My use of Large Format Portraits started during my years as a fashion photographer. Bringing the camera along afforded me the oppurtunity to use it to document the models. As this was a costly side-hobbby I soon switched to using papernegatives.
Paper Negatives have a series of problems associated with it. It first and biggest issue is the fact that it has a very low light sensitivity of ISO 5. That means I could usually not use my current light set up as used for the digital fashion images and I started working with long exposure and natural light.
The different paper can also make a massive difference. Due to the fact that I have a home darkroom I can develop all the images myself. Direct Positive paper like the image above give a completely different feel than those made using normal photographic paper.
The increase in grain can have beautiful effect but it can cause problems in very low light and I have found that it was safer to use Direct Positive paper on an ISO of 3. Further complications occur as normal photographic paper and direct positive paper react slightly different blues and deep reds.
Being in a few group exhibitions with artists led me to the progression of using my large format methods to capture portraits of said artists. The idea is always that I go to the home studio of the artist and capture them in studio. This has led me to the studios of sculptors, painters and land-artists in the last few years
This leads to interesting excursions as the studio can change from one artist to the next. Some artists work in massive studios with interns running around everywhere, with lots of natural light. With my camera set-up taking a while the artist usually relaxes in front of the camera. I am not a believer in the Avedon principle of making the portrait a tortuous session but I also do not take happy snaps and try to portray the artist as themselves and not the person they claim to.
Most artists work in cramped little studios where the light is usually single-directional with no real space for my camera. Using an ISO of 5 means that any small movements can lead to large movement blurs. I use this in some of the images to portray the artist in action.
I approach these photos with an open attitude. I usually try to take the artist with some of their work in the background as it gives you a bit of background and some more points of interest. The large format camera also forces me take things slower. It is a slow process to set up the camera and is usually accompanied by a host of questions from the subject about the camera. What the camera therefore does is break the ice.
Sometimes the artist studios can not be used. Pictured above is land artist Strijdom van der Merwe. For a land artist the studio would have been the complete wrong place to shoot. This leads me to sometimes take some of the images outside which also has a lot of challenges.
Dept in background can be an issue and sometimes you end up with busy or noisy backgrounds. Switching locations like this offers me the oppurtunity to bring something different to every image in an attempt to tell something that represents the artist in that moment, even if it is just a fraction of a second.
Paper negatives also have interesting effects on them as the exposure times gives strange artifacts on the paper. Its inherent sensitivity to blue and insensitivity to red can also make images complicated. Light blue eyes as seen in sculptor Adriaan Diedericks, come out white while anything red will come out as black. This leads to more forethought when it comes to lighting and colour used.
Artist Marie Rabie