Photography in the seaside town of Deal, Kent is one of my favourite locations anywhere. It one of the most picturesque and enjoyable places on the British coast to visit and was raised there and get back to visit as often as I can. My post on the many pleasures of Deal describes some of the best ways to enjoy the town. It’s an ancient place with a rich history. You can read more about that in my article on Deal history and its companion post on Deal’s famous visitors and residents. The most obvious start to Deal photography is at the beach. There are still several working boats to shoot on the shingle beach together with winding gear and plenty of lobster pots. I have put together a gallery of boat shots, all taken on film – you can view them at my boats of Deal, Kent gallery.
Deal Photography Opportunity #2 – The Pier
One of just eight piers in the Southeast and 60 surviving nationally, the current pier is the third sited at Deal, Kent. The history of the piers makes for interesting reading in this article by local historian Gregory Hollyoak. Built from reinforced concrete, the current 1026 feet pier was opened in 1957 by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The pier provides excellent views of the seafront, and photographers are often able to take advantage of the amazing cloud formations that gather over the town, which is one of the highlights of Deal photography. Visitors to the pier are welcomed at the entrance by a 3 metre high bronze statue, ‘Embracing the Sea’, by sculptor John Buck, which is also very photogenic. The pier is popular with anglers and has benches lining its entire length as well as a number of shelters. Catches include mackerel, garfish, mullet, pollack and sole in summer with whiting and codling in winter.
Deal Photography Opportunity #3 – The Conservation Area
The town developed a mile or so inland from the coast, in an area now known as Upper Deal, where the ancient Parish church of St. Leonard’s stands with its distinctive cupola. In the seventeenth century development shifted closer to the beach in Lower Deal along the three streets that run parallel to the shore – Beach, Middle Street and Lower Street (now the High Street). Middle Street is now the heart of the picturesque conservation area (the first in Kent) with numerous narrow streets and alleys. Deal was a smuggling town and the alleys were ideal for taking contraband from boats on the beach into the town.
At one time these narrow streets also contained a very large number of pubs. At its peak in 1871 the town had 79 Public Houses and 16 Beer Houses for a population of around 8,000 people! See the post The Pubs of Old Deal for more on this subject. There are still a good number of great pubs to visit in the old part of the town, my favourites being The Ship Inn, which takes a good photography, and The Deal Hoy.
Deal Photography Opportunity #4 – The Seafront and Promenade
The area near the popular Kings Head pub is particularly attractive with plenty of bench seating shared with the nearby Port Arms. The pub and the guest house next door is decorated with flowers and bunting in the summer and it really is a great place to sit and relax. The seafront promenade extends from Sandown to Kingsdown and provides a wonderful walk with photographic opportunities provided by the boats, beach houses and the pier.
Deal Photography Opportunity #5- The Timeball Tower
The town also used to be a port, providing for the ships anchored in the sheltered anchorage known as the Downs and has one of only seven surviving timeballs in the UK. The Timeball Tower is four-storeys high and stands at where the entrance of the old Naval Yard used to be. The tower, with a huge anchor in the foreground, makes for an interesting subject.
Deal, Kent Photography Opportunity #6 – The Castles
By the time of Henry VIII the importance of the Downs made the coastline worthy of protection. Two of the original three castles built at that time survive. The artillery fortress at Deal, Kent (constructed 1539–40) is squat and functional. Another is close by at Walmer but this has evolved into an elegant stately home where the Duke of Wellington stayed in his role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports until his death at the age of 83 in 1852. A third castle at nearby Sandown was lost to the sea and is now little more than a rockery, though the area is still worth a visit.
Opportunity #7 – Out and About in South East Kent
Whilst photography in Deal, Kent provides plenty of photographic opportunities, the town is also a great base for photographers to explore the rest of South East Kent. Folkestone, Margate, Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Canterbury are all within easy reach. Further afield, Whitstable and Dungeoness beckon. I often visit these destinations when I stay in Deal, but the town itself remains my favourite place anywhere.
Opportunity #8, Deal Around the World
Photography in Deal, Kent is not the only photographic option in a place with that name – there are a few other Deals and Deal Islands around the world. I haven’t visited any of them, though I have unknowingly been very close to another seaside Deal in New Jersey, USA many times. For some years I worked for a software company based in Monmouth County, New Jersey and I often visited the seaside at Long Branch, which is the next town on the coast and only about 5 miles from the other Deal. If only I had known about it at the time! You can read more about the other places called Deal here.
The Nikon F6 was announced at Photokina 2004, along with the digital Nikon D2X. As Thom Hogan observed at the time, the launch of a new pro SLR surprised a few people, but it really shouldn’t have; Nikon delivered the F6 eight years after the F5, which was the standard interval between pro film bodies at that time.
The Digital Landscape
Perhaps what caught those people out was how far digital photography had already come by 2004. The world’s first digital SLR, The Kodak Professional Digital Camera System, had been introduced 13 years previously in 1991. It was based on the Nikon F3. The LCD screens on the back of digital cameras we take for granted arrived in 1995. By 1999, five years before the F6 appeared, the first fully integrated digital SLR designed from the ground up, The Nikon D1, had been launched. In 2002 Contax shipped the first full-frame DSLR, which was followed by Canon’s popular version, the EOS-1Ds. In the same year the Minolta Dimage A1 became the first digital camera to stabilise images by shifting the sensor. Digital photography was not new in 2004.
Roll forward to another trade show – CES 2017 and the president of Fujifilm’s North American imaging division provided a clue as to why Nikon launched the F6 in 2004. “The film market peaked in 2003 with 960 million rolls of film” he said. Film sales were already in decline by 2004 but post-peak demand was still impressive.
