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Old 27th April 2022, 12:22 AM
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Default What’s found in front of the lens vs What’s discovered through the lens

For years, I’ve been using camera’s to take photographs of things in front of the lens. Things that caught my eye and I’d point my camera at. The camera being little more than a framing device. Brain engaged and the scene was faithfully recorded pretty much as observed by my naked eye.

However of late, I’ve been intrigued/plagued by the notion of viewing a scene via the ground-glass (or viewfinder) and observing, perceiving the world as the lens sees it and not as my naked eye.

There are a couple of triggers to my enquiry. The first trigger was raised by questions of how to focus soft-focus lenses. The answer being, on the ground glass! But more importantly, there is no single point of focus. There is a dance or ritual between the subject, optics and viewer and when you find the most pleasing effect, you’re “in focus”. Perhaps not scientifically, or mechanically in focus but at a point where all elements align to render the most visually appealling combination possible.

My second trigger, is John Blakemore. He descibes how he can’t see what he wants to photograph without looking through the camera lens. All of his photographs, and especially his colour work, are taken not as his naked eye sees them but how the scenes are perceived after passing through the optics of the lens and then into his eye. And it’s only when he looks through the lens that his photographic vision can materialise.

So, am I alone in paying more attention to what’s found in front of the lens rather than what’s to be discovered through the lens?

Blakemore video fast forward to 47mins 37sec. From catching the light quote.
https://youtu.be/oa8woJC-0lg
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Old 27th April 2022, 08:42 AM
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Marty, I think this is a great question at just the right time (for me, at least).
David Lingham recently put up an album here of beach scenes: 35mm, wide, grainy, not at all naturalistic and I couldn't quite express to him that they take a step beyond representational into 'expressive' or (to mix my media) poetic territory.
Both Wynn Bullock (in colour) and Ralph Meatyard experimented with Abstraction. They made images which are certainly photographic but have nothing to do with the material world.
I think some of my early difficulties, and indeed disappointment, using 5x4 was the way in which one has to work with it. Using small formats it's easy to put the camera to the eye and adjust composition by moving whilst actually viewing the image. On a TLR you aren't even looking in the same direction as the subject, but rather down at a screen. I always feel it's like looking at an image on a light-box. With 5x4, stuck on a tripod, under the cloth, small adjustments to composition are disproportionately more difficult and I sometimes make do as 'near enough'. I think I became more stilted in my approach, trying to minimise wasted film and effort.
Too often we we think of photographs as being accurate reproductions of reality. It's often brought up as a difference between film and digital, with digital portrayed as being too open to manipulation to be trusted. However, every single photograph is an interpretation: the world is three dimensional and in colour, nothing like my 2 dimensional B&W photographs.
Many of my favourite photographs are of relatively mundane subject matter (like Weston's cabbage leaf) transformed by the photographic process into something new. Even knowing that, I know I am still guilty of judging the visual interest of my subject as it looks in the real world (for want of a better description), rather than making the leap to ask how it will look as a print.

So, after too many words, Yes: I am too fixed on what I see in front of me, and need to loosen up and take more photographs. Many might be failures, but I might just develop a better vision.
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Old 27th April 2022, 10:33 AM
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It’s very true that camera’s that use an SLR type arrangement have a distinct advantage in viewing subjects somewhat more directly ‘through or via’ the taking lens giving the full optical vision/experience.

There seems no hope then for rangefinder users!!!
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Old 27th April 2022, 11:45 AM
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Default Before during and after

The question header for this thread can be interpreted several ways. There could be so many different variations and answers to this but try in to keep it simple my take on it is......

Scenario..... I am out walking and around where I live if I were to say it is beautiful countryside although I cannot say that for the existing townships which grew up in the industrial era. On particular path I use for walking is an old coal mine railway track, long lifted and the last train ran perhaps 50 years ago.

At the bottom of the valley is a small stream in open woodland with wild flowers now starting to sprout ready for summer and in particular a magnificent beech tree that must be one of the oldest in the area. Snaking past this beech tree the path continues in a lazy 'S' shape into the distance. I first saw this perhaps 5 years ago and photographed it in B&W. I have since photographed in in colour when there is snow on the ground.

The original scene when seen by myself the camera was still in the bag and I took it as it was, accepting it as view through the viewfinder. Shall I say it was mediocre although it looked quite good through the lens. The second, third, or fourth attempts were progressively different although it was the same view, same tree, but the last was when there was snow on the ground. I knew what to expect when I walked towards the tree, but change made by the thin layer of snow on the ground made the scene totally different.

So there we have the first two points raised by the original questions. I first saw it without the camera, secondly I photographed it from different angles in different lighting when viewed through the viewfinder but none were as I wanted it to look.

The last part of my title is 'After' and this is what made the image in the snow so much better (My opinion) was the work I did during the during the printing in the darkroom. The tree when it was in the snow had a tone to the bark on the trunk which I had not noticed before and with a low late afternoon sun striking the trunk plus a bit of fiddling with the colour balance during dodging/burning under the enlarger, the tree instead of being a watery yellow, was rendered as a glowing pale orangy red in the sunlight and became alive. It wasn't quite how it was but the end result was for me, worth it

It wasn't straight forward to do because using the burn/dodge technique with colour can introduce unwanted colour shifts not intended by the deliberate change of colour/tone I was looking for and wasn't what I had originally seen, it was what I made of it afterwards.

Last edited by John King; 27th April 2022 at 11:52 AM.
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Old 27th April 2022, 12:06 PM
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John. your story relates a lot to what Blakemore seems to do by re-visiting the same locations and scenes year in & out endlessly searching for new interpretations of the familiar.
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Old 29th April 2022, 06:12 PM
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Thank you very much, Marty, for this interesting subject. I am lately taking a bit more images with my large format camera. Looking on the groung glass is certainly different from looking through a SLR viewfinder. But it is difficult for me to find the right words about it. I have to think about it and thanks again for the inspiration.
Frank
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