new mud-flaps.
Anyway, here's a tip. Unless you are feeling REALLY inspired, think twice about loading your camera late on a Winter's afternoon and going and seeing what you can find with not a lot of time to spare till it gets dark.
You'll come home with mostly shit. 
Well that's what happened to me - basically it was too late out, too little time to execute things, and my eyes and compositional nuance had decided they were going off on holiday to some sunny spot . . at least that is my excuse.
They were a dreadfully disappointing bunch. Film was expired TMX 400 and developer, W-o-o-o-o-W, Yowl . . you've got it.

Weird Day
DOJCA Architecture Building Front Door (And Me)
This would look a thousand times better if the door wasn't double-glazed.


You see what I mean? 
This was round the back of the Art College, just step over the nearly new Marrut film drier, now on its side and in the rain (honest) and slide in beside the knackered and thrown out print cabinets. See that grey/white object on the right? Darkroom sink - decent condition. 
I fecking hate what they've done to photography at Duncan Of Jordanstone - Joe would be turning in his grave.
Anyway, I was unaware of capturing an elephant until I started printing. 
When I saw it, it was just a bit of fake nylon fur draped over a table and that's sort of how it looked on the contact too.. 
I could probably selectively bleach the 'eye' and the highlights on the fur just to make it more obvious. And look, there on the fur, another flarey grey smudge, courtesy of the light at the top of the frame. 
Och well, them's the breaks - it's not every day you get to "shoot" an elephant though is it?

And that's it again folks.
Printing is fun - I urge you all to do it, even if it is making contacts from 35mm film onto tiny bits of paper. You have to do it if you call yourself a photographer - it's the whole point!

TTFN - and remember, if Noddy had paid the ransom, the elephants wouldn't still have Big Ears.


  1. Something interesting about View from the Motte...

  2. Thanks David . . in what way (if you don't mind me asking)?

  3. Well, now. There's a question.
    I think it's the way that the ruins are only a minor part of the frame, and yet the eye is strongly draws ruin-wards. When the eye alights on those half-walls it is led beyond them and the brain asks the eye what lies beyond. The brain also asks if these are the tops of walls and something lurks below them and out of view, or are they the remains of once-taller walls. The tops are remarkably tidy if they are a ruin. So we want to know what sort of thing we are seeing.
    Then that black log in the foreground which could have so easily have been a subject in itself is placed in the frame to give a sense of perspective and a kind of psychological barrier. Why did the photographer not climb over or around it to get a fuller but more ordinary picture of the walls? Was it a pictorial impulse or does danger lurk over there?
    On my screen at least, it could do with better printing, but in the hand, who knows?
    Compositionally, If I may trespass a little, I'd shave off the topmost horizontal branch, which breaks the frame uncomfortably and then restore the square format by losing a little of the left hand side, as it doesn't seem to be earning its keep and the branches against the sky in the top left corner are a distracting tangle.
    No doubt, if I got into my stride, I could bang on for paragraph after paragraph, bullet point after bullet point, cliche after cliché, but I think we've all had enough. Sit down David and behave yourself.

  4. Fairy Snuff.
    I quite like the printing, but I was battling the glare, which makes itself quite obvious in the blacks on the logs - you get an idea of it if you look for the grey smudges and take it from there.
    As you know David, I'd rather not crop, so I left it as it, but from the point of view of taking it, if you've ever set a Hasselblad up on a steep motte, with a potential snow shower heading your way you have to try and do the best you can with what time you have, but you know what, I might well take you up on on cropping it! That would give me something else to write about.
    The flat bits you see are cemented caps (fer feck's sake) on top of ruined sandstone and lime walls, but they did somehow give the place an air which I hadn't been aware of before. There's a ton of atmosphere here and it needs time. A 8x10" or a good panoramic camera would be a choice but you'd need a couple of weeks to get something.
    I might be heading back again later in the year, so I shall submit a full report then.
    Thanks for the comments though - always appreciated.

  5. Busy reading A Son of the Circus which has an elephant motif running through it! Personally I wouldn't have spotted said Elephantid without prompting, but that's just because I lack imagination, being somewhat dull and of a literal turn of mind. Now I know it's there, well, it's bleeding obvious, ain't it. The eye really follows you around the room.

    On to the ruins. The problem for anyone judging the image is that there are intermediaries - your scanner and my screen. To me, it's hard to tell - that it's an ancient site. The "renovations" have well and truly ballsed it up.

    The funny thing about these prized and treasured great lenses. We seem to tolerate a certain amount of diva-ish behaviour. Because when they are good they are absolutely fantastic. But you have to get to know their foibles and allow for them.

    I took some snaps with my Kiev 66, back a while, in parallel with the Leica. Using the same film and same exposures it was possible to see that the Leica lens is superior in all conceivable ways (wide open it has let me down; sometimes spectacularly).

    I was surprised by the Russian's flare: it was, to my eyes, a very dull day. And it wasn't wide open. It was so unexpected that I was looking for film and camera faults, but flare it definitely was! Of course that's just an Arsat C 80mm lens - non of your medicinal . The Canadian printed at grade 2, the Russian needed at least 3.