According to the same source, by 2017 film sales had dropped to a low point of 2% of that peak before rebounding. Happily, film sales have been growing modestly since then, with film specialists like Analogue Wonderland now selling over 200 types of film stocks.
Evolution of the Nikon F Mount Pro SLRs
As its name suggests, the F6 is the sixth of Nikon’s F mount pro bodies. The “F” came from the F in reflex. The F6 evolved from the legendary Nikon F, introduced in 1959. The F had a huge impact on the camera market, introducing the era of the professional SLR at the expense of Leica and Zeiss rangefinders. It was not the first SLR, but is often thought to be as it brought the innovations and features of earlier models into a single body.
The Nikon F evolved from Nikon’s rangefinder cameras, the first of which was introduced in 1947. The SP and S3 rangefinders required the addition of an optional reflex housing for telephoto lenses with focal lengths of 135mm or greater. Hence the need for an SLR camera, and the Nikon F was born.
In the original prototype Nikon F cameras, only the mirror box, pentaprism, and bayonet mount were new. The rest of the camera was virtually identical to the SP/S3 rangefinder.
Strong industrial design has always been a feature of Nikon’s pro SLRs – the lead designer of the Nikon F was Yusaku Kamekura, a leading figure in post-World War II Japanese graphic design, whose work included the 1967 Summer Olympics logo.
At its launch, the Nikon F introduced a comprehensive professional system. This provided a choice of lenses and accessories far beyond what had been available previously with rangefinders. By 1962 Nikon’s lens range extended from 21 mm to 1000 mm, and the F-mount would go on to support one of the largest collection of optical lenses ever created.
Mechanical Perfection – the F2
The Nikon F2 continued what the F had started, becoming standard issue for professional photographers for the most of the 1970s. It is still widely considered to be one the greatest 35mm mechanical SLRs of all time. In addition, the F2 also offered a choice of 10 viewfinders throughout its product cycle to suit every possible imaginable photographic situation. This unique modular approach continued until the introduction of the F6.
The Electronic Fs
Nikon introduced the F3 in 1980 as their flagship electronically controlled SLR camera. Giorgetto Giugiaro, a renowned Italian automotive and industrial designer, who has designed more great cars than just about anybody, designed the exterior. It was Guigiaro who introduced the grip and the red accent that would become a feature of the range. Professional photographers didn’t trust the F3’s electronics initially but time proved the F3 to be reliable. With pro adoption Nikon were able to cease production of the F2.
With the F4, introduced in 1988, Nikon brought multi-pattern metering, a high-speed shutter, faster flash sync, and automatic focusing in a camera which had been designed from scratch. Just as with the original F, Nikon did not pioneer the new features, they would be the first to gather them all in a single camera body.
The tank-like F5 of 1996 offered a a more sophisticated matrix metering system, faster autofocus with better sensor frame coverage, higher continuous shooting capability and exposure bracketing. It was the biggest and heaviest of the range (including the F6), weighing in at a hefty 1,445g including its 8 AA batteries.
Enter the Dragon
In 2004 the range culminated in the F6, which remained in production until late 2020. Giugiaro was once again responsible for styling the F6, as he had done for all the Nikon F bodies since the F3, and it closely resembles the Nikon D2 DSLR. An F6 review in Casual Photophile gushes at the F6’s awesome specs in a way that resonates with a fellow camera geek.
The F6’s spec sheet promises everything any shooter could want, including a 1/8000th of a second maximum shutter speed, a 1/250th of a second flash syncspeed, Nikon’s incredible color matrix metering along with spot and classic center-weighted metering, full PASM mode selection, i-TTL wireless flash metering, 100% viewfinder coverage, built-in 5.5 FPS motor drive (8 FPS with the added MB-40 battery pack), 41 slots of custom settings, compatibility with all Nikon AF lenses including full VR capability, backwards compatibility with every Nikon AI lens (extendable to non-AI with a factory modification from Nikon), CF card data storage, AF tracking, and a thousand more functions that’ll somehow justify this ridiculous run-on sentence.
Should I buy a Nikon F6?
Like many photographers, I thought long and hard about whether I should buy an F6. An F6 is not an inconsiderable purchase, especially compared to the F100 I already owned, which was giving me excellent results at a fraction of the cost of Nikon’s last flagship film camera. The F6 is also larger and heavier at 975g vs. 785g without batteries.
In the end I found plenty of reasons to buy an F6:
The autofocus is faster and the matrix meter superior to the F100’s
It is very rugged, featuring magnesium alloy construction, weather-proofing, a pro film transport and a Kevlar shutter rated to 150,000 releases.
The long production run should mean the camera is highly serviceable long into the future
It has a built-in data facility to display and store camera settings without a bulky data back. These settings can be also printed between frames on negatives which is really handy when you are trying to work out why a particular shot did or did not expose correctly.
Unlike the F5, the Nikon F6 supports matrix metering in “A” and “M” mode with Nikon Ai and AiS manual focus lenses. This means it works with almost any Nikon F-mount lens made since 1977.
The F6 is compatible with the latest generation of Nikon flashes and supports Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.
The F6 accepts a wide range of batteries. The body will take CR123A or DL123A cells, whilst the optional MB-40 accepts AAs or a rechargeable EN-EL4.
It’s Nikon’s last and most advanced autofocus film camera
The F6 in Action
I bought my F6 at Grey’s of Westminster, largely because of their after sales service. Once I had been using the camera for a little while, mostly shooting in Deal, Kent, I found a few more advantages over the F100, a camera I really enjoy using.
