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 unabashedly express your creative intent through your frame – is what 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.
How honest do I want to be? How much of myself am I willing to reveal? I’m not a minimalist. At least not in the photographic sense of the word. While I occasionally admire the photo of a mostly empty hillside with subtle tones and a single, isolated tree positioned in the perfect rule of thirds spot – that’s not me. I’m more drawn photographically to a little bit of chaos. Attempting to identify structure within that chaos seems to be a challenge I’m constantly undertaking, and it’s besting me.
frame 08 – Grinders, the shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 5″ sec. @ ƒ11
The first time I saw The Shop I paused, not quite sure how to visually digest what was before me. As chaotic as it first appeared – there was part of me that smiled – wanting to dive in and swim around; a new challenge. I loved it. The Shop satisfied something deep inside; woke it up, gave it a cup of coffee and said go for it.
frame 31 – Maps, The Shop, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/1.3 sec. @ ƒ11
Like other series, The Shop has been in progress for a while. It began as a vague idea; I knew there was something visually interesting about it, but wasn’t quite sure where it would take me. So like any curious photographer following their nose, a year or so after I started… well… here I am.
frame 27-The Shop Series, a Master Mechanics ultimate Man Cave. Ilford PanF+, 1.6″sec. @ ƒ11
The Shop was born by my wife’s late grandfather who was a Master Mechanic during his career. It began as a collection of tools, equipment and hodgepodge of spare parts accumulated over the years at his mountain fishing cabin. After retirement he and his wife moved to the cabin full time, turning it into a year-round mountain home.
frame 24- The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 6″sec. @ ƒ16
The shop grew. A pot belly stove was added for long hours spent “putzing” during winter months. Woodsmoke was added to the cacophony of old, oily smells as the shop evolved into a complete Master Mechanic’s man cave, the stuff of which legends are made of.
frame 12- SHARP – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/5 sec. @ ƒ11
After he passed away, The Shop was relocated to another out building to allow expansion. Piece by piece it was carried across the property and reassembled in its new location where it would live out its days; a museum of sorts, but the epitome of function, containing every tool and part to maintain the property.
frame 31- The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+ 3″sec. @ ƒ16
It’s cold, especially when you first enter, with a cement floor running the length. It smells like – everything old. There’s a dead mouse in the white, 5-gallon bucket near the door. Post cards of bikini-clad women in 70’s hairstyles are tactfully pinned up out of eye line of visitors. Hand written notes with phone numbers, long expired dates and vendors names frozen in time are tacked to the wall.
Old coffee cans with their contents written on tape line the shelves in the shop. Ilford Delta 100 1/1.6 sec @ ƒ11
Coffee cans from years gone by heavily packed, their contents hand-written in marker on tape, crowd shelves above to the right. Beams and timbers strapped together are laid the length of the floor with oily chain saws hanging off keeper straps from hooks above. Old filing cabinet drawers are repurposed to hold whatever will fit.
Skulls of mostly cattle lie about. Shovels, pick axes, rakes, a post hole digger, weed wacker, sledge hammer, hoes, rakes and a crow bar lean against bare stud and peg board walls with tool after tool hooked into place. Old jackets and hip waders stand ready by the door.
frame 04 – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 1/1.3 sec. @ ƒ16
An old, sturdy work bench runs nearly the whole length of the shop with ancient grinders and vices bolted to the surface. Steel shelves stored with box upon labeled box of spare parts for the cabin’s day to day operation ready to spring into service when needed – whether today or 50 years from now. It’ll still be there, still be usable.
frame 37-The Shop Series; Hammer and Ax handles in duct tape. Ilford PanF+, 4″ sec. @ ƒ16
Especially with photography, it’s important to feel something when you see a photograph. Recently on instagram I had someone pay me the highest compliment I could imagine. “There is a touch of sadness in your BNW photos I can not put into words.” That a photograph evokes any feeling at all is a win. Not being able to put it into words is exactly why a photograph needs to be made.
frame 26- Remington Trap Loads, The Shop (2019) Ilford PanF+, 3″ sec. @ ƒ16
Much of my time at the cabin is spent in the shop for practical reasons, trying to understand and digest the mind of a Master Mechanic – of which I am certainly not. I never had the privilege of meeting him in person but am told we’d have been fast friends. It’s a fascinating place to me because of its beautiful chaos. I suppose in a way these photographs are me searching for a way to feel connected to the man behind the shop. How I’d have loved to shake his hand.
Technical Notes for the Photographer
Given the nature of ‘The Shop,’ it was a given the photographs had to be etched in black and white film. The fine grain and overall tones of Ilford PanF and Delta 100 were perfect for this project. I wanted lots of detail and good contrast. Ilford DDX developer was used to develop each roll with care in my home dark room.
frame 01 – The Shop, Lyons, Colorado Ilford Delta 100, 2.5″ sec. @ ƒ16
In prior attempts I tried color film and found it didn’t hold up as well. Trying a blend of flash and natural environment lighting (incandescent bulbs, fluorescent overhead lighting, etc.) the color was too inconsistent. Even using different films. Though the objects shared the same space – in the photographs they didn’t appear to belong together. Removing color from the equation eliminated the disconnect.
Another element tying the series together is the F6, which was used for every shot. While nothing unique about the F6 allowed these photographs to be made (they could have been made with any camera mounted to a tripod with a competent meter, the ability to attach a cable release and Mirror Up capability) there’s something pure about the series because they were all made with the same camera.
