Vemödalen Project: Vintage Cars

There’s no question that I’ve taken a lot of photos of vintage cars in my life, so they seemed like obvious subjects for my sporadically-implemented Vemödalen Project. When I went on my annual pilgrimage to the Lime Rock Historics (which used to be called the Vintage Festival, which was a much better name) I took along what is the usual kit these days: a Leica body, in this case with a classic Elmar 50/3.5 screwed on the front and loaded with Kodak Ektar.

The plan was to get in close; this is not an entirely new approach for me, I know. I really wanted to try to emphasize graphical compositions, not to the point of total abstraction (which would be difficult in any case), but to get away from the instantly recognizable shape of a car and toward something that requires a bit more attention and thought on the part of the viewer. To my eye some of the shots I’ve chosen to show here are more successful that others in this regard, but that’s part of the process.

The other question raised here is the use of color versus monochrome film. There’s no doubt that black-and-white is by its nature more abstract than color, a point confirmed by a little experimentation with digital desaturation in post-processing. I chose to shoot in color because 1) I don’t do it that often, and practice is good, and 2) it added to the challenge. The fact is that some, if not all, of these shots might be better in black-and-white, but the Vemödalen Project is not really about the end result as much as it is about how one gets to it.

You can judge for yourself.

 

 

The Vemödalen Project: Geometry, Shapes, and Abstraction

As a general rule, I prefer not to start these little missives off with other people’s words, but all rules have exceptions. Henri Cartier-Bresson said “The only joy in photography is geometry. All the rest is sentiment.” He was, if I understand correctly, talking about subtle interactions of form and composition that provide structure and order to photographs. This complex, delicate concept was practiced, if not explained, by other well-known photographers of the 1920s-1950s, perhaps none more effectively than Andre Kertesz; look at his “Fork” or “Chez Mondrian” for proof.

In my own explorations, I have found these thoughts to be useful in guiding my own approach. Developing such vision as the Old Masters is frankly out of reach for the vast majority, and I have no pretensions to it, but their influence is certainly felt. As part of my Vemödalen Project, I have been exploring questions of geometry, but in a very much simplified and somewhat abstracted fashion. Faintly (very faintly) echoing Kertesz’s studies of mundane objects, I have been experimenting with tight compositions of individual or small groups of objects, trying to get the most out of subjects that may be of little intrinsic interest.

This is an illuminating exercise. Removing most of the things photographers are usually attracted to – interesting subjects, perfect light, and such – forces one to look at the most basic elements of a scene and work to extract whatever can be found in the most efficient possible manner. It’s hard, but then the only things worth doing usually are. In some cases, this lends itself to authentic representation, with the subject readily identifiable within the photo; in others, abstraction at some level offers greater opportunities. But in all cases, geometry is key. My results thus far are very graphical, and focus on constructing (and sometimes repeating) simple shapes, often with relatively high contrast.

These photos are just a few recent shots taken with this conceptual approach in mind. Enjoy.

The Vemödalen Project: On Lens Selection, Film Processing, and Happy Accidents

As noted in the introductory post to this little undertaking, I expect that seeing things differently will include a range of factors, including camera and lens choices, as well as non-standard film processing. These factors are key to this next group of photos. Unlike the Washington, D.C. pictures, I really had little idea of what I was trying to create with these, other than (for reasons that will become clear in a paragraph or two) that they would be grainy and not terribly sharp.

I have a fair few cameras that don’t see a lot of use for one reason or another. Some produce results that are pretty typical, while others are quite distinct. Falling into the latter category is my King Regula IIb with Ghetaldus Ghenar lens, a 45/3.5 triplet. The lens is far from technically perfect, and on top of the pronounced triplet signature, my example also has some damage to the front element that lowers contrast and causes direct light sources in the frame to glow. A lens hood can help, but it’s awkward to use on this camera, and besides, isn’t the point of this exercise to make photos that don’t look generic?

On top of that, and completely unnecessarily, as I was shooting in daylight, I decided to push the roll of HP5+ I loaded up two stops to 1600. Then to further change things up, I figured I’d try full stand development in Caffenol C-L, something I hadn’t done before. What’s the worst that could happen?

My chosen stomping ground was a state park that used to be an estate, and which still has the remains of some of the old buildings scattered about. Decrepit buildings in the woods seemed an appropriate subject for my intended look. The sky was covered by a thin overcast, making for fairly diffuse light, so contrast would be a bit low and there would be no deep shadows; pushing brought up the contrast, of course.

I shot the roll and processed it as I planned. When I pulled the film from the tank, I saw immediately that the negatives were quite dense; apparently the recommended times were well above what I really needed to get a two-stop push. If I had to guess I’d say the film ended up more like a 3.5-4-stop push. Into the scanner and the preview showed very bright pictures. I cranked the settings much further than I normally would to get somewhere close to where I wanted them, which as expected just accentuated the already prominent grain. Ordinarily, I would have been quite annoyed by this turn of events, but given my plan for this roll it really didn’t bother me at all. Quite liberating, actually.

King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L
King Regula IIb, Ghetaldus Ghenar 45/3.5, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-L

There they are in all their grainy, vignetted, glowing goodness. They fulfilled my intent of producing photos that looked different; I’ve shot some of these buildings before, and these are definitely very different. There aren’t really the opportunities for unconventional composition that I exploited in my Washington, D.C. photos, but that’s not the point. Overcoming vemödalen is about trying to achieve something that is distinct (to say unique would be pushing it, but you’ve got to have goals) – I think these photos manage that, and frankly that’s all that counts.