Straight out of the box the F6 has that top-of-the-range look and feel. Its smoother command dial operation and the embossed logos were immediately apparent. When setting up the F6 up I found the custom settings menu to be far easier and less cryptic than the F100’s codes. The F6 makes use of the rear LCD panel to use words rather than just numbers.
As I started shooting I found the grip felt better in my hand, whilst the AF-on button is angled up on the F6 to a position I find to be perfect for back-button focusing. Ergonomically, the F6 is close to perfect. I also discovered that I preferred how the F6 displays exposure compensation, which I use frequently.
It really is a great film cameras and a joy to use. I’ve read some gripes about the autofocus sensor coverage being too small. The F6 uses the same autofocus module as the D2X APS-C DSLR, so the autofocus sensors cover a smaller area of the frame, but that has never troubled me. Some also decry the discontinuation of removable finders, but replaceable viewfinders make the camera more difficult to weather proof effectively so that decision makes perfect sense to me.
The End of the Line for the F6…
In July 2020 Nikon issued a recall of all F6s manufactured and/or sold after July 22, 2019. The recall was due to some components containing levels of a plasticiser called dibutyl phthalate which potentially exceeded the value specified in an EU regulation. The F6’s demise looked imminent and so it proved. It was was discontinued in October 2020 and an era ended.
I’ve shot with the many Nikon cameras, including the F2, F3, FM3a, 28ti, D40X, D300, D600, D800, Df and Z7, and the F6 is my favourite autofocus Nikon. For manual focus I’d go with another engineering marvel, the FM3a.
For those interested, selected F6 specs are below, together with links to the full Nikon specs and original brochure.
Nikon F6 Specifications
Shutter: Electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter with built-in Shutter Monitor, 1/30 to 1/8,000s; Bulb in M mode
Viewfinder frame coverage: Approx. 100%
Finder magnification: Approx. 0.74x with 50 mm lens set to infinity at -1.0m-1
Focusing screen: B-type BriteView Clear Matte Screen II, interchangeable with six other optional focusing screens
Exposure control: Programmed Auto with Flexible Program, Shutter-Priority Auto, Aperture-Priority Auto, Manual
Exposure compensation: With exposure compensation button; ±5 EV range, in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 steps
Auto Exposure Lock: with AE/AF-L button
Autofocus: TTL phase detection, Nikon Multi-CAM2000 autofocus module, approx. EV –1 to EV 19 (ISO 100)
Focus modes: Single Servo AF and Continuous Servo AF, and Manual
Focus tracking: Automatically activated in Single Servo AF or Continuous Servo AF
AF Area Modes: Single Area AF, Dynamic AF, Group Dynamic AF or Dynamic AF with Closest-Subject Priority selectable
Exposure metering: Three built-in exposure meters — 3D Color Matrix, Center-Weighted and Spot
Auto Exposure Bracketing: Number of shots: 2-7; compensation steps: 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 EV steps
Automatic film loading: automatic or manual film rewind
Film speed setting: DX or Manual selectable (manual setting has priority over DX detected film speed); DX: ISO 25-5000, Manual: ISO 6-6400 in 1/3 steps
Flash control: TTL flash control by combined five-segment TTL Multi Sensor with single-component IC and 1,005-pixel RGB sensor; i-TTL Balanced Fill-Flash with SB-800/600; Film speed range in TTL auto flash: ISO 25-1000
Power source: Two CR123A or DL123A batteries; The optional MB-40 accepts eight AA batteries or a Nikon EN-EL4
Dimensions: (W x H x D) 158 x 119 x 77.5mm (6.2 x 4.7 x 3.1 in.)
Weight: (body only without batteries) Approx. 975g (34.4 oz.)
You can find the Original Nikon spec sheethere and brochurehere
The Nikon FM3a is one of the most refined manual SLR’s ever made, and as a 21st century manual focus SLR, somewhat of a throwback. It was produced in 2001 when the shift to digital cameras was well underway. The model was the last of Nikon’s semi-professional line of compact 35 mm film SLRs and one of the brand’s last film cameras; only the autofocus F6 SLR of 2004 and Nikon’s limited edition rangefinder swan song, the SP of 2005, came later.
The D1X, an improved version of Nikons first DSLR, the D1, was already out by the time the FM3a was launched. The retro looking FM3a sat on shelves in camera shops around the world next to the hulking digital flagship and autofocus film cameras such as the F5 and F100. Increasing digital camera sales, low sales volume and the increasing costs of such a mechanically sophisticated unit put paid to the FM3A in January 2006. This left only the Nikon F6 and the Nikon FM10 in Nikon’s 35mm film SLR line.
Nikon built the FM3a for serious amateur photographers who wanted a a high quality camera with full manual control. Personally, I am grateful for that. It may be a camera out of time, but it is an outstanding piece of engineering: compact, handsome, precise, durable, reliable and a pleasure to shoot with.
Evolution of the FM/FE Series
The first model of the mechanical Nikon FM series, the FM was introduced in 1977. Along with the electronic FE of 1978, the FM replaced the mechanical Nikkormat FT series and electronic Nikon EL series. In 1983 Nikon introduced the mechanical FM2 with a honeycomb-pattern titanium curtain shutter that enabled a top shutter speed of 1/4000 sec and 1/200 sec for flash sync. This was a huge step forward compared to the FM’s 1/1000 sec. and 1/125 sec. The electronic Nikon FE2 followed later the same year.
