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[spellcheckedĀ  20 Feb ]

My 5x4s

[20Feb23] I spent the weekend (18-19Feb23) on a large format course at Intrepid Cameras, Brighton. The course was taught by Jahan Saber (a Viennese photographer, printer and teacher, "the professor") and Dan Rubin (US, now London-based photographer and several other things).The attendees were eight in number, all male on this occasion, but I know from the UK LF Forum that on next week's course they are not. Ages ranged from just out of university to me.

The space is new, Intrepid have opened a studio next to their manufactory and this was the first use of it: there were very few teething troubles, just not enough coffee, only one 5x4 negative carrier and lots of dust. Everything about large format is surprisingly big: diagrams of negative sizes are commonplace, but actually handling them is a revelation and the negative carrier looks like a letterbox.

Self portrait test strip

The course was enormously enjoyable, in spite of the deteriorating weather when we were out with the cameras. On the first day we spent the morning on the technical and practical. In the afternoon we went out in pairs, each with a 5x4 and two double-sided film holders. My partner for the practical was David, a filmmaker, used to working with a crew. We photographed the West pier (most groups did) and a sculpture nearer the East pier, Charles Hadcock's Passacaglia. By the time we had done the latter, the drizzle was setting in, the light was going and my hands had stopped working. I suggested returning to the studio for a pair of self portraits. Since seeing an air cable release on the table, I had been thinking of David Attie's Russian Self-Portraits (and early Cindy Shermans, but mostly the Attie) and that was my highlight of the day.
Unexpectedly glum portrait
using the Lomo
The tutors developed most of the film that evening (leaving a few for demonstration purposes the next day) and we spent most of Day 2 printing, interspersed with looking at some Big contemporary Names and using the Lomo instant film back.

Now I know how to do it, although I have only scratched (and dusted) the surface of LF and my knowledge only derives from a glimpse.

I believe that I have long had an empathy for and an inclination towards the large format workflow and now have a real understanding of why it has to be slow, methodical, deliberate and perhaps, with experience, contemplative.

I went on the course intending to buy one. If I were twenty years younger, I would have ordered an Intrepid yesterday (especially with the bonus of the generous discount we were offered) and be looking for my first lens today, probably the first of several. But the reality is that in the (lightly active) years I have left, I just don't have the time to process film or even let others do it for me. The Lomo back nearly changed my mind - it is a fun piece of kit, the outcomes are interesting and it is great that they have made it, but the limitations of the emulsion (if that is the word) are too severe.
I could just about carry the full kit but would probably need wheels on the bag. I struggled with focussing, in admittedly poor conditions: I usually focus manually but find digital hints useful and sometimes essential.

But more important than the kit is the mindset, the approach enforced by large format and perhaps I can approximate to that with my fallback position and the splendidly contrarian Sigma dpx Quattro. Using the dp2 with the "standard" fixed lens, on a tripod, and with the built in (or, rather, bolted on) loupe viewer will be, I hope, at once limiting and liberating. And what I lose on image detail (though it has a fine lens) is compensated somewhat by the panoramic and 6x7 masks, my favoured formats.

The course, or something similar, is highly recommended: like having your first child, unless you have experienced it, you cannot possibly understand it.

along with a pinhole to tide me over and one of their forthcoming secret products, a Lomo back and film packs and a Benro geared head. I already have a cupboard full of tripods, several now too heavy to use, and a box of 5x4 film holders in anticipation — I'm not sure what to do with the holders. Given that I had more-or-less decided on Day 1 not to go ahead with a purchase, I had thought to take them on Day 2 and give the other guys one each to get them started, but I didn't just in case. For now they'll just stay in the cupboard while I look for deserving homes.


Attie, David, (1977) Russian Self-Portraits. London: Thames & Hudson.

Page created 20-Feb-2023 | Page updated 21-Feb-2023