In the late spring of 2010, my cousin and I took a sudden road trip across Germany and France, to collect some stranded friends of my aunt’s in Barcelona. They were stranded because of the eruption of Eyafjallajökull.
Our route took us past Carcassonne – a place I’d heard about, but not until then visited. I’d brought along my Rolleiflex 2.8F and a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X, and so we spent a few hours wandering the alleys and the walls, taking pictures and admiring the place.
And when I looked through my photos after I’d developed them, it struck me how well they resonated with Lord Dunsany’s rather sad tale of the same name, about a band of knights questing for the fabled city of Carcassonne:
Travellers had seen it sometimes like a clear dream, with the sun glittering on its citadel upon a far-off hilltop, and then the clouds had come or a sudden mist; no one had seen it long or come quite close to it; though once there were some men that came very near, and the smoke from the houses blew into their faces, a sudden gust–no more, and these declared that some one was burning cedarwood there.
And so I set to work. The result is available for purchase here:
For those who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to purchase my book, and who want a free e-book version (with lower-resolution photographs but in every other way unrestricted), I draw your attention to this link:
I assure you, the real-object-in-your-hand version is much, much nicer. Perhaps the freebie will convince you.
Of course, nicer than all that would be a hand-made print on fibre-based baryta paper, which is also available. Contact me for details. The contact form is in German, but I think it ought to be clear enough.
This is my dog Coca. Actually, her full name is Coca/Luna Pangolina ST. She is a rescue dog from Spain. She is relatively obviously a Galgo cross, but the rest of her heritage is a matter of conjecture. Her first people kept her in a tiny kennel and never gave her a chance to do what she was obviously built to do: run. She was also terribly timid and jumpy, but buried deep inside there was always a great, loving dog waiting to emerge.
I have had her for about a year and a half, and only recently has she really figured out how to operate her legs. She is still a little gawky when she is in a full sprint, but already she is breathtakingly fast. And she is getting less clumsy. Soon she will discover what her ancestors were bred for – chasing down hares – and then perhaps I shall have to develop a taste for the stringy little things.
Capture notes: Nikon D700 in continuous high speed shutter mode, AF-Nikkor 1:2.8/20. Processed in Adobe Lightroom 3.6 and Nik Silver Efex 2.
A short while ago, it was foggy throughout the day. Meanwhile, sort of on impulse, I had purchased a used, slightly battered-looking but otherwise functional Nikon F5. So I stuck on a borrowed 105mm macro, loaded up some Rollei Retro 400S (about which I’ll write more later), set the ISO at 320 and went for a walk in the afternoon.
The atmosphere was phenomenal, but hard to do justice to in 35mm – next time it’s foggy, I’ll head out with the Hasselblad or the Toyo. Visibility was perhaps 100 metres.
One of the people in my village keeps a herd of deer on a pasture at the edge of the village. I hadn’t expected to see the deer, but as I approached the gate to the enclosure, they wandered up to investigate. The stag kept his distance, and proved impossible to photohgraph, but one of the females walked right up to me to investigate, and kindly posed for the above portrait. It’s a little motion-blurry, as exposure was 1/8th at f/2.8 and the VR doesn’t work with the F5; I’d not have had this problem with the Leica, I think. But the photo is expressive enough. I like it.
Process notes: Rollei Retro 400S Exposed at 320, processed for 25 minutes at 18°C in 1+50 Rodinal. Printed on Adox MC110RC paper using a split-grade technique. Scanned and cleaned up in Photoshop, including final tone curve adjustment for the screen and a 20% sepia filter to warm it up a little.
Kodak is going down.
The writing has been on the wall for a long time now, ever since Ansel Adams predicted that ‘electronic photography’ was the way of the future:
I eagerly await new concepts and processes. I believe that the electronic image will be the next major advance. Such systems will have their own inherent and inescapable structural characteristics, and the artist and functional practitioner will again strive to comprehend and control them.
(Adams, Ansel: The Negative, p. xiii (introduction), 1981)
There has been so much hand-wringing and belly-aching about the “value chain” that entire books could be devoted to this subject, without ever establishing anything new.
The simple fact is that Kodak, like Polaroid and Leica before it, is a company that needs to reinvent itself in the face of fierce competition and the changing nature of photography.
Arguably, Leica has succeeded in reinventing itself; the M9 is one of the most highly-regarded digital cameras ever made (disclaimer: I love mine so very, very much); the S2 is by all accounts a stunning machine capable of breathtaking image quality (quibbles over price aside). The X1 is a popular premium compact, delicious in its single-minded simplicity (no zoom at all!? courageous!) The compact offerings – built in cooperation with Panasonic – are similarly excellent cameras. Leica is actually making money, they are on the verge of moving back to Wetzlar; I’ll carefully say that they’ve managed to weather the storm.
Polaroid is an odd case. They seem to be making weird things like electronic picture frames now, but Mister Land’s vision isn’t entirely dead, with the new Z340 now on the market. They might just make it with some of their integrity intact. The ‘classic’ analog instant photography has more or less successfully been rescued by the Impossible Project (though I wish they’d make some of their cooky material available in 100 or 4×5″ peel-apart format hint-hint).
Ugh. Where to begin?
Ansel Adams seemed relatively optimistic that electronic imaging would have some positive potential; My guess is that were he photographing today, we’d see his face juxtaposed with a digital back from Leaf, PhaseOne or Hasselblad in ads in photography magazines, possibly shooting with something freakishly intense, like an Arca. At least in the aforementioned quote, he didn’t seem to consider the business implications for manufacturers of film and other photography equipment. In short: Kodak got caught out.
Which is not to say that Kodak’s products are behind the times.
While opinion is divided regarding the sad demise of Kodachrome (I still have a few rolls in the fridge, just in case…), the simple fact is that analog imaging has a lot to offer. Filmmakers are still very divided about electronic moviemaking – though manufacturers like Red are making a pretty compelling case for themselves – and even still photographers largely recognise that there is something about the look of images shot on genuine Tri-X that lends them a kind of gritty authority. Tri-X merits a whole post in and of itself. Software makers yearn to write programs that make a digital image look just like Tri-X; I’m going to have to do a direct comparison one day, to see if they’re even close.
Likewise, Kodak has – well, had – a very competent digital imaging department. They provide(d) the sensor for the Leica M9 and a number of very highly-regarded medium-format camera backs.
But a quick glance at Kodak’s website reveals where Kodak of today sees the market: consumer devices. Actual professionals who value their century-long expertise shudder. Facebook-connected Picture kiosks. Consumer-grade print-on-demand photo books. Electronic picture frames.
Tangent: what is it about electronic picture frames? Every formerly great company that gets caught on the wrong foot by electronic imaging ends up making electronic picture frames: Kodak, Polaroid, Jobo, Hama, Paterson, Rollei. Why is that?
Information about the products that made Kodak famous – pro-grade film – is buried clicks-deep on the commercial business section of their website, and merits only a passing token mention on their online store. At least on the US store, one can still order 4×5″ material. I digress, and this is getting long. Focus.
Kodak is facing company-threatening bankruptcy, and they are selling off and shutting down precisely those sections of the company which made Kodak truly great. I fear for them.
And I’m going to stockpile Tri-X until some intrepid soul, some new Impossible Project, purchases the machines that make it.