Lost art-hand held LF, Addendum

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On the original "Lost art - hand held LF, Andrew Cole made some interesting comments....which triggered another thought on the subject of hand held LF. My thought is that in older times, the photographer with his Speed Graphic or Linhof, had to have the mental focus and discipline to anticipate the action. It was one heck of an art, and quickly separated the artisans, from the rest of the pack. It didn't matter if it was the crash of the "Hindenberg" or raising the flag on Iwo Jima. Today, I see little evidence of this skill in LF photography with only a few exceptions. Perhaps this is why I have the personal view that much LF photography is incredibly boring...with the exceptions of some like Sexton, Muench (my old classmate) and a few others. Today, I just came in from a shoot with my Canon's. Had I wanted to do so...I could have switched my EOS-1vHS's to full auto and shot 10 frames per SECOND. Kind of like an "electronic squirt-gun"! Old timers had to have the mental focus and eye/hand coordination to get THE shot....and they were shooting a ONE frame every TWENTY SECONDS. I think that over time, the present generation has lost something along the way. Something to think about...perhaps?

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), February 22, 2002


What you're talking about is exactly what comes into play with 'people' and 'street scene photography' and to a lessor extent in portrait work. In order to 'catch' something, the eye telling the brain to fire the shutter is a sequence that must begin just before the 'moment' not right when it is happening, or you catch something just past the moment.

When something is moving, seeing that it is 'just right' in the viewfinder means you're too late, if you haven't fired the shutter as you watch the moment arrive.

Any kind of festival anywhere, the beach, the park, flea markets, and so forth, give infinite photo-ops and an opportunity to practice what you're talking about. It need to be done on a regular basis to become instintive, which gets harder for me as I advance into middle age as my reflexes slow.

Richard... wouldn't you agree that this is a quality whose elements could be transferred to LF on occasion dependent on the subject matter?

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), February 22, 2002.

Jonathan...I agree with you on most of your posts, and respectfully take issue on a couple of others. Yes, I agree with you that street scene photography and to some degree portraiture are good examples. I take a different view (respectfully) that this mental focus is applicable only in these areas. In LF, I can think of some examples where this mental focus would apply. Example: A scenic sundown at oceans edge where waves are breaking on the beach. I think the 'focused' photographer, would observe how and when the wave would break and mentally calculate the lead time when the shutter must be pressed. Example: A photographer sets up to shoot a landscape...when a huge elk bursts out of the underbrush right in front of the camera, and the photographer has to sense when to press the shutter release. I think that with modern 35mm technology, there is an advantage in the reduction of the lag time between when you 'press-the-button' on an electronic shutter release, and the mechanical lag time with a LF mechanical cable release. Still...this lag time can be mentally calculated in the mind of the photographer....to achieve what the photographer wants. Johnathan, I think your idea of transfering this mental exercise to LF is excellent, and we are in total agreement. I do this frequently. I must disagree with you on the idea that this mind/hand reflex is slowed by age. I think this depends entirely upon the individual. I will never be on an Olympic team, but I practice my mind/hand reflexes every day, just for fun...even when walking my dog.

Overall, I think that the single-shot discipline,has an intangible kind of quality, that if practiced, can pay big dividends to LF shooters as well as all shooters in other formats. I wonder if it has more to do with previsualization of nature...and life... not light values in terms of the zone system. Be well, RB

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), February 22, 2002.

In fact I totally agree with you, I was only using those examples since that's what I really like doing. Maybe it s all in my mind, but I feel slower in terms of reflexes in my fifties than my twenties in terms of my brain telling my finger to fire the shutter, even though I still love to go out to people venues.

You're probably right, I need to practice to compensate, basically I'll set my gear on 'single' rather than continous and try to pick my spots.

I've learned a lot about what you can and can't do in LF, but I would hope that I can bring some elements(that fleeting moment quality) of the other formats to my LF work especially after seeing some of the LF work of Edward Weston close up.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), February 22, 2002.

It is entirely possible to use an 8x10 and even a 35-pound 12 x 20 )with 8x20 back in my case) instead of a 35mm to photograph at what Cartier-bresson called the "Decisive Moment." I have done it often and several are reproduced in my book, Michael A. Smith: A Visual Journey. And it can be done with absolute precision--right to the edges--no cropping. In some instances, when there is the time to set up there is something that makes it a lot easier: Focus on the scene, put in the holder, withdraw the dark slide and view the scene through a viewing card, that has a great deal of black card surrounding the opening (so that there are no distractions). When the moving people, vehicles, etc, coalesce into a unified whole, expose the negative. When there is no time to do that then one's reflexes need to be particularly quick, but not beyond what most everyone could do.

