Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Breaking The Format

Role Model © Evan Baden

I have been working with a 4x5 camera for the past 6 years or so. It has been my chosen method of image making. But lately, it has begun to bore me. I think this is mostly due to how often I see the 4:5 ratio in images. Just like 2:3 and 6:7, I see it everywhere. It used to be something that I really loved.

I have always liked to have a bit of emphasis to my images. And while it might be argued that a square format is maybe the most unbiased format, I find that having to make the choice about whether I want to have a "landscape" or "portrait" bent to my images forces me to consider why those choices are important to the specific image and also can help me to lead the viewer to certain conclusions.

I used to love 4:5 beause of it's ever so slight rectangularness. But like I said, I was having trouble with the mundanity of it. I needed a change, but couldn't figure out what exactly I wanted.

Throughout the bodies of work I have made and am making, I realize i am slowly pulling back from the subjects in my images. I am wanting to show more and more of the world around them, the world that they exist in.

I have recently been looking long and hard at the image "Montparnasse" by Andreas Gursky and "A Lunch At The Belvedere" and by Luc Delahaye. The format that these images takes really excites me. There is something cinematic about it, it allows the figures to be grounded in the frame, but also allows the world around them to seep in.

OMG © Evan Baden
I struggled with how to make my 4x5 camera work for me in this capacity. From what little I know, Delahaye uses a panoramic camera that shoots 120 film, and Gursky's image is a composite of some sort though I don't really know how.
I wasn't really in the mood to buy another camera, and am actually trying to sell a few of the ones I don't use. So I decided to start experimenting with the compositing. I knew right from the start that I didn't like the distortion that happens when rotating a camera to make a composite. Straight lines become distorted and it has a strange effect that I have never been fond of. So how do I make a panoramic composite without rotating the camera.

What I came up with was a rather simple solution to the problem. At first I thought about moving the whole camera and taking one photograph from the left position and one image from the right. I quickly learned this was not ideal if there were any kind of object in the distance because it created multiple vanishing points. While the foreground objects remained in pretty much the same position, the background objects differed greatly. And while I don't mind doing some light Photoshop work, I wasn't in the mood for the nightmare of reconciling numerous vanishing points.

So now both rotating the camera and physically moving the camera were both no longer options. It occurred to me one day that maybe the camera didn't have to move at all. The advantage to working with a 4x5 rail camera is that both the front and back standards shift to the right and left.

I have a 90 mm lens that was built for architecture photography. It has extremely large coverage and allows me to shift the back standard completely from left to right without any vingetting. So what I began to do was shoot an image with the back shifted all the way to the left, then shift the back all the way to the right and shoot a second image. The great thing about this method is that the lens never actually moves. The separate negatives are made from the same projection of light. So when the two negatives are composited together in Photoshop everything, including focus, lines up just as it should if I was shooting with a panoramic camera.

The best part of this for me, and this was totally by accident, was that because of the limits of the shift on the back standard of my camera, the ratio that I end up with is 16:9. I have been wanting a more cinematic feel to my images, and the fact that the new images I am making are 16:9 lends itself to that effect. I have since tried shooting just single 4x5 images and cannot stand the constraint of the frame. 16:9 feels like how I should have been shooting all along. It frees me from the feeling of claustrophobia that had been growing inside of me.

While this may seem like a small shift to many people, for me this was quite eye-opening and I feel as if I can do so much more with just a little extra space. I am just so happy to see something of mine on a wall in a format that I am not used to seeing there.

Evan Baden (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)


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