Launch and Packaging
The Nikon FM3a was introduced in February 2001 at the PMA show in Orlando, Florida. Prior its introduction, Nikon customers had to choose between the mechanical FM model with manual exposure control or the electronic FE with aperture priority mode that wouldn’t work without batteries. After the FM3a became available photographers had the best of both worlds with a hybrid shutter that allows both electronically-controlled auto-exposure shooting and full manual control without the need for batteries.
The FM3a was available in black and chrome. For the chrome version there was a matching Nikkor 45 mm f/2.8P pancake lens which contained a CPU to enable it function with Nikon’s autofocus cameras. The FM3A could make use of a range of accessories such as the Nikon MD-12 motor drive, the MF-16 databack and the various TTL flashes.
What Makes the Nikon FM3a a Great Camera?
The Nikon FM3a is one of the most refined manual SLR’s ever made. Its compact size, large bright viewfinder, ergonomic controls, excellent analogue light meter display and accurate focusing split image focusing screen make it a pleasure to use. The absence of the normal SLR blackout on the FM3A is an added bonus.
An Engineering Marvel
Under the covers the Nikon FM3a has one of the most advanced SLR shutters ever built – a marvel of compact mechanical engineering. It is built to such a high standard that it can shoot at 1/4000 of a second without battery power, which makes fast shutter speeds much more attainable. This is a feat most other mechanical shutters just can’t match, topping out at 1/1000 or 1/2000 of a second.
Adding batteries powers the excellent analogue light meter, the electronically controlled shutter for aperture priority shooting, exposure lock, and DX film coding. They also enable the TTL flash exposure compensation for fill flash – the only manual-focus Nikon to have this feature.
It weighs in at 570g, only a little more than the king of compact SLRs – the Olympus OM-1 (510g). At 142.5 x 90 x 58 mm it also compares well against the OM-1’s diminutive 136 x 83 x 50 mm form factor.
I enjoy using the analogue light meter, which is easy to use and much preferable to LCD displays such as the one on my F3. The two needles, one matched to your settings and one to the light measured by the meter, are clear and easy to see. That analogue instrument is also far more durable than LEDs. When the inevitable electronics apocalypse claims many of my cameras the FM3a will just keep going…
Nikon FM3a Specifications
Shutter: Vertical-travel, metal focal-plane shutter: 8 to 8 to 1/4000 sec step-less aperture-priority auto. Bulb, 1 to 1/4000 sec manual with mechanical control (all settings available without batteries in manual).
Viewfinder frame Coverage: Approx. 93%
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.83x with 50-mm lens set to infinity
Focusing screen: K3 type (split prism-image microprism type, Clear Matte Screen IIa) standard, B3 type and E3 type optional
Viewfinder information: Shutter speed, exposure meter indication, shutter indication, direct aperture value, exposure compensation mark, ready light
Exposure Compensation: ±2 EV in units of 1/3 EV
Auto Exposure Lock: AE lock button
Self-timer: Mechanical, countdown time of approx. 4 to 10 seconds
TTL flash Compensation: Compensation to -1 EV activated with the TTL flash compensation button
Automatic DX film recognition
Film-check window On rear of camera
Power Source: One 3-V lithium battery (CR-1/3N type), two 1.55 V silver batteries (SR44 type), or two 1.5 V alkaline batteries (LR44 type)
Dimensions (W x H x D): Approx. 142.5 x 90 x 58 mm / 5.6 x 3.5 x 2.3 in.
(camera body only)
Weight: Approx. 570 g / 20.1 oz. (camera body only, including battery)
Future Proof Pleasure
The FM3a is an outstanding piece of engineering that will last long into the future. It is compact, handsome, precise, durable, reliable and a pleasure to shoot with. For me, along with the F, F2 and F6 it is one of Nikon’s greatest cameras. It has its fair share of entries on the greatest ever film cameras lists too – for good reason.
I came across the work of William Klein when browsing though photography books in a book shop. It didn’t take many turns of the pages for me to decide to buy the book and learn more about the man and his photography. I found his raw, ironic, high contrast and grainy street photography vibrant, often strange and compelling.
William Klein came to the notice of the world in the 1960s after he was talent spotted by the art director of Vogue who saw an exhibition of his early abstract work and offered him a job on the spot. Klein had studied painting in Paris but was untrained as a photographer and considered himself an an outsider – lacking any respect for the photographic technique he didn’t possess. In later years he ascribed this to a contrarian instinct: “Having little technical background, I became a photographer. Adopting a machine, I do my utmost to make it malfunction. For me, to make a photograph is to make an anti-photograph.”
Fashion photography is traditionally highly polished, and his untutored, highly dynamic and ironic approach was revolutionary. Vogue subsequently financed a street photography project in New York where Klein, encountering culture shock after his time in Paris – which he feared would soon wear off – went “in search of the rawest snapshot, the zero degree of photography”. To get there he employed “A technique of no taboos: blur, grain, contrast, cockeyed framing, accidents, whatever happens…” and adopted the role of “a make-believe ethnographer”.
Life is good…
The resulting book ‘Life is Good and Good For You in New York’ (1955) became a prize winning route to celebrity, though no American publisher was willing to publish it (and didn’t for 40 years), considering it unflattering to the point of being anti-American. Instead it was first published in Paris, Klein’s adopted home. He followed up with books on Rome, Moscow and Tokyo all in the same inimitable, rebellious style. Despite his success he became restless and turned to film making. His first film was Broadway by Jazz, described here in an article in the Financial Times in 2012:
Broadway by Light is often described as the “first pop film”, and to watch it now is still an exhilarating 11-minute roller-coaster ride through the neon of Broadway and Times Square. Klein invented his own kind of visual jazz – violent, vulgar, seductive and beautiful, with a soundtrack to match. The camera moves ceaselessly in and out of the alphabet of signs as the bulbs bloom and fade into abstract blobs of pure colour: Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Rock Hudson, The New York Times. Fascination. Continuous till 4am. Orson Welles said it was the first film in which “colour was necessary”.
