A Wiltshire Afternoon

As you’ll have gathered from the last two posts I spent a few hours recently in the vicinity of Hackpen Hill and Uffcott in my home county of Wiltshire. All of the images in my last two posts were processed sat in the car on the Ridgeway using Snapped on my iPad. I’m home now though and a few hours to spare this afternoon for some processing on the Mac.

© Dave Whenham
Trees lining a field boundary near Uffcott, Wiltshire. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

All of the images here are destined to be used in monthly folios with the Postal Photographic Club of which I am a member.  As such they are unlikely to be seen as a set anywhere other than here. I still however processed them in such a way that they have a unified aesthetic. I often think of my photography in terms of different “bodies” of work (without meaning to sound pretentious) rather than a collection of individual images.  For me there is something very powerful about a set of images that work together, an approach no doubt influenced by my days studying with the Open College of the Arts.

© Dave Whenham
Abandoned roller and trees, near Uffcott. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

Degree-level study was however far from my mind last Saturday afternoon. I was simply enjoying the pleasures of being outside with a camera in my hand. I kept it simple; no tripod or filters and just two lenses, one a telephoto the other a wide-angle lens.  I do think it is important to remember that photography, for me at least, should be something I enjoy doing. Even though I have studied and researched the subject extensively, even though I have worked hard to practice and hone my technical skills and even though I have spent many days on workshops and training courses I still remember not to take it all too seriously.

© Dave Whenham
Tumuli, Hackpen Hill. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

Don’t get me wrong. I am competitive (very competitive one of my line managers once said) and I have enjoyed the successes I’ve had in my club competitions over the last five years. Winning though is not the ultimate goal – creating images that fulfil my vision and that I find aesthetically pleasing is the objective. If other people, or indeed if judges on the club circuit, enjoy my efforts than that is a bonus for sure.

© Dave Whenham
Hackpen White Horse. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

So, the images here, processed similarly, are presented chronologically. I can retrace the drive from Uffcott up the hill to the top of Hackpen Hill from these photographs. Which is what I was unconsciously doing even as I wandered on Saturday. Unconscious competency I think some theorists term this. I prefer to think of it as “consciously aware of unconscious competence” as I know exactly what I’m doing even if I don’t have to think about it.  The same can be said of using the camera, I have used it extensively such that even after four months of not using the camera I was able to pick it up and carry on where I left off last time. This ability to deal with the technicalities without conscious thought leaves the mind free to make choices and consider composition rather than fret about which button or menu item is required to achieve those objectives.

© Dave Whenham
Nearing the tumuli, Hackpen Hill. Nikon D800E processed with Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro.
© Dave Whenham
Tumuli, Hackpen Hill. Nikon D800E, processed with Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

Looking back over these images this afternoon I’m pretty pleased with what I achieved with the minimum of kit and the maximum of application. Are these masterpieces? Of course not. But do they satisfy my original creative and aesthetic objectives? Absolutely. And that is what photography is all about in my eyes.

© Dave Whenham
Inside the tumuli looking out on Hackpen Hill, The Ridgeway, Wiltshire.


It’s been a long time …

… December 1st 2015 to be precise since I last wrote in this blog. Long story which I won’t bore anyone with here but the important thing is that I grabbed the camera yesterday morning, jumped in the car and headed off to The Ridgeway whilst my wife went to the football with her cousins (I know, some would see this as role reversal).  Now the Ridgeway is over two hundred miles from where I live, which is where the football becomes relevant but I digress.

© Dave Whenham

It was the first time since early November last year that I’d gone out with any serious intent of making photographs but I’m pleased to report that it felt as if I’d never been away.  My way of working has evolved over the years and usually involves wandering around a location with or without a camera in my hand and only taking the tripod out when I’ve seen a composition that I want to work with.  The tripod slows down the “serious” picture making which brings considerable benefits but having the camera in my hand also allows a degree of spontaneity.  For me using both approaches works but it won’t find approval with all camps I’m sure.

One thing I’ve rarely compromised on though is in the processing of the RAW images (yes, RAW not JPEG, but that’s a debate for another day) which I have always done on the computer at home. Experiments with a laptop in the holiday cottage have rarely been successful and so I usually wait until I get home. On Saturday afternoon though I was keen to see what was on the cards so downloaded a handful to the iPad whilst sat in the car at the top of Hackpen Hill.  The results surprised me and I was more than happy to post a couple to Facebook and also Instagram sat peacefully up on the Ridgeway.  I might even try printing them when I get home next week.

The Power of the Sublime

It was the Romantic artists and poets of the late 18th century who were inspired by the forces of nature to create an art of the sublime. Michael Freeman recently described it as ‘how to enjoy a perfect storm’ and that was very apt stood on the beach at Elgol in November as the rain lashed down and the wind whipped with such fury that I genuinely feared that even someone of my size might just be blown away by the force.

