Sometime in the mid-1990s I formed the idea of shooting a series of shop interiors. Specifically, I was intrigued by old-fashioned ironmongers' shops: one nearby in Minnis Bay in Kent, one in Broadstairs, and another in Selma, Alabama. I was sure I could find more.The picture immediately below was to have been the first in the series. I shot it with an 8x10 inch De Vere and an ancient 121/8 Super Angulon. Depending on your screen size, shape and resolution, you may need to switch to full screen mode (function key 11 in Windows) to get it all in.
There is plenty wrong with it. To begin with, the lens was too wide: look at the bizarre wide-angle distortion of the baskets from the Royal Society for the Blind on the lower right. Admittedly I could have got around this with better composition, or indeed by moving that part of the display out of the way altogether. I might have done better to use a less extreme wide angle. That was the first lesson.
Nor did I get the exposure and development right: I should have given more exposure and less development in order to compress the tonal range: I had to burn the area to the shop-keeper's right (camera left) quite heavily to stop it "blowing". That was the second lesson.
The third lesson, though, was the most important. I never shot the second picture in the series. I just didn't get around to it. It was too much trouble, beginning with lugging the huge, heavy camera around; asking permission of the shopkeepers (which, from other experiences, is almost always given without hesitation); developing and contact-printing an 8x10 inch negative...
Why was it too much trouble? One answer, of course, is sheer laziness. Another is that I didn't really need to take the picture. I was earning quite a lot from writing for Shutterbug magazine in the United States, and this projected series certainly wouldn't have paid for itself the way a more conventional series might have, something shot with 35mm or medium format. I was in the same position as a typical amateur, earning my living elsewhere and without the time or money to indulge such arcane activities as shooting shop interiors on 8x10.
Lately, though, I've been wondering if there isn't another reason: a fourth lesson. Was I using the wrong camera, inspired too much by the past? Yes, an 8x10 contact print has a magic all of its own, but quite honestly by the mid-1990s I could have achieved an almost indistinguishable result with a 3x enlargement off (say) Delta 100 exposed in a "baby" Linhof in a 6x7cm back. The actual size of Linhof 6x7 is 56x72mm, so a 3x enlargement is 168x216mm, almost identical to the old "whole plate" size of six and a half by eight and a half inches . Smaller than 8x10 inches, to be sure, but still with that "vintage" look, which was more important to me than using 8x10 inch. The trick of very small enlargement ratios is one I discovered a few years ago: it's the way, after all, that enlargements were normally made in the 1930s, so that a 35mm shot was enlarged to postcard size, or a roll-film image to half plate or whole plate.
Today, I might even consider using a digital camera and stitching four shots together. My Nikon Df is 16 megapixels, but after allowing for generous overlaps, four shots would equate to better than 40 megapixels.
A still more radical thought is that perhaps, after all, content matters more than technique. The picture above is another shop interior, Nowrojee's in Dharamsala in about 1999. Frances shot it on 6x9cm colour print film in her Alpa 12 S/WA with a 35/5.6 Rodenstock Apo Grandagon: again, an extreme wide angle, roughly comparable with the 121mm on 8x10. This is a scan of an RA4 colour print (!) converted to sepia. Even when making a proper, wet B+W 8x10 inch print from a proper B+W negative, there would be no real advantage over an 8x10 inch contact print; and on screen or in reproduction, which is how most people see most pictures nowadays, there would be no advantage at all.
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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2016