Klein only returned to photography in the 1980s, where his pioneering role was recognised. Since then he has won many more awards and become known for his graphic design work, which applies bold slashes of paint to the enlarged contact sheets he had marked up in pencil years before.
In his street photography William Klein likes to get into the thick of things; filling the frame with the chaos of the city. He mixes and moves with his subjects, embracing a wide lens for close up shots and motion blur in a way no one has before. As he said: “sometimes, I’d take shots without aiming, just to see what happened, I’d rush into crowds – bang! bang! I liked the idea of luck and taking a chance. Other times I’d frame a composition I saw and plant myself somewhere, longing for some accident to happen.” An article in the Independent in 1998 sums up his approach:
In Klein’s New York people press themselves up against the lens, dancing around the photographer, pulling faces, pretending to shoot each other, or the photographer, with toy guns. It is the kind of photography that is impossible to do today: people are no longer delighted to be snapped in the street, do not dance or horse around in Harlem on Easter Sunday for a photographer. They were intrigued by this white guy with his beautiful French wife.
His preference for the wide angle lens came from the “contradictions and confusion” that it revealed, and enabled him to include many subjects in his innovative composition. Of the blur he said: “If you look carefully at life, you see blur. Shake your hand. Blur is part of life“. His prints use extreme contrast and grain complete the visceral effect. The combined effect is perfect for street photography, as this post in Streethunters from 2015 describes:
Perfection. We all strive for it when it comes to photography. Perfect exposure. Composition. Tack-sharp images. But, street photography isn’t about perfection. At it’s core, street photography is about capturing life. And life is far from perfect. William Klein, in his own way, mastered imperfection within street photography and became a trailblazer.
Klein’s maverick work has an immediate impact but is difficult to interpret. This is apparently by design. In what has become my favourite William Klein quote he said: “My photographs are the fragments of a shapeless cry that tries to say who knows what… What would please me most is to make photographs as incomprehensible as life.” Or maybe not as, in an interview in 2013, when asked which is the most gratifying medium he chose film on the basis that “people don’t know how to read photographs. There isn’t this dialogue….What you put in a photograph is not always perceived by the other people who look at them as what you wanted to say. There isn’t a culture of photography. You learn about music appreciation at schools or go to museums, but I found that generally people don’t study photography. There are a lot of things that can be said in photographs but people don’t relate to them.”
Many photographers have been inspired as much by his attitude as his photographs, which is why you will see so many William Klein quotes in posts and articles about his life and work. More artist than photojournalist, his lack of respect for the established order, his raw technique and the way he interacts with his subjects make him one of photography’s great sources of inspiration.
Early photography was not easy. The wet- plate collodian process used between the 1850s and 1880s uses a solution of gun-cotton in ether and alcohol and requires the entire photographic process including coating the plate, exposing and developing it to be completed within fifteen minutes.
These and other challenges faced by early photographers were brought home to me by the the recent BBC documentary ‘Britain in Focus’, produced in partnership with the National Media Museum and presented by Eamonn Mccabe. The first episode covered the earliest period of Photography in Britain – from polymath inventor Henry Fox Talbot in the 1840s to Peter Henry Emerson in the last years of the nineteenth century. The program surveyed some of the greatest pioneers of early photography in their most famous locations: Fox Talbot in Lacock Abbey, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson in Newhaven, Roger Fenton in the Crimea, Julia Margaret Cameron at Little Holland House, Robert Howlett in the Isle of Dogs and Peter Henry Emerson in the Norfolk Broads.
I am familiar with the work of most of the photographers in the program, with the exception of Roger Fenton. I was hugely impressed by his images and a little research showed him to be an extremely important photographer. Born into a wealthy banking family in 1819, he studied law at Oxford and painting in Paris before he took up photography, learning the early Calotype process developed by Fox Talbot. Fenton was a founder member of the Photographic Society (later the Royal Photographic Society), the first official photographer of the British Museum and quite possibly the world’s first officially appointed war photographer, photographing the Crimean War in the first systematic coverage of a conflict in 1855.
The Crimean war
Fenton’s connections led to his commission by the British government to photograph the Crimean war – a conflict that pitted the Russian Empire against a somewhat unlikely alliance of Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. He took a photographic assistant, a servant and a large horse-drawn van converted from a merchant’s wine wagon to carry his cumbersome large format glass plate photographic equipment (see image, right). The wagon offered a good target for Turkish artillery and Fenton also suffered from the high temperatures, broken ribs and cholera. Nevertheless, and despite the long exposures and rapid processing required, he was able to capture 350 images, most of which were later exhibited across Britain and displayed to the British and French royal families.
Fenton was a technically accomplished photographer and his large format images from Crimea are striking. They consist mainly of posed portraits and scenes and landscapes of battle sites including the iconic The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Though he saw plenty of horrors during the conflict, he did not record any with his camera, most likely because his government patrons wanted the images that could be used as part of a campaign to counter reports of wide spread military incompetence in a war that was unpopular with both the press and the public.
The depth of field made possible by the large format, together with marvellous tone and composition make Roger Fenton’s work quite extraordinary. In addition to his war photography he shot royal portraits, architecture, landscapes (such as those of Bolton Abbey covered in the documentary) and still life. He regarded photography as both art and business and abandoned it entirely in 1863 to return to law when he saw its status was diminished to a craft – illustrated by the 1862 International Exhibition’s placement of photography in the section reserved for instruments and machinery. He died only a few years later in 1869.