© Dave Whenham
Backlighting is an oft-used device when photographing the Sublime
© Dave Whenham
The same scene in colour is slightly less threatening

I truly experienced the sense of fascinated delight he described and for the first time I think I truly understood what emotions are evoked by the power of the sublime. Freeman goes on to quote Joseph Addison who, in 1712 wrote about scenes that were “… at the same time, as Dreadful and Harmless; so that the more frightful Appearance they make, the greater is the Pleasure we receive from the Sense of our own Safety”.

So with these thoughts in mind here are a few from what was a truly Sublime experience at Elgol on the Isle of Skye in November 2015.

© Dave Whenham
On the beach
© Dave Whenham
The power of the wind
© Dave Whenham

(Michael Freeman was writing in N-Photo magazine)

Birch Trees and Limestone

I took the Hasselblad with me to the Isle of Skye recently and this weekend I developed the black & white film before retiring to the darkroom to print a couple of frames.

It’s been three weeks since I printed owing to the trip away and other domestic duties and I was keen to get in the darkroom to try the Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper I bought recently.  It proved to be an excellent choice of paper and I was very pleased with the outcome.

© Dave Whenham
Birch trees on limestone outcrop Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster

My favourite from the first roll out of the Hasselblad was taken on the road to Elgol showing a small group of birch trees  on a limestone outcrop. There was a lingering mist and scudding clouds so it was not ideal weather nor light but I was keen to capture the atmosphere and the roll of FP4+ made the Hasselblad the perfect tool for the job.

The paper is a variable contrast paper, something I never used back in the 1970s, and my initial test print was printed on an equivalent grade of 2½ which rendered the cloud and mist very nicely. After producing the envisaged print (above) I then experimented with a harder grade which made a dramatic difference to the foreground and even accentuated a narrow band of light falling at the foot of a distant mountain.

© Dave Whenham
Hasselblad 80mm lens FP4+ Fotospeed Oyster RCVC All 4 secs 0-90-0 Sky + 19 secs 0-30-0 5mins in Kodak selenium toner

Memories (of Milk & Alcohol)

There’s been a lot written recently about the demise of printing and the irony that in a world that produces more images a day than in whole decades past we have less printed artefacts for future generations. It’s one of the reasons I print family photographs. In a world where memories are evoked by a computer-generated prompt on Facebook saying “remember this from 1 year ago?” I sometimes like to think back even further and my suitcase full of family snaps does just that.

Recently I was talking to someone about my early days in the darkroom and recalling how I used to attend “gigs” and take photographs and then rushed home with the roll of Tri-X (sometimes two if feeling flush) to develop the film, hurriedly dry it and produce some basic black and white prints to sell at school the next day to raise funds for the next roll of film. It’s a shame that entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stay with me but that’s another story.

Spooky therefore to find what is probably the only remaining sleeve of negatives from those heady days when clearing room recently to install a darkroom.  They are badly underexposed but the negatives themselves are in good condition, testament to my developing skills back in the day I hope. The film stock is Kodak Tri-X and from memory it is likely to have been rated at 800 ISO or even higher so it is not surprising that it is a little grainy. The camera would have been a Zenith E with a 50mm f1.8 lens, not the sharpest combination in the world and as I’d have been using the lens wide open a little softness can be expected – even on those not affected by camera shake!

© Dave Whenham
The Inmates, supporting Dr Feelgood – 1st June 1979.  Scan of 2015 darkroom print

I printed one of the negatives last night and it provoked a pleasant trip down memory lane for both myself and my wife (then my girlfriend) who claims that it was my idea of a birthday present for her in those days. A charge I refute absolutely of course.

The First Print

Over the weekend I spent around eight hours, in four two-hour sessions, in the darkroom getting my head around the whole alchemical process again after an absence of more than thirty years. I had been warned that I would be amazed at how little I remembered but I think the amount of reading I did before the weekend was repaid by a very smooth reintroduction and a very satisfying first print.

In particular, the warnings regarding cleanliness and control of dust were well heeded and the first finished print has just one tiny blemish to be spotted out at some point. I clearly remember seeing much more on prints back in the 1980s so I’m clearly being a lot more careful these days. The benefits of my “mature” age perhaps?

© Dave Whenham
Test Strip – Marlborough Downs Top 12-9-6-3 seconds @ f11 and Bottom 15-12-9-6-3 secs @ f16

One thing I remember as being a total faff was test prints (see above) but the benefit of them became very clear over the weekend. I really can’t think why the teenage me disliked them so much, or at least dislikes them in my memory. The test strip gave me an overall exposure of 12 seconds at f16 although to my eye this gave a much darker foreground than I wanted so again using the test strips to make a judgement the bottom half was held back so it only received 7 seconds. The scan of the finished print is below.

© Dave Whenham
Marlborough Downs. Pentax 645.

