The 4x5: the story so far.
It's definitely been an experience so far with my new 4x5 camera, and I've loved every second of my (so far) 24 exposures. I cannot complain about the camera, the build, the quality or the sheer pleasure it brings using it, in hindsight I wish I had done a little more research into certain aspects of it (cost) before I had jumped, but even so it would not have stopped me. It's such a wonderful camera to use. I have penned this blog many times, and subsequently deleted it, there is so much to say, so where to start?
Why did I buy it? Earlier in the year I spent a significant amount of time in LA, to which I loved. LA gets put somewhat into the "Architecture? What Architecture?" bracket as so much of it has been bought, torn down and rebuilt. However it actually has a rich history and what is left from the past is wonderful, while the newer buildings such as Disney Concert Hall and the Getty Museum are themselves stunning. But personally I love modernism, architects such as Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright and I am particularly fond of the photographer that shot them all; Julius Shulman. I adore the way Julius photographs architecture, it is fine art in nature and he is regarded as a significant force in the genre. On returning to UK I decided I wanted to do a project in relation to Shulman's work (more on this over the coming months) and so the purchase of the 4x5 happened.
I have been getting asked a lot of questions since purchasing it, so I thought i'd write down three things that I have noticed/learnt:
1/ Cost of scanning/developing: The film comes in individual sheets, so each has to be developed separately and then if you want them scanned, individually scanned. So far the UK labs have failed to come anywhere near the cost of Richard Photo Lab in LA (who I usually send my other work too) and have often been as much as double the cost. Because scanning every one is expensive, contact/proofs sheets are (ideally) made up first rather than just blowing a load of money on getting them all done when only two may have worked, so sending, receiving, choosing can take longer than your usual roll of film.
2/ Loading the film: 4x5 cameras take a cartridge, which contains two exposures, these are called sheets. Each sheet slots into the cartridge under a flap, between two grooves, which is then covered by "the dark slide", the dark slide protects the film from being exposed when in transit and before exposure. The film sheets themselves usually come in a box of around 25, they come stacked and wrapped in a cardboard sleeve and within a dark bag, that bag is covered by a half box, which sits inside the main box, (are you following this?) getting all this out and then loaded into the cartridges needs to be done in the dark! Needless to say, it took a lot of practice with plain envelopes (sounds silly but works) before I was confident I wouldn't ruin any actual sheets. At £30 a box for Ilford Delta and rising to around £80 for a box of 50 sheets of Kodak Tri-X, mistakes aren't cheap. Even with a lot of practice I have still dropped some in the dark, and once one got trapped in the dark slide and ripped it to shreds. Everything about the camera is slow and steady.
3/ Being stopped every time I use it by passers by! Each shot can take up to 15 minutes to set up (and only a fraction of a second to capture), missing that moment because a passer-by is curious to see/talk about/point at/learn/show their children etc. is often frequent! I remember when I first got my Hasselblad it was the same, a lot of "oh I didn't know they made film still?/what camera is that?/OMG that’s a Hasselblad!!!" kind of thing, well the 4x5 is 10 times worse. It is really nice that people are taking an interest and want to talk about it and well what I am doing with it, but guaranteed, just as you are about to press the cable release someone will pop up and distract you. However, had it not been for the camera I may not have met the free runner (see below) and exchanged my card with lots of people interested in my photography………………Ok, Ok, Ok, Its not a bad thing really. Embrace it, because this is a special camera and people want to know and talk all about it.
As I sit here writing this, I currently have 19 sheets ready to go to America to be developed, so in time I shall write some more about this camera and I shall be posting a piece about Julius Shulman the more my project gets going. For now that is it, a few little thoughts and experiences into this completely new medium of photography. I would urge you all to try it at some point if you can, it really is a fantastic photographic experience, and I am enjoying it so much that I'm somewhat worried my next step will be wet plates……………….