Large format film photography
Large format film photography, and particularly wet-plate collodian images, have a unique look that can not be reproduced with 35mm cameras – the shot of Roger Fenton’s wagon clearly shows this. However, the supporting image in this post is an homage to it. The shot of the ruined manor at Hampton Gay (which burned down in 1887) is a long exposure (40 second exposure at f13 using a black glass ND filter). It is sepia toned and I added some grain and lens falloff in post production. At some point I’d love to hire a large format camera to shoot the ruined manor, preferably a glass plate camera. I doubt I will ever mange it, but if anyone in Oxfordshire has the equipment and expertise and is open to hiring both, I’d be very open to it.
The recent exhibition Fox Talbot: Dawn of the Photograph at the Science Museum in London which ended on September 11th 2016 was described as ‘magical to behold’ by Time Outand ‘ground-breaking’ by The Times. I found it extremely enjoyable as it told the story of the pioneers of early photography very capably as well as displaying a great body of their work.
Central to the story of early photography is William Henry Fox Talbot, who was born in February 1800. He attended Cambridge University in 1817 and went onto become a gentleman scientist, inventor, Egyptologist, member of parliament, mathematician, astronomer, archaeologist and transcriber of Chaldean cuneiform texts as well as a pioneer of photography.
It was a struggle with his sketchbook that put him on the road to photography: in 1833 at Lake Como in Italy, he found it difficult to capture the scenery adequately by sketching it with the aid of a Camera Lucida (an instrument used by draftsmen at the time which uses a prism to direct rays of light onto paper producing an image and from which a drawing can be made.) This started him on the journey of discovery with light-sensitive paper to automate the process that he was to pursue at his home in Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
Science, silver and sunlight
Investigations with silver nitrate and sunlight actually go back as far as Angelo Sala (1576-1637). Johann Heinrich Schulze (1687-1744) was the first to create photograms (a process that does not require a camera) with paper masks and Talbot would have been well aware of the work of Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805) and Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) who also worked on photograms of leaves and other objects. These could not adequately fixed and faded quickly. Talbot built on this work, experimenting with plants and lace on paper coated with silver nitrate and fixing the images with salt to produce sciagraphs – drawings of shadows.
Talbot created the first negative in 1835, which minimized exposure time considerably compared to previous methods. He had help from his friend Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), one of the leading British scientists of the time, and another formidable polymath, who was an astronomer, mathematician, chemist, inventor and experimental photographer. It was Herschel who solved the problem of ‘fixing’ pictures (used by both Talbot and Daguerre) and was also the first to use the terms ‘photography’ and ‘negative’.
Inventors and pioneers
There is some debate as to is the inventor of photography or even who was the most influential of the pioneers. France can claim Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), inventor of a process known as heliography, who used a Camera Obscura to record an image of his country estate in 1826 via an eight-hour exposure. Better known is Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, (1787-1851), a former architect and artist who collaborated with Niépce, and who had used the Camera Obscura to assist with his paintings in his earlier career. He developed the Daguerrotype process after Niépce‘s death – a process based on light-sensitive, silver-plated copper, unique in the family of photographic process, in that the image is produced on metal directly without an intervening negative. Hippolyte Bayard (1801-1887) also holds a claim as the developer of the direct positive process and the first in the world to hold a photo exhibition. Bayard’s story embodies the struggle for recognition and adds a human dimension in the midst of all the science on show at the museum. It also serves up one of the most interesting images of the exhibition. Bayard was persuaded to postpone announcing his new positive process to the French Academy of Sciences by a friend of Daguerre, which cost him the recognition he deserved, and led him to create the first staged (or faked) photograph entitled, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, which was on show at the Science Museum exhibition. The image portrays the photographer as a corpse, and M. Bayard wrote a fake suicide note on the back:
“The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life….! … He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognised or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.”
It has been a long time since I shot with film. My last film camera was a Canon IXUS, an automatic compact which took APS film 20 years ago. Though I have always had a camera to hand since I was a small boy I was strictly a point and shoot photographer until I moved to digital, and didn’t move to an SLR until after I had turned to digital. Recently, whilst staying with friends in Stockholm, I came across an Aladdin’s cave of a camera shop, which had a number of film cameras for sale, including Kodak Instamatics, Rolleiflex TLRs and Nikon SLRs, including several F3 models, some fitted with external motor drives. The Nikon F3 model I picked out was somewhat worn and had a hole in the bottom of the body (which I later discovered was due to a missing motor drive coupling cover) but I was very taken with it and bought it on impulse together with some Ilford black and white film.
That evening I did a bit of research and discovered that the F3, the successor to the legendary F and F2, was the last of the manual-focus, pro 35mm SLR cameras; it was introduced in 1980 and stayed in production until 2001. Unlike its predecessors, which had always been entirely mechanical, the F3 uses an electronically controlled shutter which requires batteries. This dependance on the battery power was initially quite controversial and adoption was not universal amongst Nikon professional shooters. Those fears turned out to be unfounded as the F3 turned out to be of the same bulletproof nature as the F and F2 and very reliable.
Styled by a genius
The F3 was styled by Italian design genius Giorgetto Giugiaro who styled the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Bertone (1960), the Aston Martin DB4 GT Bertone ‘Jet‘ (1961) as well as motorcycles and firearms. It was the first Nikon to use a red accent – in this case a vertical red line near the hand grip – which has subsequently become an integral part of the design language of Nikon cameras. The dials on the top plate were familiar looking to me as I have been using the retro styled digital Nikon Df for some time.