-- Michael A. Smith (michaelandpaula@michaelandpaula.com), February 22, 2002.

The big flaw in your logic is common in just about every argument of this type,"today's music isn't as good as yesterdays", cars aren't as good as yesterdays", on and on and on. the flaw is that we remember the fine work, cars or music of long ago simply because they were the cream of the crop, all of the garbage is long forgotten. In the present we don't have that advantage, so we must suffer through the trash that will be long forgotten in the future. there are plenty of people who don't blaze away with motor drives and savor each and every shot, but I don't think this automatically makes their work of any higher quality, anymore than a motor drive makes ones work worthless.

-- mark lindsey (mark@mark-lindsey.com), February 22, 2002.

Mr. Mark Lindsey: With all due respect sir....I think you missed my entire point. I agree with you on your philosophy of "Things were better, way back when"!. BUT, this is not true in all cases. My personal taste tells me that CCWR, Moody blues, and others are far superior to "Rap" and hip-hop. Sure I could work on my 55 Chevy myself, but I can't touch my big Acura...it's a computer maze, but rides like a dream and hits a performance level my old Chevy couldn't even dream about.

My point is not about technology or motor drives. My point has everything to do with discipline of the artist and a way of personal seeing and an attitude about photographic art...and the ways photographic artists, or just a'shooter' approaches the task and challenge of visual communication. My Canons are expensive, over- engineered units of amazing complexity...using multiple internal computers...and use amazingly fine lenses. I still shoot with my Technicka V because I love it's simplicity and the quality it delivers. I'm not talking about technology or motor drives, I am talking about an 'attitude', in the head of the person who is looking into the viewfinder, or at the ground glass. I confidently stand by my original position. Modern photo technology has made many shooters pretty sloppy. It's an attitude born of lack of discipline and experience. With respect, Richard Boulware - Denver.

-- Richard Boulware (boulware-den@att.net), February 22, 2002.

Mark....Tha'ts not what I'm thinking about, at least not on my end, I've got more in mind 'Classical Music' vs 'Jazz', in the sense of maybe some music took quite some time to piece together vs a solo improvisation by 'Byrd'.

I have no idea about who could do it then vs who can do it now, but then again what 'Weegie' did with his 4x5 was incredible, also what Eugene Smith(35mm) did 'on the fly'. There was no issue back the n about motor drives because there were no motor drives.

I am aware of folks who run their camera on continuous like a movie camera and that's fine, but there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between that(I'll do that if there is a static shot I like and I'll bracket) and anticipating an individual shot, timing your eye to hand coordination to fire the shutter just as whatever you're shooting settles into whatever final position you've anticipated and working all this while you're looking in the viewfinder.

So independent of the then vs now issue, I would say that this reflex action is something necessary with certain subject matter(things on the move that happen once and then are gone).

I love listening to Classical music, and Jazz, whether it took years to put a piece together, or done on the spot by instinct and improvisation, just like I appreciate Ansel Adams, Weegie, Eugene Smith, and Andre Kerterz, who all came up with what they came up with by different methods. I don't disagree with what you are saying since I think it's a different issue than what's being discussed, at least on my end.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), February 22, 2002.

Just a couple of thoughts neither yea or ney. I think the whole idea falls into the same category as the "chuck all this discipline and go mis-behave with a Holga for a bit." Along with everything else I do is curate if you will a collection of negatives that were produced by folks that had the watch before me all the way back to 1951. We used to do ALL of the post test photography with hand held graphic cameras and I've got drawers full of fuzzy negatives to prove it. They're OK contact but try to enlarge and yikes. Granted we've got better films, better shutters and better lenses now that probably makes it do-able but if I need to stop action I probably won't grab the 4X5. Nikon's are great! or give me a Photosonics 4E running at 360 frames a second.

-- Jim Galli (jimgalli@lnett.com), February 22, 2002.

Jim.....Weegie, immortalized by the brute force and power of his images of the 'gangland rubout' contributed to a stark realism and gritty reality, all of this with gear that pale by today's standards as you've mentioned.

What Weegie and the 'Press Photographers' did has always put me in awe, especially since they're mind set was 'get it' and 'get it quick', don't forget they can't look at themselves as part of the past, they thought they had the benefit of 'state of the art' gear, and at that point in time they did. The day will come when a future generation will be tickled by what they consider to be the antiques we use today.

They shot as quickly with 4x5 gear sometimes as fast as we shoot with 35mm nowadays and they more often than not 'got the shot', because if they didn't get it, they didn't eat.