    Flare in black and white to my eye has either to be pronounced and very visible, or not there at all. Otherwise it just looks meh. Colour, I think is more tolerant because of the colour cast effects which make it obvious what you're seeing.

    Love the foreground log and general composition. Guess you really do need to go back and hope for better light conditions. If it helps, you can say I told you to.


  6. Hi Julian - thanks as always for the comments. Firstly, can I ask, is there anywhere we can go and look at your photos? You always make some great comments and I often think there must be some 'as thoughtful' photos to go with it . . .

    "Meh" what does this mean? That's a general, out there comment too. Is it an acronym for "Me Elephant Has . . ." or is it someone hunching their shoulders up, raising their hands, turning their mouth down and saying "Meh!" . . . . I don't know - peculiarly English, or am I wrong?

    How do you find The Chicken (Kiev)? They always looked to be a very reasonably priced player in the MF field. And no slouch with lenses either, but as we've both seen, flare can come in at any time. The CB Distagon is a 1990's-2000's lens, so not that ancient, but get the wrong angle and your stuffed with flare - and yes I agree flare should either be obvious or eliminated . . not so easy to do though.

    Is the Canadian a Summicron or Elmar or something else?

    As for making things obvious - going back in Spring hopefully, so will try and do more!

    Oh, and when at school, we had a teacher called Mr. Harris, who was tormented for a while by every time he came in the class room, there was a 'that' poster of Hitler (where his eyes follow you around the room) stuck to the wall. "I suppose you think that funny" is what he used to say, and you can get an idea by pinching your nose and saying it aloud - instant Mr. Harris!

  7. At the moment me photos are in me folders. I'm working on a site. What's holding me back is the difficulty of getting a relatively unspotted scan of a print. I can't seem to get the scanner glass clean. It is quite old (15 years+) and has its own internal ecosystem of dust and probably silverfish. My negatives are clean - the prints are good. It's just the the scans.

    I think meh was the wrong word. I think I meant not good.

    When I said Kiev 66 I meant Kiev 60. It's surprising what a little touch of the sniffles will do to a chap's powers of expression, accuracy and general coherence.

    I do love the Kiev. I really like the square vibe. It's so different from 35mm. The camera itself is so flaming outrageously huge. I like to think of it as the epitome of Russian miniaturisation. The ideal spy camera for those discreet photographs. And the shutter / mirror sound, why, you'd hardly notice it even if you were surrounded by pneumatic drilling. Once I carried up a hill side in a cheap rucksack. The next day the missus was asking me how I got the bruising on my back!

    The camera was my father's. It was new in 1994. I don't think he used it a great deal judging by the lack of 120 material he left. Maybe there was an optical reason he used it not a lot. Or maybe not. Whatever, I intend to maybe make it the main machine for a spell and shoot a fair amount of film to get a better feel for it. I have had some decent results.

    From what I've read, we'd all do better if we used our lens hoods more often. I have resolved to do just that. In fact I've got one on right now. And very smart I look in it, even if I do say so myself.

    The Canadian is something else ending in lux.


  8. Oh you lucky chap - we'll just call him The Canadian then - all safari suits and cocktails and a mysterious air . . .

    The Russian doesn't get mentioned in the MF Manual, but I am pretty sure Ivor Mantale wrote him up in an extensive AP article - must look it up. And the thing was , he was your Dads so you must do well by him - it's the law.
    The old Pentax 67 is a giant as well and everyone should try one at least once if only for the surprise when the mirror goes off - it is truly shocking. The Koni is also gigantic, but strangely manageable and above all quiet apart from advancing the film, which is really more akin to cocking a rifle. Rolleis are by far the quietest of all MF cameras apart from a little squeaky-tweaky when advancing the film. I like the Hasselblad, simply because it sounds utterly professional. The film gate doors open with a thwap, the mirror goes up, the shutter goes buzz, and when you release the shutter button the film doors close with a thwap, and then there's this lovely geary sound as you turn the advance, advancing the film and lowering the mirror - it's really great.

    If you're using Windows - irfanview. it is the easiest and best little photo program ever, and spotting is a total breeze. I always wipe the scanner glass with the back of my hand, and my scanner is about 5 years old now. On the Mac I am now using photos and spotting on that is also a piece of cake, so, no excuses man . . get spotting!
    If your prints are spotty, seriously, a good ioniser like the Astrid really does pay dividends in keeping the static and dust down. I've used an ioniser for years and rarely have dust problems. Same with that technique of running film through you fingers I described a few posts back - IT WORKS!

    I look forward to seeing some of your prints - feel free to send over via the contact thing at the side, we could work something out. Of course you could also start using Blogger - it is dead easy and a very friendly format to use . . feel free to witter about any olde shite and before you know it you're three years in . . .

  9. You say:
    feel free to send over via the contact thing at the side

    I say:
    I can't see any contact thing. Where is it? Probably right in front of my poor overused bespectacled eyes, hidden in plain sight



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