As the F3 is electronically controlled it offers aperture-priority automation as well as manual operation. The metering system is TTL and reads the light over the entire focusing screen but 80% of metering sensitivity is set to the central 12mm area, whilst the outer area of the screen only gets 20% consideration. As I am completely accustomed to matrix metering, this might require some change of technique to get accurate exposures. There is a small LCD readout that shows the shutter speed. The camera is of modular design, which enables a wide choice of focusing screens and finders. The electronically controlled shutter is of the horizontal-travel focal-plane type and is made of titanium.
Before I could get to use my new purchase I needed to get it serviced and replace the missing motor drive coupling cover. Reading a little more I learned that my camera was fitted with an unusual focusing screen, a plain matte screen which lacked the usual split image rangefinder spot. The F3 can take over 20 types of screens and mine was apparently fitted with a Type D, which is used for close ups and for use with long lenses. I called Greys of Westminster and ordered the more usual Type K type screen and a new coupling cover and took the body into my local camera shop, imagex, who sent it away for a much needed service, which cost a very reasonable £69.
Once the camera was back I bought some Ilford HP5 400 film and headed for the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I shot some of the statues in various galleries, whilst I also visited the excellent Paul Strand photographic exhibition. The shooting experience is good on the Nikon F3, especially the manual focusing, but I did have a few exposure issues. I probably could have pushed the film speed of the HP5 further than I did, but I put that down to experience. I also kept looking at the back of the camera to see what I had shot, only to be greeted by cardboard film type insert on the camera back. My first keeper is shown above – I really like the grain and the tone of film and plan to continue to experiment with it.
Black and white images often possess a timeless quality that is more difficult to achieve with colour images. This is largely because colour provides more visual clues as to when a photograph was taken. Variance in the colours themselves can sometimes suggest a specific era – the difference between the colour renditions of the 1970s for example, and today are often discernible; this is due to differences in colour processing, which have changed significantly over time. The first permanent color photograph was taken in the 1860s using the colour separation method, which required shooting three separate black and white photos using three different coloured filters which are then projected together to create a color image. By the first decade of the twentieth century colour separation using the Autochrome process which used millions of tiny colour filters made of potato starch spread over the surface of a plate of glass was available. In the 1930s multi-layered colour film was developed, the first of which was Kodachrome. The 1960s saw the development of instant photographs by Polaroid, and in the 1970s the C-41 chromogenic colour negative process replaced the C-22 process that Kodak had introduced in the 1950s. Printed colour images may also be subject to varying degrees of instability as they age, which is also helpful in dating them.
With the advent of digital photography these clues have disappeared, but colour is also an element of fashion which inevitably gives a better sense of when the picture was taken. Regardless of changes in fashion, colour provides a level of detail absent from black and white pictures – there is just less information for us to process, making a picture more difficult to date. This is helpful in many genres of photography but is especially so for travel, street and portrait photography. Whilst we know the approximate date we took our pictures, if when these photos were taken is difficult to discern, it seems to imbue them with additional value. Why this should be a virtue is largely attributable to the notion of the ‘classic’ – something long-standing that does not date with age. Synonyms of the word classic give us a clue to the value implied by the term: simple, elegant, understated, uncluttered, restrained, time-honoured, timeless, ageless, abiding, enduring and immortal. Portrait photographer Anne Geddes made the point well when she said: “The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed.”
Another aspect of timelessness, although more subjective, is that many photographers consider black and white photography promotes a stronger emotional connection with people. Canadian photographer Ted Grant’s quote on this is well known: “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!” Souls being more durable and important than clothes (to all but the fashion industry!) this quality naturally creates a more timeless photograph. Black and white photography preceded colour and so many of the pioneering masters of photography from Adams to Weston shot in black and white. This adds a significant pedigree and a degree of nostalgia to black and white images.
The accompanying photo is of Newcastle based photographer Irena Childers and was shot in Garth Park, Bicester, as part of a camera club shoot. It strikes me that the picture could have been taken at any time between from 1950 and the present day, but this only became apparent when I performed the mono conversion with Silver Efex. The colour version just didn’t have the same timeless quality…
There is something magical to me about pictorialist photography, particularly urban pictorialism, as shown here in Leonard Misonne’s accomplished example from 1899. I shoot with film as well as with digital cameras and appreciate the pictorialist’s complete mastery of the medium. In addition to having the skill to take photographs with the cumbersome and slow equipment of the time, the pictorialist’s vision was realised through a complex process that required yet more skill and talent. Dark room manipulation including the combining of multiple negatives; the use of artisan emulsions; alternative printing methods using gum bichromate and gum bromoil; the use of paint brushes and hand made paper were all techniques used to convert the camera into something closer to a paintbrush. In addition to giving the pictures their unique look, these techniques also ensured that no two prints looked identical, even if they came from the same negative.
But is it Art?
From its inception when it took a mastery of optics, chemistry, and an arcane workflow to take and process a photograph there had been a debate about the nature of photography. Was this new invention only capable of reproduction or could it transcend its machine origins and produce art? In the early years of its development, photography was sometimes looked down upon as purely mechanical, but as early as 1853 the English miniaturist Sir William John Newton was championing the cause of photography as art. Newton suggested that photographers could make their pictures more like works of art by throwing the subject slightly out of focus and using retouching techniques.
In the cause of art, early photographers had begun to combine multiple negatives to make a single print. In both objective and method this broadened the scope of photography well beyond mechanical reproduction. In 1857 Oscar Gustav Rejlander produced a 31-by-16-inch image by joining 30 negatives together. The picture described a religious allegory and had the purpose of demonstrating the aesthetic possibilities of photography.
