Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Portrait Talk


We've spent a bit of time chatting about portraits.

One of the the points I made is the importance of introducing some variety into the 'pace' of images. That's to say it's very easy, particularly in an exhibition or a book, to have a series of portraits which are so similar in style they can render the viewer comatose.

Not that I'm being critical but the effect is easy to see when, for example, you look at a series of Richard Waldendorp's pictures. He's a magnificent arial photographer - definitely not a portrait photographer. Take any one of his pictures and view it in isolation and it is brilliant. But look at a series of them in a book or an exhibition and the senses become quite dulled. His graphic vision is excellent but his sense of light is not and his work would be improved a great deal if he were to shoot ariels at different times of day to bring out  texture in the landscape. Most of the shots depend entirely on graphic effect and a single overhead light - the sun.

The same argument applies to Richard Avedon's iconic essay "In the American West".  Avedon was one of the world's greatest photographers and his series of portraits has become a landmark and an inspiration. However, the same repetitive effect can apply. All of the pictures were taken against a white backdrop on the shaded side of  buildings, thus  providing a huge softbox effect from the open sky. The incredible variety of characters held the work together.

Both photographers have achieved inspiring bodies of work but the effect of similarity in approach to their images can lead to a 'seen one, seem them all effect'.

This was my reason for caution when looking at your early portraits on the current project. I'm not being critical there - the motivation behind this is perfectly valid. I'm thinking down the track and visualising how the similarity in style may have a negative effect.

I mentioned that it may be an idea to break up the exhibition, to add a touch of visual relief, by taking not only a close up head shot but also to look for other characteristics which make up a persons character - hands, feet maybe. Or to take them in a non studio environment such as the one in the ruined building on this blog. I made a comment about that and I think that's an image and style which can be fine tuned very easily.

I've just managed to get m own daylight studio set up after clearing truckloads of rubbish out and the lighting as low but very nice quality. I've only done a few tests on a digital camera this far and am happy with what I'm getting. The lighting needs a little bit of work but it's fine - it just needs variety which I'm achieving by the use of reflectors.

I've posted some shots below. A couple of you to illustrate how the environmental effect can be put to good use. I like the tight shot but I prefer the wider one of you sitting and having a tea break. If I were to write a caption to this I 'd keep in mind your background of professional fishing. The mural goes some way towards helping that along.
Dewi Hyde, Esperence, 2011                                                                                                                                   Roger Garwood

I liked this shot Dewi. Totally natural and unposed. The light was a gift which included a touch of backlighting.

Dewi Hyde, Esperence, 2011                                                             Roger Garwood
This picture tells a different story. It loosly fits in with your past professional experience as a fisherman. There is a wider shot which takes in a lot more of the mural but this has the better expression.

Narayani, Fremantle, 2011                                                                 Roger Garwood
Naraynai, Fremantle, 2011                                                                  Roger Garwood
Both of these were taken in my daylight studio space. The light is simply filtered through scrims placed over the glass doors. I didn't feel I had the skin tones quite right but I'm also feeling that's one of the quirky aspects of digital exposure which needs to be mastered. 

Richard Read,  Art Historian, UWA. 2011                                                                                                               Roger Garwood

This was shot in the same lighting from a slightly different angle. I kept the session a bit loose, not actually posing anything but letting Richard carry on chatting and responding to a friend who was also in the studio. He's an animated sort of character and I feel that approach paid off.

Richard Read, 2011                                                                            Roger Garwood
When we'd finished shooting I made a cup of tea. We all carried on chatting and I felt the picture which most epitomised Richard was this one.

An interesting thing about this posting is that the images all look different from those on my desktop in terms of contrast and skin tones. They are tending to be a touch darker and flatter and this has to be yet another lesson to be learnt from this technology. That's to say an allowance for the posting has to be made when scanning and correcting images.

By the way, the backdrop is an old canvas cover from a railway truck. I cut it into two parts, one of which is hung on the studio wall, the other is rolled up and portable for chucking into the back of the car. 

It works pretty well in colour as well. Here's my very first shot in the studio. It's a bunch of bananas from the garden which have been drying out all summer. It works well in B&W too and I'm going to work on a series of still life pics this winter.

