Printing my own 35mm B&W film in the darkroom on…
Red Brick Wall. Launceston
My history with photography began as an apprentice in a traditional portrait studio in Salzburg, Austria. By ‘traditional’ I mean that we mixed our own chemistry from scratch and hand-processed film for every job. We also did press photography for local newspapers, which we printed on 5×7 black & white gloss Agfa paper that were personally delivered to the editors to choose from. I spent hours in the darkroom reproducing old photographs with a Leitz Enlarger making 6×9 negatives that then where reprinted and restored by painstakingly retouching with pencil or brushes. The handling of film, chemistry and paper, the magical process of developing photographs, or restoring old family photos, taught me to interpret the elements in the photographs that would tell the story. They also taught me about our relationship to photographs. Photographs, old and new, are artifacts of that which once existed, framed by the people of their times and places. They can be read, interpreted, and change meaning in time and place.
I worked for 20 years in commercial photography before I actually started to create my own body of work. This was in 2000, when I had just moved from the Gold Coast to Melbourne and began photographing the city. Cities are like jungles to be discovered by their ever-changing cultural landscape. They are layered with symbols of ideas and ideals of times past and present everywhere. Old and new bill boards, brick walls, footpaths, street sights, shop windows, parks, bus stations, factories, alley ways and houses making up the very structure of a place. They tell us about its history and the people who live in it. I enjoy deciphering this cultural landscape, piecing together the meanings of the different signifying elements that eventually make up a picture.
I am using large and medium format cameras to slow me down, inspired by photographers such as Albert Renger-Patzsch, Joseph Sudek, David Plowden, Charles Sheeler and Minor White. At the beginning I mainly worked in black & white on 6×6 or 4×5 format. I used a compensating developer based on a pyro staining formula, for the tonal range, acutance, and silvery mid tones. These days I also use 4×5 colour negatives. I develop them mostly in my own darkroom using a Jobo ATL 1 processor.I use the large format to slow down the process of taking a picture. I walk around, my 4×5 on a trolley or on my back. I don’t walk far. I usually choose an area that I’m interested in and walk not more that a block. Looking is the main exercise until I see something that I’m interested in. This can be triggered by color, form, or a combination of symbols. These images are not snap shots of a place; time is inherently visible in a pictures. Taking the time to look until I see, is a practice. It disciplines me to look beyond the surface that often jumps into one’s face. It is a contemplating exercise and a constant questioning of what it is that I see.
This picture was taken in Launceston: It is a lazy city, I was told. I think what they meant was, that it is slow. Slow cities are good for slow photography. I park my car and walk around the block without a camera a couple of times. When I come back I reflect what intrigued me. This is when I pack my camera and go back. I noticed this intersection in Launceston years ago. Somehow it shows the slowness of this city. Things don’t change quickly around here. I stand on the corner of that intersection for a couple of hours, observing, measuring light that in Tasmania changes by the minute. I am drawn to the light that hits the red brick. The shadows of the typical Australian wooden power pole appearing on those red sunlit brick walls, broken windows, the wall full of significations, metaphors of a better time in the past, but still standing tall as a building that belong to the very structure of this city. Taking the time to expose means to give it that what it deserves, namely time. This corner had something I recognize as part of an Australian urban scene. I don’t need people in it. The architecture of the structure and its symbols around it tell the stories of the people.
Ilona Schneider with 4×5 camera.
Ilona Schneider trained as a Photographer in Austria. She has been working as photographer throughout Europe and Australia. Since moving to Tasmania, Ilona developed a special interest in the man-altered landscape through industry and human dwelling. She has exhibited in Tasmania and interstate. Ilona’s last major solo exhibition ‘LANDMARKS’ was showing last year at the Queen Victorian Museum and Art Gallery between May and October 2018.