Monday, September 18, 2006

Streeting It

I've been thinking recently about how pursuing a variety of interests in one's life - especially creative interests - seems to produce a positive-feedback kind of response, whereby particular skills and insights gained in one venture aids in the creative flow of others.

This came home to me this week as I began pouring through old notebooks of 35mm and 645 format negatives, shot on silver gelatin filmstock and hand processed, most in the previous decade. What struck me were the similarities - and the differences - between these evidences for my creative vision then, and what I know to be my current strain of creativity. For instance, I've always been attracted to abstractions of line and form and texture in the urban environment. Stucco walls, cracked and decaying buildings, and the artifacts of graffiti vandals: these have long fascinated me. Now, I create such images with large format pinhole cameras; then, I used small-gauge, glass-lens imaging tools.

What is also evident is that I've long taken a keen interest in the landscape, being sensitive to nuances of light and form in the natural environment, even when my film format in use at the time was not optimized for the large, expansive views required of such grand subjects.

Lately, I've taken to cruising the postings at Rangefinder Forum. Street, or documentary photography, I've not been involved with in any serious manner for years; even then, I really haven't been skilled in capturing the elusive nuances of anonymous persons in public places that seem to be the hallmark of the genre.

I'm no Hank Bresson.

I think part of the problem is that my early years of shooting film were done with a 35mm SLR, where squeaking the last bit of depth of field out of every scene was my modus operandi. It was always 'f/16 and be there'. I obviously was never schooled in the style of wide-open aperture, narrow depth of focus and creamy smooth bokeh that is the signature of the diminutive handheld rangefinder shot.

Since cruising Rangefinder Forum, however, I've taken a new liking to the look of shallow depth of focus, especially when the tones in the image are smooth, rich and deep.

So, I've started to fondle my Zorki 4. That's the only rangefinder camera I own. This particular specimen was made in the USSR in 1971. It's equipped with a 50mm, coated Jupiter 8 lens, and seems to be in good operating condition. Cameras of this vintage are referred to generically as "FSU" rangefinders, meaning that their country of origin is what we now refer to as the 'Former Soviet Union". From what I've read, the Zorki 4/Jupiter 8 combination seems to be a classic Leica-clone combination. I'll just call it my 'Like-a-Leica'.

I'm threatening to go out and buy a roll of Tri-X, or FP-4+, and go a shootin'. Lens aperture set to f/4 or f/5.6. No meter, just the 'sunny 16 rule'. I'll try to follow a compositional rule established by one of the greats, which is to keep vertical lines parallel to the sides of the frame, and not worry about the horizontals.

Look out, world!


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