I started taking pictures in Berkeley, CA. during the summer of 1980, with a Nikomat FT2 and a 55/3.5 Micro-Nikkor given by my father (I still have both). He had the habit of systematically buying a few fresh rolls for every shoot (mostly birds and reptiles) so, when I stayed with him, there was a full “ice box” of slide films for me to burn through. Truth be told, my father was so happy about my interest in photography (mostly cars and trucks at first) that he gladly paid for all the processing bills!
When I got into shooting black and white film in 1983, the big professional Parisian labs offered “La Planche Agrandie 40×50”, a 16×20 inch blown-up proof sheet. Of course, this requires a lot more work than a standard contact sheet, so the price was blown-up accordingly!
As I wasn’t getting any prints made at the time, I liked the larger size of image:
In 1993 I began working in a small custom processing and print lab. We were dip’n’dunking C41, printint RA4 and Ilfochrom, all with german made Autopan machines and Durst 1200 enlargers. It was mainly fashion/advertising oriented, and I could experiment and produce a lot at no cost (even films were given to me).
After I started using a Fuji GA645 Professional camera in 1996, I soon discovered that its larger image size over 35mm film allowed a simple contact-sheet to be a good storytelling medium. Soon, these contact sheets became my go-to birthday gift, or simply a souvenir from a good time with friends.
On those occasions, I’d shoot an entire roll, all at the same orientation and no repetitions, generally with some sort of theme, and with the mindset that it’d end up being a single visual object relating a moment. I’d then process the film, make a bunch of proof-sheets that I’d fold in half, close with tape, and mail out to the people originally involved with just their name and address. Being a printer has always fueled my incentive to stick a stamp on any strip test or bad print and turn it into postal art…
Later, I applied the same approach to capture the general atmosphere of a place: one big image made of 16 small ones, showing many different aspects of a house, a workshop, a garden, etc… then placing the whole roll in my Durst 184/CLS2000 8×10″ enlarger to make 20×24″ prints.
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My “16 frames on 1 film in 16 minutes in 1 place” concept followed naturally.
Since I alternate interior, exterior, dark, light, nature, building, close-up, wide view, for each photo, I first make a little scouting tour of the premises, trying to anticipate the shots. Then I have to do it quickly while it’s all still fresh in my mind, which makes it more of an artistic performance. Hence the 16-1-16-1…
Of course, as burning and dodging options are very limited at the printing stage, properly exposing each frame is crucial!
In October 2020, a friend who already has a few of my prints and really likes my “regard” invited me to Lorient (in Bretagne, west of France) to photograph an estate that has been in her family for over three centuries. All the pictures they have of that place are either old, black and white, academic, or simply bad, and don’t reflect how she sees it.
I spent three nice days there with them: kids, relatives, dog, etc… and shot fifteen rolls. Three of them in my “16-1-16-1” style, one set vertically, one horizontaly, and one at more or less 45°, all with Fuji GA645 cameras (still my favorite). Another assignment I gave myself was to replicate some of the old photos they had in the house, so that they have updated versions, showing how things are today, sort of a before/after comparison…
Mission accomplished, total success. She ordered 20 prints for her and the family Christmas presents !
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