One of my favourite buildings in the country is the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque – also known as the Iron Mosque due to its stainless-steel clad structure. It’s a very modern building located in the administrative capital, Putrajaya, that still manages to integrate traditional culture and religious cues into its design. These, together with its scale, location on the Putrajaya lakefront and sight lines, make it quite a spectacular building.
Contrary to popular belief, I do shoot pedestrian subjects. Quite often, actually; it’s one of those ways you can condition yourself to see differently and pay more attention to light, form and composition. At the end of a long assignment some time ago, I took one of the Hasselblads, the 120/4 CF Makro-Planar and a few rolls of Acros out with me for a quick excursion to the Kuala Lumpur Orchid Park; I’d evidently gone at the wrong time of year since nothing much seemed to be in bloom. Still, I came back with a few interesting images from that outing – and all in all, was pretty satisfied with the output especially given that I hadn’t shot any film for going on two months at that point in time*.
*Work really does get in the way sometimes.
It’s now been a healthy chunk of time since I started shooting film again; enough to have a baby. What kind of child has this experiment turned out to be? Building on an earlier article of random thoughts and also from a digital perspective, I’ve had some more time to reflect on things now that a) my workflow has matured, and b) I think I’ve figured out where it fits in the grand scheme of things creatively for me. All I’m going to say is that the point I’m at now is very much not what I expected when I bought the F2 Titan in October last year.
Ostensibly, this is already perhaps not the most practical of ideas; if one is extremely masochistic, things can be compounded further into the really bad idea class by using film. And a manual focus camera. Without a meter. I think it takes a certain amount of insanity – or at least a healthy dose of optimism – to even attempt it. Street photography (the genre itself being discussed in this previous article) is the kind of thing that’s handled best with a responsive, unobtrusive camera that also has a goodly amount of depth of field for a given aperture, plus what I like to think of as being very forgiving of slightly loose shot discipline. This generally means good high-ISO ability, perhaps a stabilization system, a low-vibration shutter and decently large pixels to make the effects of camera shake less obvious.
This might sound like something of the Girls Gone Wild genre, but sadly, it isn’t. I recently picked up a batch of expired (2006) Kodak TMAX 400 120 film for the Hasseblad; 40 rolls at a rather good price of about $3 each. I knew going into this that the results wouldn’t be 100%; but plenty of research and the opinions of film photographers I trust suggested that it should be fine; just add around an extra stop of exposure, or be prepared to push the negatives a bit more during development. Time just degrades film sensitivity, in theory. The seller assured me he’d run a roll recently and it came out fine, just a little desensitized – which was in line with what I’d heard. I knew that storage temperature also affects things, but again – ‘cool, dry warehouse’. Supposedly fine. I’d also shot one of my own rolls of Neopan from 2005 and not found any issues; then again, it had been kept in a fridge the whole time.
What is a city without its people? What if a person from several thousand years ago were simply transported into the present day and dropped in any moderately-sized metropolis without any explanation – especially on a Sunday, when only a few brave souls are to be seen wandering the streets, purposefully running the gauntlet or perhaps acting as keepers of the strange world? Nature appears to have taken over in places, though the square rocks remain. Even the animals mostly avoid the place. Strange movable objects line every path. Did something bad happen here? Would they view the cities as strange landscapes? Or recognize them as artificial constructs? Perhaps they would wonder why anybody would leave nature to be all squashed together in square rectangular blocks…or maybe they wouldn’t even view the blocks as fit for human dwelling. To question, to wonder, to dream, to adapt, and go forth out to explore out of curiosity even if it makes us feel a little bit scared. That is what makes us human.
Or, perhaps, I just scared the Fukuokans off with the mighty clap of my Hasselblad mirror MT
I’ll admit that deep down, from the day I decided to buy the Hasselblad, I’d harboured a deep, masochistic desire to do this. During previous evaluations of medium format for my main commercial subjects, it didn’t really fit the bill: too difficult to achieve the degree of magnification required for watches, and digital medium format wouldn’t give me the width I needed for architectural work. It’d also be overkill for food photography in this country, given the current state of affairs*.
*I recently had a large corporate client ask for a portfolio and quote, then turn around and give the job to another photographer who quoted less and said ‘here, copy’. The results were crude because of harsh lighting and repetitively boring subject placement, but I suppose if they can’t tell the difference…perhaps I’m the one who’s got unrealistic expectations?
But hey, on film, for fun and in the spirit of creative experimentation, why not?
Continued from part one.
This article falls into the film diaries because historically, there have been many attempts to make cheaper versions of popular cameras – the M2, for instance, is supposed to be a cut-price and simplified version of the M3; the Nikkomats are another example. Yet none of these feel particularly poorly made or roughly finished; if anything, they still considerably exceed the perceived quality level of anything currently available new. Objectively speaking, my 1995 Hasselblad 501C is a pain to use: it’s large, heavy, only carries 12 shots, has serious mirror slap, has a reversed finder, requires a separate external meter (or very good eye), is a pain to reload, slow to shoot with, and an ergonomic disaster – yet somehow I just love making images with it because of the way it feels in the hand. The lens’ aperture and shutter rings move with distinct, clean clicks. The mirror and shutter sound feels positive and deep. The accessories detach and snap into place with solid, positive clicks and zero free play; there are no rough-feeling mechanical parts or actions, and the focusing rings (mostly) have precisely the right amount of damping.
Spot the odd one out of this bunch. (Hint, it’s not the M9-P because the image isn’t low-key, or because it’s the only Leica in a bunch of Nikons.) It’s also not the F2 Titan because it requires no electrons to operate. Let’s try another set:
On the last day of my recent trip to Fukuoka, I somehow managed to run out of film. The entire brick and both magazines of Delta 100 were depleted in a couple of hours; I was lucky enough to have magical light and the inspiration to shoot, so making the most of it, shoot I did. Let me tell you I wish they still made 220…12 frames for street work means reloading at least every half an hour or less if you’re in the thick of things.