Black Mountain Tree. Silver gelatin print. This is a photograph…
Self-Portrait with Augie and Squid-head. Inkjet print.
When I became a mother six years ago, my photography practice underwent an inevitable shift. I gave up on the darkroom with all its chemicals and poisonous fumes, but I didn’t want to abandon my large format camera or the mystery and unpredictability of the analogue process. These qualities are what have always drawn me to photography and have been the central pillar of my image-making since I was 17 and first made a negative with an 8×10 camera (a shameless imitation of Edward Weston’s gorgeous red pepper).
I came up with a kind of lo-fi ersatz darkroom one day while the kids were napping. I was itching to make something in the short time I had to myself while they slept, so I taped an 8×10 negative to the window looking out into my back garden and shot a digital image of it with my DSLR. Then I inverted it in Lightroom and discovered that the back garden, visible through the negative and the window, added another layer of information to the image. A new composite was revealed. The magenta cast created by the green leaves reminded me of the old-fashioned look of printing-out paper, minus the unwanted side-effect of POP’s gradual disappearance over time. I’m surely not the first person to invent this go-around, but I felt elated that I’d solved the problem of nap-time photography and found new inspiration from a seemingly limiting situation. I made a series of about 20 images this way, of my own family and friends’ families in our gardens.
This particular image was shot on five-years-expired FP4+ with my battered Tachihara 8×10 field camera. I used an antique uncoated 12 inch Schneider lens that I seem to choose the most out of my three lenses. I like how a longer lens takes the person I’m shooting out of context: it feels a little like looking through a keyhole. The camera was standing in a corner of our kitchen under the dark-cloth, and every now and then I would set up a self-portrait or quickly make an image of a moment in our lives somewhere between the endless food prep, nappy changes and domestic chores that was the chaos of our early family life.
We had this latex squid-head that had been custom-made for a theatrical performance I had been involved in, and it had been co-opted into the childrens’ play and was lying around the house looking slightly macabre. I was inspired to make an image using the squid that would reference the trope of wild animal mothers nurturing human babies, like Romulus and Remus with their wolf-mother or Nanaue the son of the shark king in Hawaiian myth. I set up the camera in the garden just as the sun was going down, and used the plant at the right of the photo as a stand-in for focusing. I estimated the light reading at f6.3 at a ½ second, which is usually the reading I get for the quality of light that makes me jump up and grab the camera, and loaded the film holder in the back. My mother was visiting from New York and she put six-month old Augie in my arms, and then pressed the shutter.
It’s remarkable how children will often tune in to the quality of the moment when the shutter clicks, the almost ceremonial gravitas of the large format process, and suddenly hold still for the ½ second required for the exposure. This image is by no means pin-sharp, and the negative has scratches from my cramped dark-bag and even a mysterious hole in it. But when I’m planning to use the window process anyway, the usual concerns aren’t as important. Especially when I’m shooting children doing something they will never repeat, I enjoy the delightful feeling of overriding my traditional photographic education and winging the exposure, or pressing the shutter anyway even though the camera moved when I loaded the film-holder, or using old expired film that might not even work. I never want to give up the seductive ritual of the 8×10, so I have to adapt my approach to honour the tempo and fluidity of being around children. I love how they respond to the “big camera” and I love how being around it seems to heighten their sense of theatricality and play, and indeed, mine. I would never undress and don a rubber squid head for a DSLR.
The final outcome of this image is an A2-sized ink-jet print on matte rag photo paper, which I printed on an Epson 3880 printer in my home studio.
Daisy Noyes with 8×10 camera
Daisy Noyes has been using an 8×10 view camera to make images of people in relationship to their environments for twenty years. She is originally from New York, where both her parents used large-format cameras and introduced her early in life to the delights of the darkroom. Daisy studied visual arts at the Aegean Centre for the Fine Arts in Paros, Greece, and photography at Sarah Lawrence College with Joel Sternfeld, and then relocated to Australia in 2005. She holds a BA (Hons Class I) in Theatre and Performance from the University of New South Wales and has also worked for a decade in the world of theatre. The cross-sections of theatre and photography have always been a major interest and a theme in her images, as have seasonality, families, and the problematics of humans and nature. She lives in Melbourne with her partner Daniel and their two children, and uses both analogue and digital processes to shoot portraits, families, performance projects and her own work. You can view her portfolio at www.daisynoyes.com