No matter what time of year you visit Utah’s Arches National Park you know you’re in for a treat. Having visited frequently over the past 30 years I’ve seen the Park in many different weather conditions – but mostly some variation of hot and sunny with bluebird skies above. This past January, however, changed that.
I had the privilege of seeing Arches in some icy cold fog which – though wasn’t what I’d initially intended – turned out to be a uniquely beautiful time to see and photograph something different than what we might typically think of when Arches comes to mind. In hind site I count it as a blessing, a gift given me I didn’t know to ask for.
Most of the work done with the F6 this trip was in the “Garden of Eden,” an area of the park lesser traveled (I find it curious that at least three areas of the park carry biblical overtones in their names: “The Garden of Eden,” “Devil’s Garden” towards the top of the one-way road and the “Fiery Furnace.” Are there more…?) The first morning out I came across this scene reminding me a little of Lord of the Rings, which lodged in my mind creating a curiosity and desire to return often through the trip to see how the fog and light were interacting with these elements.
To see more imagery from the trip, including the frames made with medium format film, please visit bluehourjournal.com
Having just returned from a long weekend to Arches National Park, I’m beginning to work through my film. Shot a good bit of 35mm and 120, both color and monochrome this trip, keeping with my New Year’s ‘goals’: shoot more film, drink more whiskey. Did both, it turns out – but shot more film than whiskey, largely dividing time evenly between 4 cameras: 2 x medium formats and 2 x 35mm. Since retiring my D3s I’ve added the F5 back into heavy rotation and am loving working with it again.
If you want to see one of America’s true treasures, visit Arches National Park in Utah. If you want to see it at a special time of year, and when there are (far) fewer people – try visiting in January. In much of the Park I was alone, and it was wonderful.
The F6 saw heavy use. I continue to be pleased with its performance (after more than 10 years), even in the cold. Of all my cameras it’s still the king of metering and perfect exposure. Having just replaced the batteries with fresh AA’s (went with Duracell’s new “Optimum’s” (“Extra Life. Extra Power” is the slogan). In 20° temps they registered down 1 tick on the top plate indicator so I slipped out the MS-40 and kept it in an inner jacket pocket until ready to shoot. No problems after that.
For 35mm, ran some FP4+, of course Delta 100 as well as some new Ektachrome and expired Provia. Ran mostly E-6 through the F5 this trip, largely relegating the F6 to monochrome. Both use Kirk L-brackets so getting them on and off the tripod is fast and easy. The color medium format work can be seen on Blue Hour Journal soon.
The vast scale of the land is hard enough to communicate through small photographs on the internet. But everyone knows a human figure when they see it.
As is evident – there was no sky the whole trip. Just a huge, grey wall behind every horizon line for 4 straight days. This made shooting wide difficult, and encouraged tunneling in more, cutting the horizon completely out of most images. There were times just enough depth showed through to indicate something in the background, and in that case it stayed. But largely, this was a horizonless shooting experience.
I found this tree fascinating, and the small, frozen berries against the gnarled, twisted trunk communicated delicacy against a tortured harshness unique to Arches. I do think, however, this image will wet print better than it scanned/displayed digitally. There’s a lot of detail/information here and controlling contrast is going to be important. One of the great things about FP4+ is slightly less contrast than Delta, allowing contrast to be built up slowly using multi-grade filters.
Sometimes the fog lifted just enough to make background features barely visible, adding depth to the mysterious scenes.
Next up is the color work. Thanks to Denver Digital Imaging for processing my color films. Couldn’t do it without you guys.
It’s January 1, 2020. Not just the beginning of a new year, but a new decade. Tonight in the local news (well, not exactly news… in Colorado it’s Kyle Clark’s NEXT-we watch him every night and love the program) – the question was asked what things you’d like to leave behind from last year or previous years as you move into this new decade. For me, the answer was deceptively simple.
Our son is a Communications major in college and is about to take his first Photo Journalism class. His used D7000 was becoming a bit worn and after briefly consider bequeathing him one of my prized F2’s (there’s still time for that…) I realized what he really needed (and wanted) was a better digital camera.
My D3s has been a good camera for 10 years. But over the last 4 or 5 has seen less use each year as I double down on my commitment to film and my shooting preferences and style evolve. After a brief discussion with my wife it was clear what to do.
His delight Christmas morning was not feigned and I knew we’d made the right decision. But it wasn’t until watching our news program tonight that it hit me: After slowly increasing my commitment over the past several years to a film-only approach to photography, I’m beginning a new decade newly, wholly committed to approaching every photographic situation with film.
This isn’t relegated to simply one format or one camera, but several. Crazy? Maybe. But I love the purity of it. And idealism certainly isn’t the last word used to describe me by those close to me.
Isn’t it OK to admit that photography is more than recording photons? I mean, if absolute literal interpretation is the name of the game – why bother? Who cares? “Just the Facts, ma’am” doesn’t really cut the mustard. Photography is infusing your slant, your spin – on what you’re seeing and recording; interpreting… whatever – in a way that says something about the scene before you. Not being afraid then to make a statement – to proclaim and announce your point of view through your frame – is brave, and what a photography is all about.
OK leaving ethereal realm and re-entering practical realm. Yes, it’ll mean some assignments will have to be turned down. One of those is low-light shooting in indoor venues for our church, for example. But there are up and coming youngsters equipped with the newest mirrorless cameras – and a passion to learn who will more than fill any voids.
