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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.