You don't hear about Weegie a lot, which I don't understand because he was first and foremost a LF Photographer whose images had a big effect on Photography as a whole.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), February 22, 2002.

Richard is it really boring LF photography or just a glut of images that are all similar? Furthermore are you sure that your 35 mm shots are any better than the regular run of the mill shots we see everyday?

Many of us grew with the AA influence and at the beguining tried to imitate his style, but now with LF many people are going their own way and creating many wonderful images. Sure, in that period when everybody wanted to be Ansel I also think LF got a little bit boring, specially since it seemed everybody wanted to take the same pictures he did. Now with many people using pt-pd, etc I think LF has become more exiting than ever. Check out the work being done in alternative printing and you will see that not all is the same AA stuff. I have not seen any of Michael A Smith's work, but I have heard his use of the Azo papers is wonderful, maybe you should check this out too. Anyway I think is not that LF has become boring, maybe it is you who have not expanded your horizon and kept up to date with the new work being done. I think is time for a visit to your nearest gallery.....:-))))

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (rossorabbit@hotmail.com), February 23, 2002.

My take on this is that I was wondering how many shots were "missed" due to poor equipment like the Speed and Crowns. The number of great images captured now far outweighs what the old timers got. The skills are still there. If you miss the excitement of using old equipment, then get an old camera as I did and start shooting it. Then you will see what it was like not to have all the auto functions that today allow the photographer vast freedom. This just sounds like another anti modern diatribe. Stop whining. If you don't like modern shoot primitive. I love the old way. But I also know the tremendous advantages of auto. Lumberjack

-- james (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), February 23, 2002.

"My take on this is that I was wondering how many shots were "missed" due to poor equipment like the Speed and Crowns. The number of great images captured now far outweighs what the old timers got. The skills are still there."

hmmm - I'd have to disagree - there seems to be far more noise and dross out there now that everyone and his dog can shoot and transmit as many images as they want. The quality of photography in most news publications is often not that great, the images that pile up on the wires are often mediocre - let me tell you that from scanning whats out there and trying to find great images for a particualr story. I'd say the number of "great" images isn't any higer than in the "golden days", and maybe somewhat less. Hundreds of thousands of images came out of Sept 11th. How many, now, really stick in your mind, just after this short time? For me, only a handful. Just an example.

tim a

-- Tim Atherton (tim@kairosphoto.com), February 23, 2002.

Interesting thread, but ...

I'm astonished none of you mentioned that the Speed Graphic is a rangefinder camera. A giant Leica. Made to be used like one. Faster working, actually. I've seen claims that a practiced hand using one with a Grafmatic could rip off six shots in six seconds. Not intended for the highly deliberative approach forced by a view camera, where closing the lens, inserting the film holder, and removing the dark slide intervene between focusing and composing and actually taking the shot.



-- Dan Fromm (76266.333@compuserve.com), February 23, 2002.

Mr.Boulware, I find it hard to believe you even read my post considering your response.

I think that your response also proved my point.

"personal taste tells me that CCWR, Moody blues, and others are far superior to "Rap" and hip-hop"

now I'm hardly one to defend rap or hip hop, but you put two entire styles of music up against only one or two bands instead of against another type of music, hardly fair.

my point wasn't about technology or motor drives either.

Your view is based on just what I mentioned before, you compare the cream of the crop of the past, with the unheard of masses of today. You say that the present generation has lost something along the way, I didn't know that the entire generation was comprised of large format photographers, much less photographers in general.

your opinions are also heavily swayed by your preference for the type of photography that would require hand held cameras, why do I need to hand hold large format when it is not required or possible for the type of work that I do? Do you lament the fact that we have lost the ability to use a spear when we go to the grocery to buy some meat?

-- mark lindsey (mark@mark-lindsey.com), February 24, 2002.

I don't think we've lost anything - if the image is the most important thing.

I'm sure many of these Speed Graphic 40's and 50's shooters would have traded their gear for a Nikon in a heartbeat because they were result driven.

Yes, given the equipment limitations their shots by necessity had to be better timed and considered and you have to admire them for that but I wouldn't raise it to an art form.

-- Michael Mahoney (mike.mahoney@nf.sympatico.ca), February 26, 2002.

I agree with Mike, especially in this period in time technologicaly speaking, its important to separate the gear from the image. Graflex, Nikon, Canon, Sinar...these are all just tools and it is the image that speaks. the light and the moment...seeing...anticipating...reacting. just a thought.

-- Chris Edwards (cmedwards@perfectserve.com), February 28, 2002.

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