Appeal to Subtlety

Another month, $30,000 in photography fellowships applied for and another stack of 8×10 negatives sitting next to my scanner awaiting their turn under the light. From what I’ve scanned so far, I’m going to choose the following for my March release.

Burning Brush, Esko, Minnesota, March 2012

What I like about this particular image is that it really shows to me just how subtle or small the subject of a photo can be when shot on such a large piece of film, yet still be adequately decipherable. Of course, web sizing of the scan doesn’t help much to preserve the subtle details that can be picked out in a nice paper print. So in case the sizing of this image is hindering the subtlety for you, let me help.

Burning Brush Detail

Flashback to Joel Sternfeld’s famous burning house photo from 1978.


I’ve seen that photo online many, many times over the years, but it wasn’t until I seen the photo in the American Prospects book that I noticed that there was a fireman in the scene buying a pumpkin.

Joel Sternfeld Pumpkin Detail

Finally noticing that one subtle detail just ended up taking the image to a whole different level to me. From what I’ve shot so far, I’m finding the scenes like these are turning out to be more satisfying for me than the portraits I’ve been shooting. Composing a scene like it is a landscape, and then waiting around for just the right subtle moment of human activity has been a fun experience so far. I imagine I’ll end up doing a lot of this throughout April.

An interesting side effect

A bad session with an 8×10 camera is still a pretty good marketing device.

I’ve noticed that while shooting with this big camera in an urban seeing is that I end up handing out more business cards to passersby than photos I end up taking. Pretty neat bonus feature. If I take 200 photos this year, and hand out one card per exposure, that is 200 more people who might come to an exhibition, buy a print or tell two friends. Not a bad deal for the act of just spending some nice time sitting around outdoors.

Non-Photographers: The rest of this will be boring to you.

Going to jump into some gear relation rambling here for the other photographers following me who might be into that kind of thing.

To get going in this project I bought a ratty old 8×10 Deardorff at a pretty good price for a Deardorff. Course, this immediately set of a chain reaction of extra gear buying just so I can use the damn thing without hating my life. It was immediately apparent that the tri-pod I was using on my 4×5 (Manfrotto 808RC4 on old Bogen 3021BN legs), wasn’t quite going to cut it. It worked, but it was very obvious that the head was fighting to hold the weight. Upgraded to a Manfrotto 229 head and it was much better, but now it was obvious that the weak link had moved down to the legs.

With a strong tripod head, big camera, and aluminum legs that were holding a bigger load than they were designed for was the first time I think that I ever really noticed the issue of metal legs amplifying vibrations. Yeeeech. Considered going the carbon fiber route for a while, but ended up trading locally for a set of wooden Berlebach 3032 legs. They may weight a little more, and are a bit more cumbersome to carry around, but I’ll be damned if they don’t hold the camera like a boss.

Berlebach 3032 Deardorff V8

I might look into getting some new ground glass for it as well. The Deardorff arrived with some sort of frosted acrylic that looked as though a previous owner hand cut it with a knife. Pretty terrible. Ended up swapping it out for the old piece of glass that was in my hundred year old Korona. An improvement, but that glass still doesn’t make the image pop as nice as my old Satin Snow glass did on my 4×5. Would love to have one of those for the 8×10, but sadly they stopped manufacturing them. Hopf Ground Glass appears to have sensible prices for a replacement, perhaps I’ll look there.