Saturday, December 17, 2016

A view from above

This is one of those pivotal pictures ( Okanagan Lake, image #1 ) that I made nearly 30 years ago and carries a lot of personal meaning for myself. When I ventured out of my Kelowna apartment on a sunny January day in 1987, I had been wondering what to do with the 4 x 5 view camera that I had purchased in December of 1985. I really wanted to use the camera but I was unsure if it was the right fit for me. When I initially bought the camera I liked using it, I made a couple of nice photographs, including Albert Head Lagoon ( image #41, December 1985 ), then all through 1986, I never used it all that much, I had some technical issues which discouraged me somewhat.

 I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, but there the view camera sat on a shelf in a closet of my apartment, so I thought to myself I'm either going to use it or sell the whole kit, which was a Tachihara 4 x 5 wood field camera with a 150mm lens and a few film holders. It was fortunate that the light was good on my exploring day, as often it's cloudy and dull in Okanagan during the winter. I had no particular driving route in mind, so I headed west out from the city, across the Okanagan Lake floating bridge to towards Westbank and Peachland, B.C. As I came highway 97, what is locally known as Drought Hill, near Peachland, this wonderful vista opened up for me, Okanagan Lake lay below me, with the rugged mountains of Okanagan Mountain Park in the distance, the sun was had broke through clouds, creating millions of diamonds like sparkles on the lake surface. I pulled off on to the side of the highway and found a spot to photograph this lovely scene. Afterwards I headed back to the car, continued on my drive and eventually headed back to my apartment where I developed the film and was quite pleased with the resulting prints I made. I thought that if I could keep up with this quality of imagery that I would stick with shooting the 4 x 5.

To back up a bit, I actually had already owned a large format view camera before I bought the 4 x 5 Tachihara. Around 1978 or so while living in Victoria I was browsing an antique store in Victoria and I saw this old wooden view camera with tripod, film holders, and leather case, it was so beautiful looking, I just had to buy it. Only thing was it used an odd size of film, 4 3/4" x 6 1/2", called a half plate camera. I ended up cutting 5" x 7" film down to make it fit, plus I had to repair the wooden film holders which leaked light, but I did make it work for a few pictures. The camera was more of a "show and tell" kind of camera that I liked to bring out and show to family and friends.

Some more background. I have always liked to do my own personal work on my days off and holiday, this is aside from the day to day photography I do as a staff photographer for the Kelowna Daily Courier newspaper where I am still currently employed. When I first started working for the weekly Gazette newspaper from 1976 to 1979 I often shot slide film, I especially loved shooting Kodachrome. I ended up with a fairly sizeable slide collection by 1982 or so, sadly all my best original slide images are gone after I sent them off to a stock photo agency in Edmonton and the owner absconded with them. Then from 1983 onwards I started shooting more black and white film on my time off, by then I was using a couple of older Leica 35mm range-finder type cameras, a M2 and a M3 with a variety of lenses.

 After I had moved back to Kelowna B.C. from Brampton Ontario in 1983, I connected up with one of my former co-workers who was a reporter at the Brampton Times, Jim MacDonald, who was then working at the Calgary Sun at the time. We would meet up to go hiking in the Banff National Park area, I really hadn't done much hiking in the Rocky Mountain, I was so over whelmed by the grandeur of the mountain scenery, I was hiking along trails like the Valley of the Ten Peaks with my Leica cameras dangling from my neck, but I felt that the 35mm format was just too small to try and capture the intricate detail of such beautiful mountain scenery.

Coincidentally around 1984 I received a Christmas gift, a book by Ansel Adams, (The Portfolios of Ansel Adams) from my sister. Like many photographers his work had a profound impact on my own photography. I was now able to strike out in a new direction with my personal work, it's what motivated me to sell the Leica cameras and purchase the 4 x 5 view camera that I saw at the local Kelowna camera store, Candid Camera. Also a year or so later I received another Christmas gift a book by Edward Weston ( Supreme Instants ) from my parents. My photography was inspired by these these two great icons of photography and they just happen to use large format cameras, a big change for me as a newspaper photographer who used exclusively 35mm fin at the time ( digital since 2001 ). Since I was in photojournalism, my early influence was Henri Cartier-Bresson, introduced to me by then Gazette co-owner, Mike Crossman, I loved his work and still do.

 By the fall of 1987 I was tackling mountain hiking trails and lonely beaches with my 4 x 5 view camera strapped to my back stuffed inside a backpack, along with tripod, food and water. By then I had a couple of new lenses, a Schneider 120mm lens ( semi-wide lens on 4 x 5 ) ) and a 360mm tele-Arton ( medium telephoto on 4 x 5 ). Although I didn't make a lot of images in those years including 1988, I was progressing and enjoying shooting with the view camera. In 1989 I worked at fine tuning my technique including exposing film, processing film and making fine art prints after studying Ansel Adam's three technical series of books, The Camera, The Negative and The Print.

After reading through those books I felt that my work took another big step in regards to how I was seeing and create my images. By June of 1989 I had my very first exhibit of my landscape work with the Kelowna Art Gallery called "Landscape of Light", it was at one of their "outreach" galleries at Kelowna City Hall. I also started to think of myself as not only newspaper photographer but an artist too. Recently I have been much enthralled with the work of the Group of Seven, I greatly love their dedication of the Canadian landscape and of course their paintings too. I think they portray great beauty and mystery of the Canadian landscape. I see my own work as a continuation of their work but in more of a photographic style, I'm dedicated and inspired by my view of Canada.

No comments: