Specialists in medium and large format photographic equipment

The Relationship Between the Artist/Photographer and Their Tools

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[fusion_text]Why do artists/photographers choose one camera over another? To many artists, the image is king and the technology behind it is of secondary concern.  Often, there are thousands of words written about the content and cultural context of the work, and very little information about how they made it. Does being caught up with technology stifle the creative process, or does it help the artist to create the images that they see in their head?

A camera has to feel right in the palm of your hand and become an automatic extension of your body and brain. If you are struggling to get to grips with the feel and technology of a camera, you are likely to miss the moment that you wanted to capture. This is particularly true if you want to take photos of people.

35mm versus Medium Format

The artist Nan Golding takes a very anti-technology stance and compares her dislike for technology to her dislike of Postmodernist theory ‘I don’t think either of them have anything to do with the creative process.’ She initially went to night school to learn how to ‘us a big camera’ but dropped out because she was ‘technically retarded.’ She was also frustrated by the often male obsession with technology over content.

Instead of using a ‘big camera’ she experimented with whatever 35mm camera she could get her hands on, eventually settling on a Leica. These smaller cameras allowed her to take ‘snapshot’ photos of her friends, documenting their often chaotic lives.  The intimacy of the technology enables her to break down the barrier between the artist and their subject.[/fusion_text][one_half last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”center” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][/one_half][one_half last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”center” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][/one_half][one_half last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]

Gina at Bruce’s Dinner Party, NYC. 1991

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A typical Leica Rangefinder camera

[/fusion_text][/one_half][fusion_text]In Gina at Bruce’s dinner party, NYC 1991, the subject is looking down, in a natural position. This certainly gives the illusion that Golding just whipped out her 35mm camera and snapped away.

Nan Golding is greatly influenced by Diane Arbus, who also took intimate portraits of people she got to know. Unlike Golding, Arbus retained more of a distance between herself and her subjects and played the role of engaged observer, rather than active participant.

Arbus started out using a Nikon F but switched to a medium format Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex for the bulk of her work. This decision was presumably for the improved quality of the medium format negative. Another reason could have been the type of viewfinder.[/fusion_text][one_half last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”center” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][/one_half][one_half last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”center” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][/one_half][one_half last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]

Typical Nikon F 35mm SLR

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Typical Rolleiflex TLR

[/fusion_text][/one_half][fusion_text]The viewfinder on a 35mm is small and suited to quick, snapshot images, whereas the viewfinder in the Roliflex is larger, and square, allowing for a more considered composition. This gives Arbus’s images a more formally composed appearance than Goldings.

 

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Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey. 1967

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Large Format

So why would you want to use large format camera?

Quality – The first reason is quality, especially if you want to make your prints as large as possible without losing quality. Andreas Gursky uses two large-format Linhof cameras that are positioned side by side, one with a slight wide-angle lens, the other with a standard one. He then digitally manipulates the negatives to create enormous prints that have incredible quality and clarity.[/fusion_text][one_half last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”center” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][/one_half][one_half last=”yes” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][imageframe lightbox=”no” lightbox_image=”” style_type=”none” hover_type=”none” bordercolor=”” bordersize=”0px” borderradius=”0″ stylecolor=”” align=”center” link=”” linktarget=”_self” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ hide_on_mobile=”no” class=”” id=””] [/imageframe][/one_half][one_half last=”no” spacing=”yes” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”” padding=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”” animation_speed=”0.1″ class=”” id=””][fusion_text]

Linhof Technika Camera

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Rhine II, 1999. Andreas Gursky

[/fusion_text][/one_half][fusion_text]Time – The second reason is time. The photographer Joel Meyerowitz is well known for using a Leica for his documentary street photography. He noticed a difference in his attitude to taking photographs when he began to use a large format camera:

“I think it has changed me, for the better. I’ve noticed over the years (I’ve been shooting the view camera now for thirty-one years) and I’ve had many people say to me, in response to the view camera work, how Buddhist it is, how meditative it is, and often, if I’ve given a public lecture, someone will come to me afterwards and say, “are you a practicing Buddhist?” and I realize, in some ways, whatever has happened to me through using that camera, and its slowness, and the studied, reflective quality of it, has quieted me down.

So, I liked the additional knowledge of slowing down. I didn’t know about slowing down when I was only working in 35mm, but once I worked with the other camera, I learned something about stillness, and spaciousness, and contemplativeness, so those things have reinforced themselves and given me a new way of considering things.”

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Red Interior, Province Town. 1977

[/fusion_text][/one_full][fusion_text]Movements – The third reason to use a large format camera is the movements, or ’tilt, swing and shift’ functions of most large format cameras. Ansel Adams famously used large format cameras, lugging them up mountains and other remote places. He viewed the pain as worth it for the qualities already discussed above. He was also a big fan of the ‘movements’ large format cameras can offer:

“The view camera provides adjustments that allow us to alter the relationship between the lens axis and the film plane… knowing how to use these adjustments gives us an extraordinary degree of control over the content and focus of the image.”

In his book ‘The Camera’, he goes into detail about the various functions of ‘swings, tilts and shifts’. One of the simplest and most useful benefits of using camera movements is to counteract the phenomenon of ‘convergence’. This is when ‘two parallel lines appear to converge (become closer together) as they become more distant.’ This effect can become more exaggerated in a photograph because of the way our eyes and brains work. To correct this he says that:

“The rule in photography is that when convergence of parallel lines is to be avoided, the camera back must be parallel to the lines. Thus if we level our view camera with its back vertical, and then use the rising front (or falling back) to center the building in the ground glass, the vertical lines will be parallel.”

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Roots, Hawaii. Ansel Adams

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Ansel Adams with a large format camera

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References:

Nan Golding interview, BOMB 37, Fall 1991 Nan Golding –http://bombmagazine.org/article/1476/nan-goldin

Andreas Gursky interview, 032c magazine (Issue 13, Summer 2007)

Joel Meyerowitz interview part 1 – http://2point8.whileseated.org/2007/12/03/joel-meyerowitz-interview-part-1/

The Camera, Ansel Adams, Little, Brown and Company, 1976[/fusion_text]