I attended a large format course at the Camberwell Art College which is part of the University of the Arts London. My aim was to gain hone my skills with large format and to try out a 10×8 camera. The course also included some more darkroom developing and printing..another skill I would like to develop.
The course had six students and excellent studio and laboratory facilities so we were well set up. All of the photographers were experienced, some studying for photography degrees. Very few had large format experience which meant that we went over quite a lot of ground I have covered elsewhere – that said having a refresher was no bad thing.
I decided to work with the 10×8 camera to try out a new format. I was very interesting…like a 5×4 on steroids. What I really liked about using such a large format is the ability to produce 10×8 contact prints direct from the negative…something which I have been thinking about. Whilst I don’t plan to buy and enlarger and set up a full darkroom, I could work with contact prints. I also wanted to experience using the camera. The huge focusing screen on the back was a real revelation making composing the image even easier than a 5×4. The downside is that the camera is huge….about 13 inches square by 24 inches long at full extension. It weighed around 5 kilograms…and the one I was using was a smallish one!
I made two images on film whilst on the course with two exposures of each. One was a portrait with high contrast lighting. The second was an interior – a photograph of the fantastic letterpress workshop which they have at the old Victorian college. The latter was made with natural light. I developed the four sheets of film using tray processing…this was a first and I don’t think I yet have the technique. I scratched the film quite a bit and got a lot of dust on the negatives….If I do move up to 10×8 there is work to do to perfect my processing technique. The good news is that both images were well composed and accurately exposed (see below):
So what did I get out of the experience. Well I found that using the 10×8 accentuated the experience I have had with the 5×4 in terms of making the photographic process slow and considered. The lenses are longer, so even more time is spent adjusting focus (the depth of field is inherently less with the longer lenses). Moving the camera around is yet more difficult and takes longer, so one needs to pre-visualise the shot before setting up. In a portrait setting, the sitter needs to work with the photographer, keep still and be patient. The collaborative nature of the ‘event’, the sheer physicality of the camera, and the need to keep still for extended periods all impacts on the gravitas of a portrait sitting, which I think can be seen in the expression and body language of the subject.
The physicality of the 10×8 negatives is wonderful. The 10×8 contact sheets have a depth to them and an ‘aura’ of authenticity – if this makes sense. The detail in the negatives is stunning and clearly should one’s project idea be one for which producing large prints is part of the concept then there is almost no limit on this with the 10×8 inch negatives. The downside is the sheer weight and size of the kit. Not sure if my old back with take it. But as I plan to use it mainly for portraiture and would limit my lens selection to a maximum of 2 (c240mm and c360mm) this might be manageable. Film is also expensive, but for black and white images this would not be excessive. On the course I used Fomapan 400. This film has a pretty fine grain and an excellent tonal range. It costs about £1.50 per sheet from Silverprint…so the cost of 10×8 using this film is about the same as 5×4 with Ilford/Kodak films…I might move to Fomapan for more of my work. I like the character of the film.
I am keeping an eye out for a second hand camera…there seem to be very few available. And if one comes along, I just might…..