Context This film was tested in the field rather than…
Main photograph above: Shane Booth with 8×10 camera, The Crags, Port Fairy, by Ian Raabe.
A group selfie, FoPG style!
The mention of a group selfie typically conjures up the idea of a smartphone held out at arm’s length, with the resulting self-portrait posted instantly on social media. Often haphazardly framed and somewhat blurry, these images are boosted by a sense of seeming spontaneity (real or not) and offer a tantalising glimpse of life behind-the-scenes. Given its association with current technology, immediacy and the modern lifestyle, how does a resolutely non-digital photography collective make a group selfie? To answer this question, I present to you a group selfie of the Friends of Photography Group (FoPG), made during our Port Fairy weekend excursion in March 2018.
First things first, clearly nobody in this image is physically holding the camera that made the photo, so how is this technically a group selfie? The clue is in the very front row. Can you see someone with both hands on their left knee? If you look carefully, you can just make out that they are actually squeezing an air shutter bulb, which is connected to a super long pneumatic cable release that mechanically triggers the shutter of a wooden 4×5 field camera. (The cable disappears into the dark grassy foreground, but it’s there!)
Spontaneity? Yes! Notice how the lighting is considerably brighter in the middle and doesn’t quite cover the people in the scene? Here’s the story behind that… FoPG group portraits (not necessarily group selfies) are a fairly regular fixture of our excursions, helping us to build a rich visual record of our activities over time. But exactly when this moment occurs during proceedings is fairly organic, and in Port Fairy, the opportunity for the portrait only emerged in the evening when it was dark. How could we light it, when all our lighting kits were safely back home in Melbourne? What resources did we have to hand that would be bright enough to have any effect? Our solution was… car headlights. We lined up two 4WDs pragmatically pointing their headlights towards the centre of the group, measured the light produced and we were in business. The result is a bit random, but captures the essence of the moment.
And finally, what does this group selfie reveal, in a behind-the-scenes way, about FoPG? A quick head count of this image adds up to 21 people who all look happy and relaxed in each other’s presence. This is testament to a group that has been regularly gathering together and steadily growing in number since its formation in 2015. Collectively, with different combinations of members from activity to activity, we have shared our photographic knowledge, offered constructive feedback, eaten meals, camped and publicly exhibited our photographic output. And in doing so, we have created a supportive environment which encourages participants to experiment with different equipment and new techniques.
Matt Ross at Griffiths Island Lighthouse.
Our weekend in Port Fairy is an example of how this works. After settling into my accommodation early Friday afternoon, I set out to meet with the group at the lighthouse on Griffiths Island. After a short walk through the low-lying scrub of the island, the vista suddenly opened up onto a bright white lighthouse set against a blue sky streaked with cloud. Scattered around this classic scene was an array of different film cameras, either attached to tripods or handheld by their human companions. Pinholes, monorails, medium format, large format, panoramic… if ever you wanted to experience such cameras in action, here was the ideal weekend. The beautiful autumn afternoon extended into a surprisingly warm evening, and the group enjoyed an outdoor dinner at a local pizza place, where some of us were brave enough to order the unlikely sounding, but delicious, desert pizza. The next day dawned with promise. With all the photographic possibilities in Port Fairy and surrounding areas, the group spread out across the region and it was fun to bump into the others at various spots throughout the day, comparing notes about interesting locations we had found (and how to get there) or where we were going next. From The Crags, to the Giant Yambuk Slide, the East Beach groynes, Tower Hill Reserve, and the town of Port Fairy itself, the day passed behind the camera too quickly and it was soon time for the group dinner. This was followed by one of FoPG’s core events, a print-viewing – just as the equipment we use in the field is incredibly diverse, so too is our output. Subject matter, paper type, printing technique – all these variables and more were on show as images were carefully unveiled by their makers for discussion and feedback from the group. Sunday arrived with alarming speed, and after a morning coffee with the team, it was time for me to return to Melbourne, with a pocketful of exposed film rolls and refreshed inspiration.
So with a dash of poetic license, this FoPG portrait has the hallmarks of a true group selfie – it was taken by someone in the photo, has a sense of spontaneity, and reveals something of the nature of the group. And, after the film was processed chemically in a darkroom, the group selfie was of course posted on social media!
Group portrait by Marc Morel. Photographs of the photographers by David Tatnall.
Christine Scott-Young at The Crags.
Peter de Graaff and Melody Perrin at The Crags.
Lloyd Shield at Moyne River.
Ian Raabe at Moyne River.
Print Viewing at Pelican Waters Cabin Park.
Christine Scott-Young’s reports of previous FoPG trips can be see here.