All in all I had a very productive weekend and am looking forward to honing my skills over the coming months.

Developing Tanks Are Go!

Following my last post I have now dusted off the developing tank and successfully developed both rolls of 35mm film. Both were well past their use-by date but still gave well exposed, contrasty negatives and it was odd to see images I’d taken a couple of years ago.

I’ve kept careful notes of the processing times etcetera for future reference but everything worked smoothly and I was left with two sets of clean, unstained negatives.

© Dave Whenham
Zac – two years ago perhaps?  Canon A1 35mm film camera. Film home processed. Scan from warm-tone darkroom print

I had such a lot of good wishes from friends via social media in particular regarding my return to the darkroom that I thought I’d share my very first test strips and print with them … but the only way to do so is to scan it into the computer!! Oh the irony!!!

My return to darkroom printing is about expanding my own horizons and skills and I hope to use my darkroom prints for The Postal Photographic Club monthly folios and competitions as well as my own walls.

More to follow including the first test strips and first finished print.

Back to the Darkroom

My enlarger arrives Monday. I’ve finally progressed in my photography sufficiently to go back to the darkroom – this time with a Hasselblad 500CN and a Mamiya RB67.

© Dave Whenham
Lake of Mentieth, Scotland.
Camera: Mamiya RB67
Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

Now that is not something I was expecting to be writing even as recently as 27th September. However, on the 28th, and courtesy of my wife, I achieved a long-held ambition and became the proud owner of a Hasselblad film camera.  Just two weeks earlier I’d been contemplating selling my Mamiya which has languished unused in a box on my bookcase for at least four years.

There is a saying the when life throws you a lemon then you should make lemonade; so applying the same principle, and in short, I am going to shoot film again after many years of being exclusively digital. Over the last weekend I spent a few days in Snowdonia with members of the Postal Photographic Club some of whom still shoot film, a couple exclusively. Chatting to them over dinner one evening I realised that if I’m going to do this then I may as well do it properly so have spent the last few days creating a space in which to establish a permanent darkroom. More on that in a future post.

Whilst clearing out though I found an envelope of negatives and transparencies dating from 2009-2011 and couldn’t resist scanning some of them.  The results exceeded my expectations and I shall be printing some of them (digitally) later to then compare with a darkroom print once I’ve got the equipment set-up and the chemicals have arrived from the suppliers.

© Dave Whenham
Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire.
Camera: Pentax 645
Film: Ilford XP2 Super
© Dave Whenham
Imperial War Museum, Salford
Camera: Mamiya RB67
Film: Fuji Neopan 400

Over the weekend I shot four rolls of 120 roll film using the Hasselblad (48 pictures in total) and one roll of 35mm film (36 pictures) using a Pentax ME camera I’ve owned for a while and never previously used. On getting home I found two rolls of exposed 35mm film in a drawer and on inspecting the film magazines for the Mamiya found that one had two frames remaining and the other had four. In total I sent nine films off for developing last week and I’m eagerly awaiting their return. Once I’m happy that the camera is functioning properly I will start to develop my own films again but I want to remove that variable at this stage of the process; I need to know the cameras function properly without wondering if any failures were down to my processing.  I’ve since found two more part-exposed 35mm films in a Canon A1 and Canon EOS 650 which I’ve finished and will use for my first foray into home developing since the mid-1980’s.

So, watch this space and in the meantime here’s a few more scanned images.

© Dave Whenham
Camera: Pentax 645
Film: Fuji Acros 100
© Dave Whenham
Amanda – who started this all! c.1982
Camera: Canon AE1
Film: Agfachrome

I mentioned at the top that I felt I’d progressed enough to return to the darkroom – at least I hope I have!

12-Portraits: Joe, ballet dancer

Back in March I suggested a 12-portrait challenge to get me doing something out of my comfort zone and I’m delighted to say that I have just completed the first. Joe’s Mum got in touch with me after a mutual friend pointed out my Facebook post and suggested she get in touch with me. We met on a cold, blustery day in early April for an initial chat and for me to take some test shots to help me gauge how to approach the shoot. It was also an opportunity to find out the type of photography that Joe liked, I wanted to be sure that he was going to be happy with what we produced. As it turned out my idea of an urban-themed shoot went down well and my choice of black & white was also well received. Joe is also a fan of Instagram so I “grunged-up” a few shots for his Instagram feed from that first meeting. © Dave Whenham Scouting the right location was important and the time spent on this aspect was well rewarded with a very productive final shoot lasting around an hour and three quarters. After playing with a few post-processing ideas I settled on a toned black and white using a Lightroom preset as the starting point for the final shortlist.   The final portfolio has been well-received by Joe, his family and my peers and I have to confess to being well pleased with the first challenge. The bar has been set high so I’m now looking for the second challenge – back to Facebook I think!

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