Projects and assignments are great practice. When someone else gives you a brief and you decide to interpret it, and you have to deliver, you realize how buttoned up you are in some ways and how sloppy you are in other ways. You may also learn to improvise.
My better half, Kristen, owns a yoga studio in Brooklyn, New York: Yogasana Center. She’s always needed photographs to illustrate brochures and other marketing materials, and she’s used illustrations and architectural photography (not mine) on the web site. She loves what I do with black and white film, though, and we decided to try to get a good batch of people shots.
Kristen scheduled the shoot and got some fellow teachers to show up and practice together and independently. I gathered my gear and bought some film.
Hasselblad 500C/M (40mm, 80mm, 150mm)
This is all about the amazing lenses. I was supposed to shoot candid portraits of two of the teachers for some advertising. I figured I would use the 150mm for that, but I had the 80 in case I wanted to shoot the yoga practice on medium format film, and the 40 for the crazy perspective you can get in close quarters.
Minolta XD11 (58mm 1.2, 24mm 2.8)
Again, it’s all about the lenses. The formidable XD11 is a solid body and I’ve heard that it’s the basic chassis of the first Leicaflex. It’s a pleasure to shoot with, and because it has a heavy, brass body, it pairs well with the heavy 58mm lens. Heavy also reduces any shakiness in the hands when shooting. This body is the one I use most when shooting Minolta glass. The MD W.Rokkor-X 24mm is pictured above.
Canon L1 (50mm 1.4, 85mm 2.0)
This is one of my favorite cameras ever. I used to lust after it on Stephen Gandy’s Cameraquest site, and many years ago I picked up a whole kit, including the 85mm Serenar, a truly stunning lens. For several years, I used this camera for almost everything and shot with the Canon 50 and 85 (and maybe the 135 once), and then various Cosina Voigtlander screwmount lenses. I stopped using it as often when I started shooting Leica M, but I’ve never gone more than a few months without shooting it. The 50mm 1.4 is a more recent acquisition, and it’s helped the L1 get more use.
I’m falling in love all over again with this film. I hoped I could get enough natural light to shoot the candid portraits on this emulsion.
In case the 100 didn’t work out with the light, and also in case I wanted to shoot medium format throughout the room, where there would be less light away from the windows.
Adox CHS100 ART
This is a very old emulsion that is very beautiful, if not a pain in the ass to handle (it curls terribly). Part of working on a project with Kristen is that I can experiment and not worry about having the exact same look for everything. Only a very small number of people really can see or care about the difference between black and white emulsions anyway.
Plus-X (Arista Premium 100)
Plus-X is one of my favorite films. I like the look of skin tone on it, and I love the curve of how it goes to black. It’s also a nice medium to fast film: I can shoot it at box speed and develop in Rodinal or HC-110 with no problem, or I can shoot it at EI 400 and develop in Diafine. I bought hundreds of rolls and a lot of bulk reels of this Arista Premium 100 from Freestyle Photo. It’s an open secret that it’s just rebranded Kodak Plus-X. They may have sold out of this for good. Shame.
Tri-X (Arista Premium 400)
And this is my favorite film. It’s remarkably flexible. You can shoot it at any speed—the above shot is at EI 200, developed in Rodinal, but I usually push it from 1000 to 1600—and find an acceptable match with a developer. It also can produce a classic photojournalistic look that Kristen and I were looking for: contrast, grain, nice blacks. This is sold by Freestyle Photo as Arista Premium 400. I have cans and cans of this in bulk hidden in freezers throughout New York City.
Ilford FP4 Plus
I got a couple rolls of it for Christmas. As with the Adox, why not?
Next installment I’ll talk about the setup. Depending on how far I get, you might also learn how all of my cameras stopped working and why there are no example of the medium format film above. If I hadn’t taken enough shots before the total meltdown, I would have had to finish the shoot with my iPhone.