27 August 2012


Rob Hudson has recently posted a ‘counterblast’ to the demise of large format velvia film. In the post he declares that the death of Velvia is actually a boon to landscape photography. And whilst I respect his write not to mourn such a niche product, I thought I’d write a short rebuttal covering a few statements from the article.

“what it looks like should probably be driven by what you are trying to say, rather than because you happen to like strong colours or prefer a particular palette”

Hmm, agree… but this predicates on a dichotomy between saturation/colour and communication/art – surprisingly I think you can have one and other at the same time.

“Until very recently the chosen format for virtually all colour landscape photographers of any degree of seriousness has been a large format camera very probably loaded with Velvia.”

Apart from Stephen Shore, Charlie Waite, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter, Jim Brandenburg, Philip Hyde, Paul Wakefield, Neil Armstrong, Christopher Burkett, Shinzo Maeda, Edward Burtynsky etc

“This hegemony has in turn bred an orthodoxy of approach.”

Hegemony is strong word – implying the threat of of some sort and the imposition of a universal world view. Large format may be my particular pleasure but considering I could only find a hundred or so large format landscape photographers online compared with, lets say a few more digital or MF/35mm film users, it’s difficult to say it has been enforced in any way.

Of course in every genre of photography and in every type of equipment or medium there will be good and bad. From wet plate to iphone there are creative genii and derivative idiots. And in large format landscape photography there is sometimes a difficulty getting past the representational and to experiment. However that is why all the large format photographers I know use big and small cameras, film and digital to ‘experiment’ with.

“For the majority (but thankfully not exclusively) of these leaders in our community the illustrative is still their primary aim.”

Again – being representational doesn’t correlate with being merely illustrative. Romantic does not mean lacking in a meaning or metaphor. etc.

“When in fact alternative approaches to the art exist, but as they don’t fit in with the orthodox view, they are dismissed as inferior.”

Oooh! You’d better back this one up Rob!! 😀

“but does it exist as much by default, because of the structural investment in equipment and film itself?”

Ermm… Me and Dav Thomas specced out a full large format system for under 1,000 pound including tripod and bag and two excellent L class lenses. I’d be interested in a digital set up that had just one L class lens that would cost the same. And the cost of film over a year would probably add up to the upgrade cost of most digital photographers (£600-1000 a year?).

I know of quite a few photographers who have recently moved from Canon to digital, selling all of their cameras and lenses (and a few who then went back again!). In comparison with that sort of burn rate large format – amortised – is not significantly costly

“One thing is certain, as the price of colour film is on a seemingly never ending upward spiral, a more haphazard, playful, exploratory approach becomes increasingly inconceivable amongst LF film users.”

This is the one area where most people commenting on large format seem to get wrong. Just because you use large format doesn’t preclude the use of other cameras. In fact I would go as far to say that large format camera users tend to own and use a larger variety of cameras in different ways. They almost always own smaller compacts to ‘experiment’ with as well (sometimes transposing their experiments onto LF – sometimes not)

Yes film costs can be expensive but they can compare with the amount spent on digital camera upgrades, lens collections, etc. LF photographers don’t tend to replace lenses as nearly all of them out resolve the film they use.

A set of four lenses (a typical collection) can be bought for about £200-300 each – making a full collection of lenses add up to less than half the price of a 24mm Canon tilt shift.

And the cost of colour film is a minimal expense with large format photography – the biggest expense is time for each exposure. And large format itself is not a limitation on experimentation – take a look at the work of Brett Weston for example or Frank Gohlke (colour too!).

In summary I think Rob is right – Fuji Velvia exerts a magical influence on people and makes the mere representation of the world enough for many. And large format ends up attractive to magic bullet chasers – however in my experience most of the people who are just after resolution will have migrated back to digital by now – hence curing themselves of the Velvia virus.

However, Rob is also wrong – illustrative/artistic is not an either or. Large format doesn’t preclude experimentation – and large format cameras don’t preclude other cameras.

Fine art photography has a certain level of distast for the vernacular and also has a soft spot for the experimental and ‘alternative’. Sometimes this produces interesting work but on occasion it ignores work that doesn’t fit with preconception. Like all walks of life,  the good and the bad live along side each other in various proportions, but no media or material dictates the message or lack of it.

I know Rob was being a little ‘Devil’s advocate’ so I know he won’t mind the strong response 😉

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4 Responses to “Blastproofing”

  1. On August 28, 2012 at 8:14 am