Nice Leather Scrapes – The Shop, Colorado Ilford PanF+2.5″ sec. @ ƒ11
There are certain things about using the F6 for this series that made it the logical choice. When I’m ‘really trying’ to get the most out of 35mm film the F6 is the best choice. Mirror-Up is something I talk about a lot. If you’re not using it, you’re not getting the sharpest, highest resolution image. The F6 has easy M-Up shooting, accessible via the top Film Advance Mode Selector. The second thing is Custom Setting B:5-Extended Shutter Speeds. Using the camera’s default setting (off) the shutter speed in Manual exposure mode can be selected as slow as 30 seconds. Turning Extended Shutter Speeds ‘On’ allows exposures to be extended down to 30 minutes. This is handy when working with slow ISO films and small apertures. Another handy item is the Nikon MC-30, the cable release connecting to the F6’s front 10-pin port.
And lastly, I have my F6 fitted with a Kirk L-bracket allowing easy tripod mounting in either horizontal or vertical orientation. The older F’s don’t have them and to be perfectly honest, I don’t relish the idea of scratching up the bottoms of these beautiful, old cameras by screwing and unscrewing a Arca-Swiss plate to mount it on a tripod. The Arca-Swiss L-bracket allows easy on-off tripod. Nothing to fiddle with, nothing to forget at home – simple.
Lenses varied depending on the shot. I favored my older AI-S lenses when appropriate. Tight quarters called for wide-normals, with some 85mm thrown in for the head-on, distortionless shots where straight lines and absolutely no barrel distortion was desired. Maneuvering the camera into position was difficult at times. My tripod base is fairly large and requires room to spread out for solid stance on the cluttered floor. A center column and ball head provided complete composition maneuverability once in position.
A wet print portfolio will be available sometime in 2019. Thanks for reading and keep running film through your camera – no matter what make or model it is.
Sunset, Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)
OK, so maybe I jumped the gun a little. Maybe I still do have something to say regarding the F6. Allow me to explain.
Over the past several years I’ve enjoyed shooting with a variety of cameras, including all the Nikon single-digits F-series, as well as a few medium format Mamiyas. Anyone who has more than one or two cameras can surely identify with the conundrum of which camera to grab when you’re heading out the door. You can only carry and shoot so much in any given outing, so you need to make some decisions. Whether the decisions are made at home before heading out – or – while standing at the back of the car on site plowing through all your junk (because you wouldn’t or couldn’t make that decision at home). So in a very democratic way I decided to use them all for a while, just to spread the love.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)
I’ve also been shooting a good bit of black and white over the past several years – for reasons previously laid out here, and enjoying the heck out of it. Process your own film, printing in the darkroom, working with filters, the smell of fixer on your fingers… all wonderful stuff. Because of that – I’ve grown accustomed to, let’s say – alternative metering solutions to what the F6 employs. Sunny 16, early Nikon center-weighted metering heads, iPhone app’s, totally winging it see how close I can guess… anything goes. After all, with film, as long as you’re within a stop or so things are pretty flexible. And until you have comparison data points, it’s sometimes tough to evaluate just how well something else performs.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)
So last month I was heading home from Illinois to Colorado the long way, through South Dakota. Before leaving for this trip a few weeks prior I was disciplined enough to make decisions regarding kit. It would be all F6, with a new F3T thrown in for some black and white work. I gathered the remaining rolls of Velvia 50 from the fridge along with a smattering of C-41 and called it good. I’d always wanted to visit Badlands National Park and hoped timing allowed on the return leg. If so I’d be prepared.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)
As things worked out, by the time I hit Badlands Junction, South Dakota the day was shaping up nicely for some photography. Light was superb after a bit of recent rain refreshed and cleared the sky. Autumn grasses were bright green and played nicely against the ochres and crimsons of natural Badlands coloring. There was an active sky – plenty of cloud cover mixed with plenty of a beautiful cobalt blue. When the time came to shoot I loaded one of the few remaining rolls of Velvia in the F6. The reason this is important is because at nearly $17 a roll, Velvia is pretty pricey stuff, as is the new Kodak Ektachrome at $13/roll. But more importantly, the opportunity before me wasn’t something that came along every day: a beautiful location I’m visiting for the first time (there’s nothing that can match the thrill of discovering a place for the first time), perfect conditions, plenty of time to explore… rolling the dice when it comes time to make the most out of each shutter release isn’t a good approach. Here’s where the F6 really proves superior over all its (charming, old) predecessors. Specifically, it’s metering, features and reliability. No way I’d trust my (wonderful) old cameras to shoot chrome films in changing light on this rare opportunity.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)
I almost always use a tripod for work like this. I know some people don’t, but honestly – aside from laziness – can’t understand why one would approach shooting anything they’re really trying to get the most from any other way. Slow film in fading light at f8-f11 means shutter speeds hovering around the 1/2 second mark or slower. A tripod, Mirror-Up and the MC-30 cable release, turning off VR on your lens, even using the DR-5 to aid focusing are standard operating procedure.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)
I won’t drag this out – hoping you get the idea. All these other cameras are wonderful, really. Each has its own personality and allure and I’m happy to have them. But when the time comes to shoot; to really try to get the most from each frame – the Nikon F6 has no equal. As much as I appreciate my other F’s – the F6 is King of the Hill.
The F6 shooting Devils Tower, Wyoming (2018). S.O.P. when I’m really trying to get the most out of a frame of 35mm film. (Nikon F3T, 35mm f1.4 AI-S + Velvia 100).