Dried Bananas. 2011                                                                           Roger Garwood

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Importance of Proper Contact Printing

A long time between drinks I’m afraid. Sorry. There’ve been a lot of problems to sort out up here, mostly of my own creation.
I want to get into the issue of what I call ‘proper’ contact prints. It’s something that is done a lot easier by demonstration but the theory has be laid out first. In essence it boils down to using a simplified version of Ansel Adams’s zone system with a disciplined method of making contact prints.
Without going into great detail I’ve zoned many films for their correct speed. More to the point I’ve had somebody do it for me as I don’t have a densitometer. My conclusion is that films (with the exclusion of Agfa film) all zone out to a correct working ASA/ISO close to half the manufacturers rating. Therefore a 100 ASA film will be close to 50, a 400 close to 200 etc. We’re talking B&W here of course.
That said and done we need to have a system which gives us control, or indicators at least, of a correct exposure/ processing combination in different lighting situations.
About 40 years back, using a system of basic logic, I concluded that the only thing we know about a piece of film is that if we don’t expose it to any light, then process and fix it normally, we wind up with a sheet of ‘clear’ film. 
We can make only one assumption now. That is if we  make a good print from that ‘clear’ film it should be a beautiful black image with no detail whatsoever.
I have said ‘clear’ - not clear. Because as we know the film is not totally clear. When it is processed and dried it has a base fog which will vary from film stock to film stock. 
As I said before the only thing we know about this film is that it will print to a black tone.
We also know that if we expose and process a film correctly and make a good print we will have a fine print with a full range of tones from highlights through to shadow detail. We can also take into account some personal style here. Some photographers prefer more contrast in prints, some fuller tone prints. Nevertheless, we do need to have some control and not depend totally on guesswork.
So, given that we have our technique under control we should get a good print.
But we’re still in the position of having only one controlled fact - the black print.
This is where the technique of PROPER contact printing comes into action.
Many photographers will make contact prints several times in order to get one which looks good - often to keep a client happy.
However, a contact print can tell us an enormous amount about how good our basic technique is. But first we need to make a very simple test to help with the production of a proper contact print:
Then, given that you have chosen the correct paper grade and have a perfectly exposed and processed negative, you will automatically get a perfect contact print given the correct enlarger exposure time. And this is a technique which, with very little practice, can give you a near perfect print on the first effort. Test strips are a thing of the past, both time wasting and a waste of paper and chemistry.
This is where the proper contact print becomes your only guide.
Here’s how we obtain the perfect contact. We can talk about other aspects of this technique later but the basics are simple.
We first have to use a negative which has been processed but NOT exposed to any light. I’m writing this on the assumption that you use 4x5 most of the time but it works on all formats.
  • First set up the enlarger so that it throws a pool of light on the baseboard which is sufficient to cover about 12x10 inch paper (we’ll be using 8x10 for this exercise).
  • Focus the frame edges of the film carrier on the baseboard.
  • Measure the height of the enlarger above the baseboard and note the height. (I measure from the lens panel)
  • Set the lens aperture to a normal aperture that you are likely to work with. This is to ensure even light coverage. A good enlarging lens will usually be operated at 1 to 2 stops down.
  • Choose a sheet of paper from the type you normally print with and set the enlarger or filter to a normal contrast. eg Grade 2.
  • Place a sheet of 8x10 paper on the baseboard and keep it flat with a sheet of clean glass or use a contact printing frame but strip from it those plastic film holding guides. They don’t let light through and make neat white lines all over the place. We DO NOT WANT ANY WHITE ON THE PAPER. It makes any dark grey look black by comparison. We need to compare black to black.
  • Now place the negative in the centre of the paper and make a normal step wedge, exposing, say, 1cm strips of the film at a time for a short exposure. You’ll know your enlarger better than, me but 5 second intervals will work well on a bright enlarger.
•When the step wedge is completed process it right out for about 2-3 minutes, depending on paper stock.
  • Fix wash and dry the paper and then examine it under the light you would normally examine your prints under in the darkroom.
  • The trick now is to look for the first point where you see the difference in black between the paper’s black and the negative’s edge disappear. You will see the grey tones becoming increasingly dark. Until the negative black and the paper black match. That point will represent the MAXIMUM PAPER BLACK IN THE MINIMUM EXPOSURE TIME NECESSARY TO ACHIEVE IT. 
  • Make a note of everything you have done to achieve this and keep it with that enlarger:
Enlarger height
Paper type
Paper/filter grade
Exposure time as well as making sure that processing times/temps for the print are in reasonable control.
Every time you make contact prints simply set up this system.
Now here’s the rub. If you have this contacting system under control and you’re not happy with your contacts for one reason or another they will help you sort out the problem. For example, if you find the images made with one particular shutter speed are looking over or under exposed it indicates a problem with the shutter. It’s not necessary to send the shutter off to the workshop, simply learn to compensate when using that speed. If images look too contrasty or flat it is a problem with basic exposure and processing control.
You will be surprised at how quickly you come to read the contacts and fine tune your whole technique.
While I’m a believer in the Zone System I find that this is a very useful, simplified, technique for putting it into practice. 
Here’s another advantage of the system. You should never have to make a step wedge test again. When you have got your contact printing technique under control try this little test. Simply take a negative and without changing anything on the enlarger at all put the neg into the carrier. You may need to fine focus it. Now slip a sheet of 8x10 paper in a frame and make an exposure identical to the one you used for the contacts.
It will obviously only be a cropped image (because you’re covering about a 12x10 area). Process it and you should find the image is a very close match to the contact. So close that it will be an acceptable print. You may only need a tiny change in exposure or paper grade to put you in the realm of a perfect print.
Slight variables do cause slight changes - that the image is now projected through glass is one of them. But with very little practice you will find your print technique will expand beyond recognition. 
But what happens if you want to make a smaller or larger print? That’s quite simple and it’s worth putting in a bit of practice. A simple law of physics (almost) applies. Check this. It looks complicated and is best demonstrated:

