Mood in creating an image is an aspect of photography often overlooked. There are many variables to this process but ultimately, the goal is to bring an emotional element to viewing an image. Many times I go out with a vision in my head of what I am looking to capture. Others times I go out not looking for a particular image but for a particular mood. I touched on this briefly from my last post but will briefly touch on this some more.
During this winter, I want to fully convey this time of year. Not just through a 2d image, but by attempting to tie emotions to that image, or rather, a mood. Black and white film is exceptional for this but color can equally capture this. With color, the thought process is somewhat different. Thought to color palette in choosing a film is one area of consideration. But ultimately, for me, it is the entire process.
What I will highlight today is a few B&W images and a few color images taken recently. I chose to use a very old camera, a 1952 Leica IIIF with an equally old or older leica 35/3.5 summaron. The summaron delivers a delightfully low contrast image, flaring easily to bright points of light. I could have easily chosen a modern lens however I wanted character, mood if you will, of time forgotten, past, etc. In the color department, I chose a cheap consumer film. I had my professional films, my ektar and portra, but I wanted a film to impart imperfection. Visible grain was to be desired. Sometimes, the perfection is through the imperfection. Other times, it is the imperfection that is a part of the sum total that will aid imparting mood.
Here are a few examples, snapshots if you will, of just getting out and about with nothing planned other than to capture the dreary mood of winter. Or, mood in creating an image.
The Walls of Jericho is an interesting geological place straddling the Alabama-Tennessee border nestled among the southern end of the Cumberland Plateau. It has been called the Grand Canyon of the east but it reminds me more of the slot canyons of the American west but instead of sandstone walls, the walls are slick limestone. Instead of the gorgeous reds, the rocks are a pasty white stained by water and speckled with moss and lichen. It is a brutal day hike to get here and a place I have attempted to photograph numerous times. It is a finicky place to shoot. Fall is hit or miss (usually miss) with water flow, summer is too brutally hot with early spring being ideal due to the wildflowers dotting the landscape and the water flowing. However, afternoon is out of the picture due to day hikers interrupting your composition. It is 3.5 miles and 1000′ down to get there leaving a 3.5 mile, 1000′ climb out. Not to mention the last half mile is pretty treacherous hiking. I decided to awake early and attempt to get there before the sun was high. I wanted to avoid the day hikers. I wasn’t too worried about sunrise due to the high cliff walls blocking the early sun until mid morning. This proved to be fruitful. An ultrawide is a must and the thoughts of the new canon 11-24 being an ideal lens for this place. Alas, my 17-40L would have to do. In addition, i shot some Kodak TMAX100 on an old canon eos rebel body with a canon 50/1.8 lens. I was happy with the images captured and believe I finally was able to successfully capture this place after 9 years of trying and 11 years of hiking to this place. Hope you enjoy a few of these images.
…is the one you have with you. And no, I don’t mean your cell phone camera. Megapixels be damned, that itty bitty, teeny tiny sensor behind that little piece of plastic just doesn’t cut the mustard. Those ill fated apps to make your images interesting by turning your image into something from a light leaking camera with expired film, well, I can just do the real thing with one of my old light leaking cameras from 40 years ago and some expired film out of the drawer. Now to move on.
The best (real) camera is the one you have with you. Now I don’t care if you shoot digital, film or both (I shoot both), but I make it a point to keep one handy. Practically speaking, it does no good to keep a big DSLR with me at all times. Too bulky. Not going to leave one in my car either, too expensive. That is why I troll the flea markets, thrift stores and goodwill stores for old film cameras. For example, in my glove box sits a Nikon L35AF. Back in 1983, this was THE camera to have as a (semi) compact, auto-focus point and shoot. It came with a real lens, a nice 35mm f2.8 aperture sonnar designed lens. It is reasonably fast, very sharp and takes filters (what compact P&S in the last 30 years has done that?). It has a nice, big and bright view finder, takes 35mm film (full frame goodness for you folks brought up in the digital relm) and runs on AA batteries that can be found ANYWHERE (no chargers needed here). Plus, it cost less than 5 dollars at the thrift store. Who cares if it gets stolen? Hence why it lives in my glove box. So to illustrate my point of the best camera is the one with you, I will relate the story of a recent roll of film.
