Throwback Thursday No. 1

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Images from the Film Archives — 1991

8 Roses  © jj raia

8 Roses © jj raia

Since most of us are not full-time photographers, there is never a continuing stream of new work to talk about, so an idea that I’ve seen on facebook might translate well here. For a while at least, most Thursdays, I’ll post a short story of how a particular photograph from the film archives came about, and some thoughts that occurred at the time it was taken, and maybe any history that can be attributed to it. All were taken before 2012 with a Mamiya 645 Super medium format camera, various (4) lenses and 120 Fuji Velvia or Provia film. 2012 was the year I switched to digital, and haven’t taken a single roll of film since. It’s my hope that something can be passed along that may inspire some folks to go out and shoot, because I know when I look at photography on line or just flip through some of my favorite photo books, that’s my first thought afterwards. I just want to grab my camera and see what I can find. In addition, by talking about these photographs, I can relive those moments that were special during those early years of my photography, and get reacquainted with those wonderful early photo trips.

The photo of these eight roses was taken in 1991 as a sequence to test the brand new Mamiya 645 using the very first roll of medium format film run through the camera. Buying the camera itself was a quantum leap since it marked the experimental beginning of photography as a serious pursuit, and if nothing came of it within two years, the expense of the new gear would be offset by selling it all. Just loading the film into the camera was a totally new procedure that needed to be learned and was difficult at first, but eventually became easier as time went along.

Quite a bit of preparation was done for this pre-conceived image to test how the camera worked, get used to the controls, and understand how the exposure meter read the light. I wanted the flowers to appear as seen here, but how to get them all to stand upright?

Preparations consisted of building a short (12-in. high) box without a lid. Attached to two sides were two narrow pieces of wood upright to about 4 feet high and on the bottom was a dimmable light.  Between those two uprights, a string was stretched across and the eight roses were attached using clip clothespins, and arranged upside down!! A green tablecloth was placed behind the roses to provide a darker background. The whole contraption was placed near a patio door for side lighting, and the dimmable light at the bottom of the box, below the roses, was turned on to light the tops of the flowers since they were facing down, and would otherwise be dark shadows. Remember, film didn’t have the dynamic range that sensors have today; most films had only about five stops. And Photoshop may not have even been thought of yet. So there was a combination of incandescent and natural light; something that wasn’t even a consideration because I thought light was light back then. Who knew?

The whole set up was designed to take the photograph and then turn the image upside down so the flowers would be upright. A normal (80mm) lens was used with a polarizer to cut any glare off the petals and the leaves, focus (manually), set the aperture and shutter speed, trip the shutter, record the settings, and repeat until the roll was finished (15 frames). Most of the work was making the contraption rather than taking the photos. The bad part was the length of time between taking the photos and finally seeing the results a week later. Certainly not the instant feedback we are used to with today’s digital cameras. Thankfully, progress has been made since 1991.

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