Inverse Square Law, Light
As one of the fields which obey the general inverse square law, the light from a point source can be put in the form
where E is called illuminance and I is called pointance.
The source is described by a general "source strength" S because there are many ways to characterize a light source - by power in watts, power in the visible range, power factored by the eye's sensitivity, etc. For any such description of the source, if you have determined the amount of light per unit area reaching 1 meter, then it will be one fourth as much at 2 meters.
The fact that light from a point source obeys the inverse square law is used to advantage in measuring astronomical distances. If you have a source of known intrinsic brightness, then it can be used to measure its distance from the Earth by the "standard candle" approach.
And it only applies to a point source which, in relation to the Law, is infinitely small. Your source will be 4x5inches. Again, is is a simple matter to make a note of the difference in exposures necessary. And the arithmetic is simple. For example if your enlarger is set to make a 12x10 print and you need an exposure of 20 seconds and you then want make a print of 16x20 inches which entail the enlarger lens to baseboard distance increasing from 15 to 30 inches your exposure will need to increase  by a factor of 4. That’s 80 seconds. (I’d stand to be corrected on that - my maths is B-).
Either way you will find that with very little practice you will be able to make very accurate exposure compensations.
A lot can be read from the contacts, not only equipment faults. If for example you find your negs are consistently too contrasty or too flat it means that your exposure/processing needs a minor tweak. It may be that the film zoning just needs a small adjustment. Eg from 50 to 64 asa.
Also, as you know, different lenses have different transmission characteristics. However, all of these things become apparent when you have the contact printing under control.
It’s also important to know the difference which occur with different enlargers, paper grades, processing times etc. So it is necessary to make tests for different enlargers. I don’t bother with tests for different enlarger lenses though, mainly because I use  different ones for different neg sizes. It’s possibly to pick up variations simply with a ‘feel’ through experience.
I’d like to make sure we go through this system in a practical way when I get down there.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Print Mounting


It's probably a good time to experiment with  print mounting if you have some rejects floating around.

Before that though many thanks for your comments re Joe and Agnes and Shan. A quick answer in reply to the relative values of the approaches in style. I'd say unequivocally that there can be no comparison in the value of one style over the other. It is important that we, and I don't just mean you and I but all professional photographers, have respect for other peoples' style. But I find it difficult to handle images which have poor technique (and find them being lauded by curators) and will continue to be critical in that respect. I think, in particular with B&W silver work, that it's important to push technical standards up to the limits. It's important not only from the point of personal satisfaction but also because world standards are extremely high and we need to match them.

