4x5 Format: One Picture at A Time
9 Nov 2008
The 4x5 inch green box of Fuji Provia slide film contains ten unrecorded personal perspectives waiting to be shared with the world. In darkness, I load each precious sheet into individual film holders, feeling the film reference marks to ensure that the emulsion faces outward. The holder will be inserted into my Toyo A2 4x5 large format view camera on location in my garden, at a nearby lake or perhaps the Eastern Sierra Mountains.
Nearly a year has past since my friend Gary encouraged me to pursue large format photography. Gary brokered a deal to purchase a camera from another friend, Sam. Along with the Toyo, Sam included 150 mm, 210 mm and 300 mm lenses. It would take some training and practice to learn to use the new camera but I was enthusiastic to learn a new way of studying the world.
Held to the light, the details of a sharply focused 4x5 inch slide image capture my attention and even offer the possibility of crafting a mural-sized print. The view camera's tilt and shift movements enhance creativity.
But, there is another reason that I put my 35 mm camera on the shelf, bypassed the digital world and focused on the view camera. The view camera forces me to slow down, to dedicate each shoot to a single image, or possibly two, to tell a story in a special way. My 35 mm camera and zoom lenses provide the ability to move quickly and capture many perspectives of the landscape, maybe too many perspectives. The Toyo's workflow allows me to interject more thought into a single perspective, to try to tell a story in a special way.
I focus on the big picture, the quality of light and color on the land. I find landscape details during hikes and often return to favorite locations. I arrive with the Toyo and merely have a feeling about a spot, trying to prevent preconceptions from tainting my composition.
On location, I am ready to shoot. A composition is isolated, my tripod leveled, camera mounted and lens attached. I study the upside down inverted image on the ground glass and focus the bellows mounted lens. Tilts and shift are used to capture desired depth of field. Then I stop down the lens, set the shutter speed, close the shutter and insert the film holder. Finally, I open the sleeve of the film holder and release the shutter to capture the cool blue light of predawn. I capture the moment as I gaze upon a window-like portal in a rock formation along California's Big Sur coastline.
It is not this photographic process that is important for me. Actually it is not even the final image that drives me to photograph with the Toyo. The Toyo simply allows me to interact with the simple details of nature, to imagine and create in a personal and rewarding way by slowing down and enjoying the beauty before me.