So, I just happened at some point to toss a roll of consumer Fuji 200 speed film into this camera, placed it in my glove box and do what I do, forget about it until it is needed. So one day I am driving home from work and at 75mph crossing Nickajack Lake, I notice the sun parting through the clouds illuminating the lake in a most beautiful manner. Quickly I reached in my glove box, grabbed the L35AF, flipped the on switch and pointed it out my window as I fly across the bridge. This is what I captured:
Sometime this winter, my wife and I decided to go for a hike at the local state park. As we go there, I grabbed this camera out of my glove box for the “just in case” I ran into something interesting. Well, that is what happened. Towards the end of the hike, I looked over my left shoulder and noticed something somewhat unnatural related to the landscape and went to investigate. This is what I saw:
Last month I was driving home from work when, after talking with my father whom was out of town, asked me to check on his house (it is on the mountain) due to the recent ice storm. While there I drove out to the bluff quickly as I knew the light was fading. I captured this:
None of these images would have normally been captured. I had not planned these images. I just happened upon them and happened to have a easy to use, simple to operate, quick to grab camera with me in my car. Often, I have 2 or 3 in my car but I always have at least one camera with me. If I am going somewhere where lugging a camera around my shoulder/neck is not convenient or appropriate, I will grab my Olympus stylus epic or Olympus XA and stick it in my pocket. Better to have something than nothing and both of these cameras are super compact and sport a great 35/2.8 lens. Both Olympus cameras are getting a little pricey but the stylus epic can still be found for under $5 at Goodwill all the time (millions were made and sold).
Point being, if you are passionate about capturing moments, be prepared or those moments will come and go, fading into memory to be gone forever.
We spent a week out in Texas at the beginning of this month and made a return trip to Big Bend National Park. The park is so vast that there is little hope for us to view it all and we are planning to return again next year for our 3rd trip (my 4th). This year, we decided to attempt the River Road, a dirt road only suitable for high ground clearance vehicles. This is a 56 mile road that will take all day to travel (7+ hours). We came across an old abandoned mercury mine in the far reaches of the park. It is accessible but in a remote location of Big Bend. The park itself is very remote so needless to say, we were a long way from civilization.
I was shooting a lot of film, B&W and color and was striving for a certain look. I wanted an authentic portrayal of this mine and film was my obvious choice. Vintage and grainy for the B&W and color using a 65+ year old lens on a 45 year old Leica to portray the feeling of time gone by. The isolation, the remoteness of the area led me to choose Tri X as opposed to TMax100 for B&W. TriX is an old emulsion giving that “classic” black and white look. Color was Kodak Ektar, my go to film for daylight landscapes. Though usually a contrasty and punchy film, on the ancient serenar 50/1.8, I knew colors would come out with a pastel look with low contrast giving the appropriate vintage look.
The mine is Mariscal Mine which was abandoned in 1942. From 1901-1942 it produced approx. 25% of all the mercury in this country. Amazing considering in the early years the ore was packed out by mule around 60+ miles to the nearest town of Terlingua on a rutted out dirt road. The workers were all from Mexico (the Rio Grande is a short, couple miles away) and all suffered severe health problems as a result of the mining. Apparently the brick still contain quicksilver and there was a warning to not touch the bricks. Mine shafts were still visible, dotted through the hills but thankfully secured by steel grates.
The feeling of isolation in BBNP is intoxicating. To be out all day and not see another person, to look out over the vast desert and mountains and feel completely alone, in a timeless state is very appealing. This abandoned mine are like the skeletons of a by gone era. I hope I convey the feeling I am attempting too through these images. Enjoy!