Anyway, that aside, I want to get the issue of mounting out of the way. It's become tricky in recent years simply because both of us are familiar with dry mounting and it is now next to impossible to get archival tissue in Australia.

So, in my opinion, there are two avenues.

The first is not to permanently mount the prints at all. I see nothing wrong with using the tried and tested system of using archival tape to hinge mount prints in a matt. This has several advantages not the least of which is if the mount board is damaged over time it is a simple matter to remount/matt the print. This technique also allows the print to hang in the mount/matt which allows an air flow around it. Providing high quality acid free board is used the print will virtually last forever.

The principle, in fact I think the only, disadvantage of this system is that prints can be subject to warping, causing an undulating surface. This can be unsightly and is caused by changes in temperature and humidity.  The effect can be restricted by having a print with a very wide border. This doesn't entirely eliminate the effect but it does restrict it. I tend to print an image of about 12x16 inches on a 16x20 sheet of paper. That gives a 2inch border which helps a lot. It's also worth noting that prints, if they deteriorate at all, will do so from the very edges of the paper. This is often caused by insufficient washing and residual acid being left in the paper. It's a simple matter to trim those edges off.

I know many people see this as a waste of paper but I think that in any event it makes a nice presentation. Another thing I try to encourage collectors to do is not mount prints at all but keep them in a Solander box. They're expensive but are perfect protection for silver prints. Collectors can then underline the value of images by showing viewers prints on a viewing table under good light and wearing cotton gloves while handling them. I'm all in favour of getting prints out and talking about them in a group situation or one to one.

That said and done how do we get around 'proper' mounting - bonding the print to rag matt board - if we wish to?

For some years I have been using a product sold by Zeta Florence in Melbourne <http://www.zettaflorence.com.au/>. They stock all manner of archival materials, neg bags, Solander boxes etc. I use pure rice starch paste with neutral ph made by Lineco inc in Holyoke, USA (I left a bottle with you). Its not cheap but is cheaper than dry mounting and, to my mind, a lot better once you get a technique buttoned down. Hence needing a little practice.

It's very easy to mix up. The powder is talc fine and mixes very easily with water. It's important to follow the mixing quantities. In effect it's a very high quality wallpaper paste.

It's important to find a technique which suits you. I cut the matt and the mount board to the respective sizes and put to one side the centre from the matt.

I then use a couple of small hinges, using archival tape, to fix the print in position in the matt.

Now use a wide high quality brush to 'paint' the board evenly. The paste spreads easily and evenly. This takes a little trial and error as different boards have different absorption rates. It's important not to be over generous with the paste, nor to be too mean.

When the board is covered take the print and matt and gently lay them onto the pasted surface of the board. I actually find it easier to lay the print and matt face down and put the board on top. Doing that means the print doesn't flop about.

If you've done that turn the print over, face up, and put the centre of the matt into the original space. Now, take either a piece of glass of sufficient size to cover the print and mount or use the dry mounting press (with no heat) and place the mounted print under very gentle pressure. Remember that it is important to ensure there are no air bubbles in the print but I've never had a problem using this system. By gentle pressure I mean that it's important to strike a balance between ensuring that the print bonds evenly without the texture of the board showing through onto the surface of the print. As this is a wet process there is a danger that the board can swell.

The end result is the best I've had - better than dry mounting. It takes a little longer. And the big plus is that it is a reversible process. If the matt or mount become damaged it is only necessary to soak the whole lot in water and the print will float off. It will then be possible to remount it.

This is probably not a great example. I let the light reflect from
the surface of the print which is in fact absolutely  flat.
It looks a little textured as the canvas background
in the picture makes it look that way

I think that's covered that issue and I hope we can try a few prints when I come down in June (6-10).

Before I go can I have a moment of self indulgence? I went out on Anzac Day in Fremantle and shot a lot of (digital) snaps - just street shooting which I love and find quite relaxing. I was particularly pleased with a shot of an old Anzac being wheeled onto the parade ground. As this happened he reached into his jacket pocket, whipped out a hip flask and took a few swigs of something - I don't think it was lemonade.

Anzac Day Parade, Fremantle Esplanade, 2011                                                                                                 ©Roger Garwood

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The portrait of Shan is sensitive and beautiful Roger.

