Tuesday, 20 December 2011

To Obie or not to Obie

Obie Oberholzer is much more than a brilliant photographer with a keen eye. He has a story to tell which he does in a beguiling manner combining in your face colour photographs with his characteristic accompanying "happy-sad" words. My first encounter with his work was reading his book " Ariesfontein to Zuurfontein" which our local Bethlehem library fortunately possessed. Then I heard him speak at the Johannesburg's Photographic Society's national conference in 2000. The first session was very happy and the second was a tad sad, almost a paradoxical parallel of his work. Ever since I have keenly sought his books and his latest work "Diesel and Dust" is another masterpiece even though he no longer scrawls his entertaining stories .http://obieoberholzer.net/

Mamiya RZ, 50mm, Kodak TMAX100, PMK

This Chevrolet Fleetmaster was photographed in 2007 on a trip to Namaqualand and was found on a deserted road between Niewoudtville and Calvinia. I was rather surprised when I saw the cover of Obie's new book on his website and thought that looked familiar. It was the same car and Obie has given it the respect it so rightfully deserves by not showing it's ugly side. Strangely a few years earlier an image of mine bore an uncanny resemblance to a photograph of Obie's  in his "Raconteur Road" book, Early Morning, Golden Gate National Park, Eastern Free State on page 77. Living in the area I had stumbled across this scene one afternoon with the burnt grass, green tree, ring of yellow grass and some storm clouds looming. With the help of a Cokin Yellow Blue Polariser and Velvia, the colours were enhanced however the fact that my photograph was similar in some respects to Obie's was hugely satisfying.

Nikon F90x, 24mm, Fuji Velvia, Cokin Yellow Blue Polariser

Mamiya RZ, 50mm 

Kolmanskop has been photographed by many and there are many beautiful images of the abandoned place out there. The old hospital with the first X-ray machine in the Southern Hemisphere had a eerie feel to it. Surfing through Obie's website I checked out his photograph taken down that long hospital corridor. I had something similar taken in 2002 however the colour, perspective and angle make them rather different. It is understandable that similarities will occur in images taken by different photographers in such places as Kolmanskop, Sossusvlei and other famous landmarks. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and with such a host of photographic websites including Flickr around it is inevitable that photographic plagiarism will exist.

 These random photographs of similar scenes remind me how differently each one sees things. Thankfully there is only one Obie Oberholzer and though it would be wrong to try and emulate his distinct photographic style we certainly could do with many more imitating his individualistic approach and his love for people and this crazy continent of Africa.

Friday, 16 December 2011


Liphofung Cave, Mamiya 7, 43mm, Fuji Acros, Perceptol
Liphofung Cave, Nikon D7000, 35mm, CS5 stitch

I have just finished developing two types of film one Fuji Acros and the other Kodak TMY2. In the interest of saving some time I ran them concurrently through two separate Jobo rotary processors. I have done this before and without too much drama. This time the two-timing caught me out as the one smaller Jobo tank sprung a leak (the lid wasn't on tight enough). Fortunately I noticed this with the Fuji Acros prewash and not with the developer. This unexpected mishap resulted in me not starting the TMY2's timer however with some guestimation both films turned out OK thankfully after some flustered moments.

This little two-timing incident just reminded me how the other day when out photographing the struggle I had to "think" B&W film and "think" digital colour simultaneously whilst exploring a scene. It can be done however for me personally it becomes a compromised situation with either the B&W film or the DSLR colour and most probably both mediums being adversely affected. I suppose shooting with a DSLR with the option of converting to B&W later is a novel way of circumventing this. Seeing/seeking photographs in black and white is obviously different from seeing in colour and jumping back and forth isn't conducive to my photography. Subconsciously I think there are many processes going on internally when photographing and much more than the usual conscious looking for lines, texture, foreground, focus point etc.

This double-minded approach also manifests itself when I carry two camera systems in the field. I still have an embarrassing recollection of the time I tried to climb the Brulsand dune in Witsand, Northern Cape (the "brul" name is Afrikaans for the roaring noise made by the texture of the fine sand when walked upon). When I started shooting B&W film in earnest I had my Lowepro backpack stuffed with a  Mamiya RZ kit with three lenses, many backs and a Linhof Technika IV with three lenses and many plates. The photography nearly didn't get off the ground as I struggled up the dune making little way uphill with a red face from exertion but more from the embarrassment from saving face from onlookers some dunes away. Once up on the dunes not only was I physically overloaded but the duplication in gear was cluttering my mind. Needless to say the photography was poor but the roaring noise from the Brulsand was epic!

Some people/photographers are undoubtedly better multi taskers and can pull it off. It is not something easy to analyse however a single minded approach will undoubtedly simplify the photographic process and invariably produce work of a higher calibre. Henri Cartier-Bresson supposedly  used mostly one camera with one lens, a 50mm which might partly explain the brilliance of his work.

Above are two photographs taken recently in Lesotho at Liphofung Cave. The one was taken on film, the other with a DSLR and converted to B&W. There wasn't much water flowing however to be honest neither photograph is particularly strong. Would a more concerted, single minded approach have yielded a better result? Probably, but all I know is that next time I'm there and the water's flowing  I will be using one camera primarily (and maybe a compact digital just to record the beautiful colours!)

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Have Rodinal, Will Travel

Rodinal Stash

Boxer, 6x7, Kodak TMY2 developed in Rodinal

Brandwag, 6x7, Kodak TMY2 developed in Rodinal
With the demise of Agfa our local photographic dealer who was a loyal Agfa supporter, ended up with a large order of Rodinal. The dealer kindly passed it on to me as I was probably the only person still developing B&W film in the area. Rodinal was the first developer I used and has always been a reliable choice with very few surprises. It's 120 year old formulation has quite literally stood the test of time. As it happens in the darkroom it's almost mandatory to experiment and find one's own special film/developer combination. These recipes had to be tweaked for scanning as dense, overdeveloped negs don't scan well.  Pyro PMK seemed to fit the bill and is currently my favourite developer.

 Having not developed any film for two months (my enthusiasm was curbed by my scanner being hospitalised and thankfully subsequently repaired), I had two rolls of Kodak TMY2 waiting. Only had an hour and after fumbling in the dark, dropping one roll (haven't done that in ages), I decided to go the quicker Rodinal route. TMY2 and Rodinal isn't known as a good combination however the subsequent scan of the boxer yielded a more than acceptable image without blown highlights and suprisingly pleasing grain. Another image from a TMY2 film developed in Rodinal of a local landscape landmark Brandwag (had TMY2 loaded in Mamiya 7 and unfortunately not a slower film) also provided for an excellent quality neg with very little of the notorious golf ball grain. I have tried Rodinal stand development however am not very scientific in making comparisons but not too much to fault with standard rotary development which takes less than fifteen minutes. Pyro PMK still remains my favourite however I think Rodinal deserves a second look.

I haven't done the maths but looking at the roughly 14 litres of Rodinal available it would take a considerable number of years of shooting film to deplete. Time to stock up on film and if only I had the good fortune of having had so many bricks of Agfa APX25 or even APX100! If there's any die hard film developers out there seeking a bottle of the good stuff, don't hesitate asking.