The Photograph Considered number fifteen – Mat Hughes

The Photograph Considered number fifteen – Mat Hughes

Angel’s Wing 2018. Silver gelatin print.

I found this chunk of timber whilst on a recent Friends of Photography Group field trip to Mount Alexander in Central Victoria. It was something about the solid silvery timber and deep cracks that made me put it in the car with the vague idea of photographing it.

As a stay-at-home Dad, a lot of my time is spent in the kitchen. Fortunately for me, our kitchen has the advantage of a glass section in the ceiling which on overcast days provides soft top light. With a couple of reflectors, the counter top studio is good to go!

I’m always picking stuff up, leaves, stones, shells, all the usual things, and sometimes I make photographs with them. Having a young child in tow has changed my photographic practice and I now find myself in effect, bringing the landscape home to me.

The image exposure for Angel’s Wing was in itself very straight forward. I used a 4 x 5 Burke & James view camera with a 180mm standard lens. Nowadays, I mostly use a 400-speed black and white film (rated at 200) for my work.

My main considerations for the exposure was for; a full frame composition that included good surface detail and contrast. After a break of more than 30 years, it’s only recently that I’ve started using 4 x 5 view cameras again. I’m just loving the aspect ratio. I can see why over the years I’ve felt compelled to crop my work that’s been exposed and composed in the 3:2 ratio!

Anyway, I spent a lot of time composing this shot ‘in camera’ as I knew that I wanted the final print to be a full frame contact print. There’s a fine line between simple (but boring) compositions and trying to achieve a harmonious natural balance. The negative was developed in Adox Adonal (1:50, 13min).

The digital scanner I use only scans up to the 6x6cm film size so for a quick digital reference I either chop two scan halves together or if I’m really lazy I will simply do a reflective scan, shock, horror!  I find that the digital references help clarify the printing direction before I even head into the darkroom.

I have always been drawn to the tactile qualities of various (non-photographic) Print Making disciplines in art as well as the gloriously perfect, imperfections in early turn of the century photography, so I guess it’s really no surprise that I kept going back to the cheesy reflective digital scan and its soft, tone compressed appeal.

My course of action was pretty much mapped out. I needed to make a digital negative and use it to contact print in the darkroom.

The cheesy digital scan was printed at home on an office printer as a ‘digital negative’ on a transparent A4 medium from a PDF file. I had already incorporated some dodging and burning into the file so other than fine tuning contrast and exposure, there was little to do.

In the darkroom I selected a heavy weight 300gsm fibre-based paper, warm tone developer and offset the framing to compliment the image aesthetic.

Why shoot large format when you’re going to obliterate all that detail! In this instance, there needed to be some decent detail to obliterate and still be left with something reasonable to print!

I also believe that irrespective, the experience of working with a large format view camera is a meditation in observation all be it at a slower pace, and I like that.

I’m happy with the final framed print. The chunk of timber has a soft glow that directs the viewers gaze upwards and reminds me of marble statues in churches. The image is dark, almost foreboding but offers hope. Like a monolith or an iceberg, it is difficult to establish any real sense of scale.

Any sign of cheese has long since gone, melted away by the alchemy of the darkroom and a good fix!

Mat Hughes with 4×5 camera Mount Alexander Regional Park. Victoria

Mat Hughes was born in Libya and grew up in the UK.

In the early eighties he studied Photography at the Plymouth College of Art & Design before moving to London and working as a commercial freelance photographic assistant.

In 2009 he moved to Melbourne with his Australian born wife. With the birth of his daughter in 2012, Mat became a full time stay at home Dad. Between juggling the demands of home life, he has continued to pursue his photographic craft.

There is a strong compositional aesthetic flowing through his work which evokes a sense of calm and balance. Mat Hughes’ work references classic theme`s such as strength, resilience, fragility & memory and we are reminded that beauty and mystery is there to be found, often away from the granular sharpness of today`s images, if we only take the time to look for it.

An exhibition of Mat Hughes work will be shown at the Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park, Melbourne in December.

More of Mat’s work can be seen on his website.

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