Breaking The Format
I have been working with a 4x5 camera for the past 6 years or
so. It has been my chosen method of image making. But lately, it
has begun to bore me. I think this is mostly due to how often I see
the 4:5 ratio in images. Just like 2:3 and 6:7, I see it
everywhere. It used to be something that I really loved.
I have always liked to have a bit of emphasis to my images. And
while it might be argued that a square format is maybe the most
unbiased format, I find that having to make the choice about
whether I want to have a "landscape" or "portrait" bent to my
images forces me to consider why those choices are important to the
specific image and also can help me to lead the viewer to certain
I used to love 4:5 beause of it's ever so slight
rectangularness. But like I said, I was having trouble with the
mundanity of it. I needed a change, but couldn't figure out what
exactly I wanted.
Throughout the bodies of work I have made and am making, I
realize i am slowly pulling back from the subjects in my images. I
am wanting to show more and more of the world around them, the
world that they exist in.
I have recently been looking long and hard at the image "Montparnasse" by Andreas Gursky and "A Lunch At The Belvedere" and by Luc Delahaye.
The format that these images takes really excites me. There is
something cinematic about it, it allows the figures to be grounded
in the frame, but also allows the world around them to seep in.
I struggled with how to make my 4x5 camera work for me in this
capacity. From what little I know, Delahaye uses a panoramic camera
that shoots 120 film, and Gursky's image is a composite of some
sort though I don't really know how.
I wasn't really in the mood to buy another camera, and am actually
trying to sell a few of the ones I don't use. So I decided to start
experimenting with the compositing. I knew right from the start
that I didn't like the distortion that happens when rotating a
camera to make a composite. Straight lines become distorted and it
has a strange effect that I have never been fond of. So how do I
make a panoramic composite without rotating the camera.
What I came up with was a rather simple solution to the problem.
At first I thought about moving the whole camera and taking one
photograph from the left position and one image from the right. I
quickly learned this was not ideal if there were any kind of object
in the distance because it created multiple vanishing points. While
the foreground objects remained in pretty much the same position,
the background objects differed greatly. And while I don't mind
doing some light Photoshop work, I wasn't in the mood for the
nightmare of reconciling numerous vanishing points.
So now both rotating the camera and physically moving the camera
were both no longer options. It occurred to me one day that maybe
the camera didn't have to move at all. The advantage to working
with a 4x5 rail camera is that both the front and back standards
shift to the right and left.
I have a 90 mm lens that was built for architecture photography.
It has extremely large coverage and allows me to shift the back
standard completely from left to right without any vingetting. So
what I began to do was shoot an image with the back shifted all the
way to the left, then shift the back all the way to the right and
shoot a second image. The great thing about this method is that the
lens never actually moves. The separate negatives are made from the
same projection of light. So when the two negatives are composited
together in Photoshop everything, including focus, lines up just as
it should if I was shooting with a panoramic camera.
The best part of this for me, and this was totally by accident,
was that because of the limits of the shift on the back standard of
my camera, the ratio that I end up with is 16:9. I have been
wanting a more cinematic feel to my images, and the fact that the
new images I am making are 16:9 lends itself to that effect. I have
since tried shooting just single 4x5 images and cannot stand the
constraint of the frame. 16:9 feels like how I should have been
shooting all along. It frees me from the feeling of claustrophobia
that had been growing inside of me.
While this may seem like a small shift to many people, for me
this was quite eye-opening and I feel as if I can do so much more
with just a little extra space. I am just so happy to see something
of mine on a wall in a format that I am not used to seeing
Evan Baden (Foam Magazine #22/Peeping)