large format article discussion : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

This is from BJP-the UK's PDN ---------------------------------------------- COMMENT - Photography in its purest form ----------------------------------------------

Large Format photography is a paradox. Everybody knows that camera sales are low, yet film sales are up; the medium is thought to be locked in the past, yet is often chosen by those in the avant-garde arena of fashion photography; it is said to be the epitome of technical work, yet fine art photographers love it. How can all these things possibly be true at the same time?

The answer is that large format is the most versatile photographic medium. It has been used to photograph expeditions to Antarctica, hard news on the streets of New York and the marriage of many a Mr & Mrs Joe Public. It is not so much any inherent failing as photographers' eagerness to find easier-to-use technologies that has caused the medium not to be so widely used today.

The fact is that for many purposes large format is still the best choice - but people dismiss it because it is less convenient. Things would not be so bad if this compromise were recognised: but it is not. People persuade themselves that it is possible to get just as good results using medium format, 35mm or even digital.

One claim in favour of the last alternative is the wide brightness range that can be accommodated by high-end scanning or multi-shot backs, which can exceed the capabilities of colour transparency film. What digital cannot exceed, however, is the tonal range that can be recorded using in-camera b&w separations. The latter route is long-winded, but it is considerably cheaper than any digital capture system.

Its disadvantage is that separations have no 'sex appeal', whereas digital systems bristle with knobs and settings that can be played with right through the night if anybody is so inclined.

And this is the heart of the matter: large format cameras are simply too plain and simple. Adding verniers might appeal to the already converted, but it does nothing to advance the appreciation of the medium as a whole. For that matter, BJP suggests that nothing can - or indeed should - be done to 'tart-up' large format, which is, after all, the last bastion for those who really care about photography in its purest form.

-- john (, January 24, 2001


That does it... I'm painting flames on my Deardorff just "tart it up." I agree with everything the article has to say.

-- Chad Jarvis (, January 24, 2001.

"The fact is that for many purposes large format is still the best choice - but people dismiss it because it is less convenient."

This seeming to be the basic premise of the article, it leaves little arguement. But, for many purposes, medium format is the best choice, and for other purposes 35mm is the best choice. Many landscape photographers will say that they use the largest format the situation will allow. Also, the intended end use or the viewing audience will indicate how "pure" the photographic medium should be.

Given the choice, I will cast flies on pristine rivers for cutthroat trout and sea running salmon. I will also present dough balls to carp if I have a strong urge to fish.

-- Roger Rouch (, January 24, 2001.

... and I love it when someone who has never experienced a large format print walks up and says, "oh my gosh, look at all that detail and texture, how do you do that?". To which I say, "My camera is a little over 100 years old". It's the begining of a wonderful conversation.

-- doug mcfarland (, January 24, 2001.

Ah then.......that is the thing that sets Large Format apart from all other photogaphy.

The feel of fine mahogany, the gleam of brass against a rich finish, the soft click as the shutter is released, the smooth sound of a film holder being inserted before the exposure, the firm feel of the focusing knob and the scene dancing on the ground glass, the window that gives you an image you can SEE. The smell of leather and wood as you throw the dark cloth over your head and become immersed in an image, the outside world shut out, no distractions, no excuses, no electronics, knowing that the exposure is f32 at 1/30th of a second because of the way the light looks and if it were winter it would be 1/15th of a second.

A camera, a lens, a tripod and a film holder or two; and knowing that 4 sheets of film will be enough because it takes work, mental and spiritual awareness to visualize the images you wish to capture. And at the end of the day you develope the sheets and you have a sense of accomplishment, not from quantity but quality.

Large Format photography is a discipline, as much as an art, the miniature formats can never hope to match because they don't have the advantages that we do. Less convenient? Hardly, the right tool for the job is never an inconvenience.

-- Marv (, January 24, 2001.

I'm with Chad. I am going to tart up my 45NX with pinstripes & paint my gitzo in candy apple red. That ought to show em we can be cool too.

-- Joseph Wasko (, January 24, 2001.

My camera is an old piece of crap, and I wouldn't have it any other way -- all my cameras look like Columbo's Peugot. Don't give me anything new-fangled, I like being the guy with the old camera, rather than the old guy with the new camera, or some punk with a gizzmo that beeps and rotates lewdly. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, January 24, 2001.

Not to rain on the parade, but I keep remembering Stieglitz's lament about photography going to be dead soon because everyone was switching to the bicycling fad. Or was it the other way round?

Anyway, I keep wondering if the resurgence of interest since 1988 is due to the increase of technology and speed - the microwave and digital this and silicone that, or is it the inevitable swing of the pendulum? We are "rediscovering" alternate processes, or "traditional" processes like platinum and POP and so on. THe Daguerrian Society is larger than it ever was and folks are even trying to make a go with wet plate processes. The Cirkut never died, but it seems to be coming out of the attic as it were.

Are we witnessing the resurrection of the camera clubs of the 1890's and 1910's?

Whatever. As long as they keep making B&W sheet film and chemistry, I'll be happy.

-- Sean yates (, January 24, 2001.

Before we all get carried away with some 'official stamp of approval' glow of superiority; I think it should be pointed out that the comments page of the BJP is open to anyone who cares to write or e-mail the journal. This comment is just that, a comment, and carries no real weight behind it. It's just some other punter's point of view, that's all.

If we choose to use LF, that's fine. Whether the reason is nostalgia, a brass and wood fetish, the need to be 'different', or simply for the technical reason of requiring camera movements; all these are valid to a greater or lesser degree. But, let's not forget all the equally valid reasons for using other formats, and the thousands of great pictures taken on 35mm and rollfilm that might have been lost to us while Don McCullin, or Robert Capa and the like, juggled with a dark slide, or (understandably) forgot to close the preview lever.
In fact, the overwhelming presence of an LF camera would make the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson and others like him impossible.

Is a painting on a small canvas, by a great artist, less worthy than a mural done by a hack with no talent? Ultimately, we should remember that it's not the camera that makes the picture, but the person behind it.

-- Pete Andrews (, January 25, 2001.

Ok, I have to hand it to Pete, he's right, some people have a differnt style and I'm glad they can use the equipment to photography's bennifit. For every Columbo there is a Magnum. So, yea, use the auto everything, just let me use my leather bag too. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (, January 25, 2001.

I am not sure "versatility" is the best way to characterize LF. There is no image which can be made with a LF camera, which cannot be made at least as easily with another format. All LF gives you in better image quality and a different working style. Depending on one's dispositions, this might or might not be relevant.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, January 25, 2001.

"Better image quality" is one of those value judgements that is fairly difficult to define. Sometimes "better" is a 35mm with a tack sharp lens, and sometimes it`s the 5x7 with a pinhole or a paper neg. Steve Clark

-- Steve Clark (, January 26, 2001.

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