The Role of the Camera in Photography

I often wonder how I will know when a series of work has been completed and is ready for editing and printing. It is a hard thing to define because different 'projects' or 'series' last for different lengths of time; some get made over years while some projects can be shot in an afternoon. Spiro Miralis, a great friend of mine and the editor of most of my photographic projects, says that numerous factors can determine when a series nears or reaches completion. Among these is the choice of camera we use. This is where my thoughts are at the moment.

In the 13 or so years that I have been seriously interested in photography I have used quite a few different cameras, each with their own attributes and as well their own restrictions/failings. I find that when my love affair with a camera comes to an end, or merely a hiatus, the project that I have been working on with it may indeed draw to a close. Early on I started off doing street photography with a Nikon fm2 in Sydney, and not too long after I swapped to a Canon film SLR with a motor drive that allowed me to shoot much more quickly than with the Nikon. The Eos 1 was fun to use, and being young, it made me feel like a real photographer, but eventually I realised it was too big to use day-in, day-out on the street.

Madrid  2003 (gelatin silver print 12"x16") shot with my Nikon fm2.

Madrid 2003 (gelatin silver print 12"x16") shot with my Nikon fm2.

While travelling in Europe in 2003 I fell in love with a pocket Minox fold-up camera, a camera almost completely opposite to the bulky and fast Canon, and a year later in New York I bought a mint Yashica Electro 35 rangefinder for $30 at a flea market. I travelled across the States with this camera without testing whether it worked or not. At the time it felt so great to use, it was as if I didn’t even need film for photography to be exciting, the act of using this camera alone was enough, it was fun. The feel of this camera was wonderful and with it's sharp split screen focus and f1.7, 38mm lens, it was the perfect camera for photos made in the spirit of daily life. The pictures in my recent book Dog Food & Oysters were made with this camera and the prints are a testament to the quality of the fixed lens it had. That camera got bashed around a bit and eventually ended up being retired after a few too many knocks and falls.

Los Angeles  2004  (12"x16" gelatin silver print)  shot with a Yashica Electro 35.

Los Angeles 2004 (12"x16" gelatin silver print)  shot with a Yashica Electro 35.

I fell under the Leica spell in 2005 and bought a second hand M4-P with a 35mm, f2 lens. This camera was great to use in Papua New Guinea because it was completely mechanical and didn’t have a battery, so it could be used in heavy rain (which in the wet seasons is plentiful). Using the same film, I became accustomed to ‘guesstimating’ exposures in different scenarios with good results. I used this camera for a few years but I eventually felt as if the pictures I was making with it had too much of a Leica look about them. Using a Leica comes (for me) with a mountain of awareness of photographic history and that seemed to weigh on my work methods and results.

In 2006 I bought another second hand camera, a Mamiya 7ii medium format, 6x7cm rangefinder. At first I found it hard to use this camera, and it took me close to a year to feel completely comfortable with it. When I moved to medium format, my style of photography changed and I became more objective in my composition. My framing also became wider and more all encompassing. I have until recently been using this camera as my main camera here in Australia and in PNG.

Edit of work made in PNG with Mamiya 7ii (2008-13).

Edit of work made in PNG with Mamiya 7ii (2008-13).

I recently lent my Mamiya to a friend, as I feel I have done my time with this camera for the foreseeable future. I love the Mamiya but using it, I started to feel like I was repeating myself. And with the choice made to stop using it, I feel it brings to an end a few projects that I have been working on over the years. I am now using a Fuji GA645i, a medium format 6x4.5cm, autofocus ‘point and shoot’ camera that has a built-in pop-up flash.  I recently made my first portrait in my studio with this camera, something I am keen to do more of. I have also been making photos with it around my hometown of Canberra. This camera feels a bit more intimate than the 6x7, and that appeals to me at the moment.

As I get excited about a new way of seeing the world photographically (the Fuji has a vertical frame, so when used normally the camera produces vertical negatives) I feel as if the end of 2013 closes off a few bodies of work that have sustained my attention for a number of years. I have been thinking about consolidating my work in 2014, to edit and do some printing, perhaps even make a small book or two. As we dive into the New Year I find myself unconsciously already on this path.

Dickson  (2014) (scan) One of my first images with my new FujiGA645i.

Dickson (2014) (scan) One of my first images with my new FujiGA645i.

My colour series Limousines & Hearses (Part Two) is in final stages of editing, and Part Three has already been shot. My 6x7cm work from PNG is in the editing stage, and I would like to make a book of this work sometime in the near future. For the last few years I have been shooting black and white photographs near my parents’ home in Canberra, this has been a meditative and therapeutic experience as much as a photographic one. These are some of the series’ that I am aiming to give attention to in 2014.

Edit (selection) of  Limousines & Hearses (Part Two)   shot with Mamiya 7ii.

Edit (selection) of Limousines & Hearses (Part Two)  shot with Mamiya 7ii.

I am content when not photographing, but it is somewhat of a compulsion, perhaps an addiction, that gnaws away at me often. There is something very special about looking at the world, feeling what is around us and then making photographs with it all. With the new Fuji 645 and a studio space to explore, we'll see what happens in 2014. I hope the year is good for you!