The York Photographic Society have a large membership of active enthusiasts, at least 50 or so. I am the only one that uses film regularly and that’s a little bit sad I think.
The members I have met to date have all been fascinated and amazed that I am using a 1970’s/80’s Mamiya RB67 rather than the latest Olympus with focus stacking…. I am guessing that anyone reading this probably fully understand the charm and pleasure of the slow, considered process that film enforces, especially when shooting medium and large format film.
Anyway, at one of the last events of the season before decent weather was due to take hold, everyone was out on their own taking photographs and we arranged to met up at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at about 7pm – which would give us a few hours of good light. One of the senior museum staff had been good enough to stay back and gave us a bit of a talk about the museum, what it is and why it exists. If you have an interest in folk history then I would very much recommend a trip.

Bars: making the photograph

When considering making a photograph I primarily look for texture as my visual cue. Texture in its widest sense in the way that a line can bring feeling to a blank field in a photo, and not just crumbling walls etc.
Bars, the photograph I’m talking about today uses all the classical descriptions of texture: the rust on the top bar and the thin wire of the radiator in the background contrasting with the thick solidity of the grill bars in front. There is the contrast of light and dark as well which is something I strive for in many of my works.

The photograph was taken on my Mamiya RB67 with ILFORD HP5 PLUS. It was a sunny evening and this was one of two photographs I took of a rusting hulk of some form of farm machinery with an engine–that’s as accurate as I can be I am afraid!

It looked like it had been in the same spot for 60-odd years.

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Mamiya RB67 - Bars - ILFORD HP5 PLUS
Mamiya RB67 – Bars – ILFORD HP5 PLUS

It was a fun photo to get. There was (and still is, I’ll wager!), a maze of rusty machinery in front of the mass of rusty machinery I wanted to photograph that day.
After climbing over that and finding space for the tripod’s legs amongst the detritus I realised that the composition I wanted required the camera to be placed quite high. Having a waist level finder on the RB67 makes this pretty tricky. I ended up on tiptoes balancing on a wooden box that I found nearby which gave me “just” enough height to get one eye over the finder and compose/focus.
It was shot wide open and focused as close as the camera and lens would go, as much through necessity as design, what with the precarious nature of the camera/tripod’s positioning.

Refining the image

I get my film developed and scanned by the fine folk at AG Photographic, after which most of my post-processing is done in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro. These days I pretty much just use Lightroom as a cropping and alignment tool; since I work almost exclusively in black and white, Silver Efex Pro is (in my opinion) the better tool. Whilst you don’t get quite so much out of either application when using film–as the RAW data isn’t there–you do get enough for a pretty wide variety of processing options.
Silver Efex Pro has a lot of presets which I always use as a starting point, after which it has a wonderful system whereby you set a control point and you can adjust the surrounding area–dodge and burn. It’s an intelligent tool, so it doesn’t just apply a flat adjustment either. It is aware of the variances in light and shade and works with it to produce a really nice result.

Resisting context

One thing I would like to talk a little more about is the idea that one shouldn’t talk too much about one’s photographs. Granted, this might sound a bit odd given how much text there is on this page! I am firmly of the belief that art should stand on its own. If you have to explain it then it isn’t art really since one of the definitions of art is that it communicates something.
It’s given that a little context is sometimes helpful but to say something like, “this part of the picture is illuminating the juxtaposition of the soul and the mind in terms of a beef burger” destroys the whole point in my eyes.
Every single person who views, reads, hears a piece of art will take away something different and if you describe a piece in detail with the “intended” meaning you are denying all those people of their own reaction.
I’m of the belief that we should let them have the experience, let them communicate with the piece and let it speak to them.
Thanks for reading,
~ Rob Davie

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About the author

Rob is a photographer and writer who has contributed a number of pieces on his own work and others for and has his own photo and writing blog ''. He has a few long term projects on the go including a book "Nowhere to Go" investigating...

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