the 35mm aesthetic (continued)
I’ve been working on this photo the past few days as it was one that, in the workshop, Mary Ellen said she felt would come up beautifully as a fine print. So it has been testing not only for my photoshop skills, but also the kind of skills I’d use if I were to work on this picture in the darkroom. As it stands James has printed it out for me on Canson Velin rag paper and it looks fantastic, and I look forward to working on it sometime in the darkroom.
“What has this got to do with the 35mm aesthetic?” I hear you sneerily ask. Well, quite a lot really. For a start I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t have gotten this picture with any other medium. Sure, large or medium format would have done a great job. Would I have set up or concerned myself with a larger camera? Frankly, no. I’m sure I’ve related this story before, but in summary after a hot morning photographing in the dump I’d been kind of “dumped” by the taxi driver in god-knows-where way outside of Oaxaca and told I should just look for something to photograph while he went and had lunch for two hours. So even if I’d had a medium format camera there’s no way I would have bothered taking it to wander the sweltering dusty streets of nowheresville Mexico in search of a phantom subject I had no idea would present itself. Luckily, and I still don’t quite get how fortune smiled down on me that day, within four or five minutes I happened upon two of these children playing in the street and they took me to their home.
So while it was nice to use the little Leica with its 28mm lens, this was pretty much at the limit of gear for me on that day. As it happens this shot was #2 on a roll I’d just loaded and I took it intuitively as I was trying to set something else up, kind of “warming” into the film as you do. With 36 or so exposures per roll you can do this - in my experience it is less likely that you take intuitive shots like this with a larger format when you only have 12 or fewer shots on a roll. And forget digital - that highlight where the light streams in through the window would have simply blown out. As it is, there is significant burning and dodging there and the XP2+ film retained a whole lot of detail which was able to be brought up, while still I feel preserving the feel of the bright Mexican light entering a very dark, gloomy room and reflecting off a smeary mirror.
So, in this instance, it is a case of no 35mm camera, no picture. And I regard it as certainly one of my best pictures, at least from the workshop. On the A3+ print the picture is quite gritty due to the enlargement, despite XP2+ not having “grain” as such, and I think this adds to the feel of it too. Also I think the shape of the frame works quite well, compositionally.
Of course one can point to examples of anything taken with any camera that show a certain medium/format/whatever in a favourable light (please refer to Voigtländer post below) but I just feel that for me 35mm works best in most cases.
As an addendum, the corresponding Oaxaca winter workshop for 2013 has just yesterday wound up. I know Leslie, who came with me when I revisited this family, and also photographed them last year, attended again this year and managed to track them down (they’d moved) and again spent some time photographing them. I look forward eagerly to seeing the results.