WORDS FOR MAGAZINE STORY
I guess photography is what you make it. Perhaps photographs are what and how you make them. And, where in all this process does the materials; the film, the chemicals and the paper fit in? From over thirty years of involvement in this process it seems to me that certain cameras 'fit' certain styles of image-making: Leica rangefinders ~ decisive moments, 10X8 Gandolfi ~ classic studio still life, twin lens reflex Rollei ~ 60's look fashion and tight portraits cropped at the subject's forehead.
It could perhaps follow that certain films, chemical and papers 'fit' certain special applications. Sure, some product ranges are diverse and could cater for all needs, but when it comes to the crunch in the highest levels of creativity I firmly believe just as is the case with cameras, that certain products provide special leverage enabling the photographer to get the image.
Since the early nineties I have worked with the retro-photo technology of the pinhole. My philosophy with this work is to cast aside all the trappings of hardware technology. No lens, no exposure meter, no viewfinder and a total reliance on intuitive skill and moments discovered from the world. Interesting photographs are still based on eye-mind co-ordination combined with image capture and re-interpretation in printing. Luck and serendipity do not count : What does is persistence, perception and precious moments seen, identified and imaged on film and paper.
Over the years I have found that work with pinholes requires a special kind of film. A film that will essentially withstand exposure abuse and still enable a negative which is suitable for descriptive printing. I now use Ilford FP4 and HP5 4x5 film for this personally important and demanding work. Of course the traditional arguments about the fineness of grain and tonal values don't quite relate to much of this pinhole work as my images can go through stages of incarnation by employing tricky dodging and burning-in techniques and single and split contrast printing. Traditional measures are further stripped away by the use of toning and multi-toning applications.
For me the final result needs to be able to communicate a special contrived view of the world. Each aspect of the process provides its own opportunities, these two Ilford films are key to the production ~ without them there would be only memories!
Doug Spowart © March 1999 Published in PRO PHOTO IN AUSTRALASIA