I remember saying to you after I'd finished the studio shots with her that day and she turned still seated and started talking that I knew you had a good image there. Shannan carries herself with such grace through life that is often physically expressed and you caught that.

In relation to your technotalk re printing, you'll have problems convincing me that such an approach can work. Landscape negatives invariably require a huge amount of exposure/contrast manipulation throughout the print based on highlight and midtone values.

Portraits and approaches

I too as you know love the portrait of Joe and Agnes at their camp Roger. Firstly a setting like that is rare and too good to pass up - you'd have been mad not to shoot some 'wider' frames including it even if you were seeking simpler head and shoulder compositions.

Generally speaking though your discussion of approach and style is informative. It's about why we make photographs as we do, both coming from very different directions and motives. It is also about aesthetics and sensibilities and therefore subjective.

Does a photograph that tells a story have more value than one which asks questions or provokes stories in the viewer? I'm not going to enter the minefield of discussing value here but would suggest it is perhaps central to the question. Such photographs serve different purposes but there are fundamentals to what makes a good image regardless of context.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Dewi, one of the issues we discussed the other day was portraits and style, approaches to subject matter etc.  When you explained to me your motivation for your current project I felt: "Great, this is coming straight from the soul".
I'd also say that approach is a long way removed from the overly contrived photography which is swamping the planet. There would be many reasons for that.  Not looking at it from an intellectual standpoint a principle reason for this flood of what in many instances amounts to junk is the onset of the digital era where the camera actually takes care of too much. It removes the need for talent, training, and thought. People simply shoot, look at the image and feel very clever.
Our approaches to portraits differ widely.  I come from a media background and often it is necessary to make a single picture tell a broader story. I'll post an example with this.
When we spoke I did make the point that viewers do like some information about pictures. I'm a bit tired of the Paris, 1938 style of caption. Again, that comes from a media background where often a picture had a great deal of value added by way of an extended caption.
Your current portraits, the style of shooting - the simple lighting, plain background and very simplified technique which boils down to a couple of sheets of film, is courageous and allows no room for an error of judgment. The end results show something of the soul of the subject and to be able to achieve that is nothing short of a minor miracle. The whole approach demonstrates the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid - works.

I'll drop in one of my favourite pics and caption here followed by one which I snapped after your recent shoot. 

Joe Sommerfield and Agnes, Kingston's Rest, The Kimberley 1993.                            © Roger Garwood & Trish Ainslie
When I spoke to Joe Sommerfield at his camp in Kingston's Rest, south of Kununurra, he was happy to tell me pretty well his whole life story. When he was kid his mother was the post mistress of  the Fink River Post Office, east of Alice Springs. Joe, at the age of twelve, was a camel driver and would take camels across the desert, carting supplies to communities. Nights were freezing cold in the desert and Joe would sleep cuddled into the camels for warmth. When cars and trucks became popular, displacing camel trains, Joe simply let his team loose into the desert.
Joe and Agnes have been companions for much of their lives. Agnes was married to a tribal aboriginal who had excessively associated with white people and for that he was speared to death. Before he died he last request was to Joe, asking him to look after Agnes. Joe did that until the day he died. A week after joe's death Agnes was moved into an aged care facility in Derby. A week later the camp was looted.
Joe wears a belt in the picture and he said that he stole the buckle from the bodies of one of two  members of the Durack family who had been speared and killed by local tribesmen. He quoted, " ... and they didn't kill people without good reason ..."

The picture was shot on 4x5 neg by Trish Ainlsie and me while we were working on "'til She Dropped Her Strides" a book about the Kimberley which we produced in about 1993. The one thing about shooting with a large camera on large tripod is that you have the undivided attention of the subject.
I've used this picture, not just because it's one of my favourites but because with a wider viewpoint, taking in the camp, clothing and other detail, like chooks and water tanks, a great deal of information is given to the viewer. The caption helps to round off a bigger story.
Now, if you don't mind Dewi, I'll post a shot of Shan taken when I was there recently.  I have to say I take no credit for this. I simply moved in when you had finished your shoot and squirted off a  digital pic.

Shan, Esperance March 2011
I think this will be a bit wider than your shot Dewi. It will be nice to see the comparison but I liked the way the arms formed a nice a nice arc to loosely frame the face. I'll leave it to you to post yours.