Last night I had a dream. My son came to me in the dream apologizing and handing the camera back to me, citing audio noise as the main reason. This made me sad. When I told him the dream the next day he laughed, saying he had no intention of using that camera for video work – and no way would he ever part with it.
As 2020 begins and anything is still possible for the year, here’s wishing you all a happy, photo-filled year and decade ahead. Thank you for visiting the F6 Project, and for baring with me as I get its new incarnation off the ground. Hoping for great things in 2020.
Why do we need to say something – anything – about our images? A few weeks ago I was in Chicago looking at a display of student work at Moody Bible Institute. There were two different exhibitions: one with very nice photographs, printed on canvas and beautifully displayed. The other area featured a series of page layouts, combining words and text, printed, laminated to foam core and nicely presented, complete with registration marks from the printed page.
I found myself drawn to these images more – even without reading the text.
frame 16- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 50 sec. @f16
There’s something about the combination of images and text that resonates with my aesthetic – though it’s difficult to explain what, precisely. Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me desiring some presentation of context. While the photographer in me longs to have images stand on their own, open to interpretation by whomever, to whatever end.
frame 17- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 50 sec. @f16
I’ve found it extremely liberating, returning to wet printing in the darkroom; being freed in a sense.
frame 35- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16
Letting go of the should’s; the trap and rigidity of expectation and simply experimenting, free to fail, free to succeed. Free to create.
frame 33- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16
Photography is an interesting art form. It relies on science to work. Light, measurement, interpreting facts and figures to produce an aesthetic. But it’s so easy to disappear down the rabbit hole of numbers and figures and that same science, becoming trapped in propriety to the extent one loses sight of the aesthetic leading them to stop and appreciate the scene in the first place. We get so wrapped up in numbers we can lose sight of the art.
frame 31- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16
To be truly free to create again is to have learned the rules, thanked them, put them aside, and begin asking what if.
frame 34- South St. Vrain, Allenspark, Colorado (2019) – 20 sec. @f16
I’ve been doing a lot of reading again. Edward Weston’s Day Book no.1, Mexico. In it he’s having a discussion with another photographer about what the camera “should” be used for:
E.W. “Photography has certain inherent qualities which are only possible with photography – one being the delineation of detail – so why not take advantage of this attribute? Why limit yourself to what your eyes see when you have such an opportunity to extend your vision?”
Johan: “If in a certain mood, why should I not interpret that state through my picture and not merely photograph what’s before me?”
E.W.: “it would prevent you from telling the truth about the life towards which your lens is pointing – if you wish to interpret why not use a medium better suited to interpretation or subjective expression – or let someone else do it. Photography is an objective means to an end – and as such is unequaled – it comes finally to the question: for what purpose should (my emphasis) the camera be used?”
frame 22 – Middle Saint Vrain Creek, Allenspark, Colorado (2019). 3 sec. @f32, 180mm AIS, no filtration
I do see his point, regarding the camera’s unique ability to precisely record detail. And facts. But what a pompous ass; suggesting a camera should only be used for one thing. It’s absurd. From this moment forward I’m removing the words “should” and “shouldn’t” from my active vocabulary.
I do realize I’m questioning Edward Weston. And I do realize the audacity of such an act.
This next post is a guest post from Michael Cox of Vancouver, B.C. Michael was gracious enough to supply the following information about the Voigtlander 58mm f1.4 Nokton Lens, with a few sample images. Take it away Michael…
After owning a Nikon F3 (which I loved for its design and size) I had realized that if I was going to continue with using a film SLR, given that I wear bifocals, I’d need an autofocus camera, so I found a near-new F6 at B&H Photo a couple of years ago. But I’d also sold many of my Nikkor lenses. After using the F6 with an old 105 Ais, and seeing how great the viewfinder was, how easy it was to manually focus with the F6, I wanted to try one of the Voigtlander Nokton lenses. I was familiar with Voigtlander from years ago, and was confident I would like their Nikon F mount Nokton 58mm f/1.4 SLII. The version I got was the earlier one with a rubber cover on the focus ring, whereas the newer, second version has a ribbed metal ring. The great advantage to either of these lenses is they have a chip that will send aperture information to the camera, and allow auto exposure with the aperture set to f/16.
The focus ring is smooth and well-damped, with just enough resistance. It’s difficult to describe the look: slightly creamy, I would put it: not soft, but with a filmic feel. It focuses as close as 1.5 ft (about 1/2 a meter). The results met my expectations. I’ve only shot three rolls since buying the lens and look forward to trying it out on portraits.
Stephen Gandy’s CameraQuest site has details on the lens and the other Voigtlander Nikon F-mount lenses, some of which are unfortunately sold out (but available on eBay, or your favorite major photo store). https://cameraquest.com/Voigt_SL2.htm
These images were all shot with my F6 using a Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Nokton, Nikon mount, on Kodak Pro 100. The processing was done by the Canadian Film Lab, in the small town of Hope, B.C., where they also scanned the negs using a Fuji SP-3000 at 4547 x 3047 pixels (their medium res scan).
Michael, thanks very much for your article and images. Anyone wishing to contribute to the F6 Project is welcome, just please let me know. I’m happy to feature new thoughts and ideas as they’re presented.