In a day or two, for the next post, I'll outline my system of contact printing which is a very important link to film exposure, processing and to dispensing with test strips in the final printing process. I'd like to demonstrate it to you on my next trip.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Comments written by Dewi on the back of the portrait if Elaine. 

Hand written comment on the back of the print of Elaine

Dylan II                                                                                                       © Dewi (David) Hyde 2011
Dylan                                                                                                           © Dewi (David) Hyde 2011

These portraits of my brother Dylan were made at the house in Esperance where our youngest brother Andrew lived, in his art room, six months after he died there. Dylan lives in Melbourne but came back for the second visit since Andy's death to reconnect with him. We had to make these images, or I certainly did even though it was very painful for us.

The one above was a wider composition placing him in the house, the second was after a longer lens was placed in the Linhof to hone in Dylan and what we were feeling while including a whisper of the context with blurred lines and letters on the wall behind him. At present I much prefer the second which was the first forwarded last night. 

It was late afternoon mid winter in a west facing room with last light illuminating the space from windows either end of the room which fronts the house on Dempster Street. Like most of my portraits it meant I had to open lenses - 150mm then 210 - to maximum aperture, f 5.6, and even then 1/10 of a second was as fast a shutter speed as light allowed. Slow portraits, I love 'em.

Portrait: Elaine

Elaine                                                                                                          © Dewi (David) Hyde 2011


Roger, questions you put to me last night about the portrait of Elaine are generic questions given the suite of work made in the same place with the same equipment and method, the 'studio'  portraits I mentioned as part this project. 

Face to face 6 feet apart with subject seated in front of a black backdrop with no direction other than to hold still once I've composed and focussed on ground glass - not easy with the light coming from directly behind me front on to sitters from a bank of windows the full length of the room 4 feet off the floor, a 1000 watt old halogen photoflood is bounced off the roof 45degrees and 6 feet from subject to supplement natural front lighting. Using the Linhof and 210 mm lens wide open at f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/10th sec I'm really pushing it for sharp results with  a depth of field of only about 6 inches shooting blind once I've loaded film and asking subjects to look straight at the lens which is at their eye height square on.

These are intense experiences for subject and photographer with no predictability of 'success' but I have had few disappointments since settling on this way of working the studio portraits. I generally make only 2 negatives to ensure a sheet misloaded or with dust spots doesn't lose the image. I guess I spent a fair while experimenting and failing to get what I was after before I settled with this.

I am after searingly honest simple portraits with these studio frames reacting against the slick glitz and shallow pretty of much contemporary imagery. I also don't pretend to find a subject's soul, nor believe theory about portraiture or many practitioners mythologising such nonsense. I know most of my subjects well but the portraits I make of them are only who we are for and at the half hour or so we made them, condensed into that 1/10th of a second exposing film. The life some of the best work has after this time is another story altogether.


Dewi, this is a haunting image. I'm finding it a little difficult to comment and am probably trapped in our discussion of 'American Gothic'. That's not to say my impressions are negative, exactly the opposite in fact. 

The simplicity of the portrait makes it a classic - in many ways, because it is so simple, basic, it is impossible to fault. I have to say that working the way you are with an absolute minimum amount of lighting and on 4x5 is a daunting process and taking only a couple of frames can only mean you're  confident of the result. Your technique, in a world where we are avalanched with digital equipment and manipulative techniques,  couldn't be coming from a more basic, grass roots, stance. And that in itself proves something - new technology does not necessarily  mean improved images. With the basic disciplines removed from technique it is my impression that there is a plethora of 'art by accident' going on.

It will be interesting to see reactions from a viewing audience at an exhibition. Viewers will  need  a very sophisticated degree of visual literacy to appreciate the portrait. I say that because you understand my impression of the general lack of knowledge about photography in Australia. This series could have the same effect on viewers as Diane Arbus's work had on New Yorkers decades ago - and there's certainly an element of Arbus is this. 

Interestingly I did receive the original print in the post and while I take the point that the scan doesn't have the subtle detail on screen I feel the print lacks a bit of punch. You hung on to the tones well but somehow I prefer the 'gutsy' contrast of the screen image.

I'm looking forward to this exchange gaining a bit of momentum. I hope a few people out there will feel free to comment.

All the best