Peach Robertson’s Pictorial Effect
Rejlander’s work inspired Henry Peach Robinson, a British photographer who had previously trained as an artist. He achieved fame with his five-negative print of 1859, Fading Away, depicting a young consumptive dying in her bed surrounded by her family. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tableau caused controversy due to the photograph’s highly artificial technique and morbid subject matter, though critics were less concerned with the picture’s staged theatricality than questioning whether a single picture from multiple negatives made photography untruthful.
Robinson, a member of the Photographic Society, published his manifesto Pictorial Effect in Photography in 1869. The work, which gave the movement its name, included compositional formulas taken from a handbook on painting and made the case that rules created for one art form could apply to another.
In the 1880s the British photographer Peter Henry Emerson proposed an alternative artistic vision for photography. His vision was that photographs should reflect nature and be produced without the artifice of retouching, combining multiple images, or using staged settings. He believed that tone, texture, and light were enough to make photography an art form. This point of view became known as naturalistic photography after the publication of his treatise Naturalistic Photography in 1889.
At the same time, the introduction of the point-and-shoot Kodak camera, together with printing as a service, greatly accelerated the popularisation of photography. This only intensified the public debate about the role of the medium, which reached its peak by the end of the century.
What is Pictorialism?
The pictorialist photographers produced pictures that were the polar opposite of the output of point-and shoot. They used soft focus techniques, a range of darkroom techniques and alternative printing processes to produce beautifully rendered, skilfully composed, highly picturesque, atmospheric and often otherworldly images. These were hand printed (usually on hand-coated artist papers) using artisan emulsions and pigments, making the production of an image much closer to the creation of a painting.
The movement sometimes goes under other names including “art photography”, “Impressionist photography”, “new vision, and “subjective photography.
Pictorialism was closely linked to influential artistic movements such as Tonalism and Impressionism, and the Pictorialists took inspiration from popular art, adopting its styles and ideas to demonstrate that photography was an artistic process.
The emergence of Pictorialism was also the product of the meeting of photography and art in practical terms. Artists started to use photographs to capture images that would be rendered as paintings later, whilst some pictorialists had been trained as painters.
There are a variety of definitions of Pictorialist photographs but it is perhaps easier to review what pictorialist pictures have in common. Landscape photographer Sandy King (who still works with 19th century hand made photographic processes) offers an excellent description of the characteristics of Pictorialism:
Only images which show the personality of the maker, generally through hand manipulation, can be considered works of art
An interest in the effect and patterns of natural lighting in the outdoor landscape
An impressionistic rendering of the scene, in which overall effect is more important than detail
The use of symbolism or allegory to reveal a message
The use of alternative printing processes: carbon and carbro, gum bichromate, oil and bromoil, direct carbon, and platinum.
Some of the better known pictorialists are Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946); Edward Steichen (1879-1973); Edward Weston (1886-1958); Paul Strand (1890-1976); Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79); Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901); Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936), Robert Demachy (1859-1936) and Leonard Misonne (1870-1943) who produced the image which inspired me to write this post, Waterloo Place (1899). Those with links are those I admire most. In time I hope to write articles about each of them. These photographers formed clubs and salons such as The Linked Ring, Photo-Secession, The Royal Photographic Society, The Photo-Club of Paris and The Trifolium of Austria all of which promoted photography as fine art.
The Decline of the Movement
The heyday of Pictorialism was from the 1880s to 1915. Unsurprisingly for such a romantic movement it lost momentum after the World War I and was a spent force by the end of World War II. It was superseded by the sharp focus of Modernism in Europe and the West Coast or Straight photography movement in the USA, the greatest exponents of which were Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.
Photography as Art
The ideas of Newton, Rejlander, Robinson, and Emerson’s were not the same, but they were all pioneers for photography to be considered a legitimate art form. This is a question that rarely crops up today, but for those who wish to ponder it I will supply two pieces of evidence in favour of photography as art.
The first is that in 1830 more than 300 miniature paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy. By 1870 only 33 were on display and photography had already replaced an art form.
The second is an example chosen from many possible options. In 2011 a grey image of the Rhine by German artist Andreas Gursky sold for $4.3m (£2.7m) at auction, setting a new record at the time. The grey and featureless landscape was described by the artist as an allegorical picture about the meaning of life. That sounds like art to me.
This is the oldest picture I have taken on this website. It was taken on 110 film in 1987. A colleague at work was attending a film class and was asking around for pictures he could use in class.
I had visited Ávila whilst in Madrid as a guest of a friend who had moved out there and this was the best shot I could find. I was amazed by what he did with it. He cropped it, converted it to monochrome and added some additional grain. At the time I just took snapshots, so this was a revelation to me. I consider this my first decent picture and my first step into black and white photography – a medium I have come to love. I still like the image; the absence of anything else in frame, the slightly brooding sky, the way the walls stretch off into the distance and of course the subject itself, the mighty, pristine walls are what make the picture work.
Ávila, the ‘City of Saints and Stones, was founded in the 11th century to protect the Spanish territories from the Moors. It is the capital of the province of the same name in Castile and León in North West Spain, 110 km from Madrid and separated from the capital by the Guadarrama mountain chains. It is 74 km from Segovia. At 1,126 meters above sea level, it is the highest provincial capital in Spain and sits on the top of a rocky outcrop in the midst of a barren, stone covered plain.
The medieval walls were built between the 11th-14th centuries and are astonishingly well preserved and the most complete fortifications in Spain. They stretch for 2.5km, stand an average of 12 metres in height, enclose area is 31 hectares (77 acres) and have 9 gates. The Old Town of Ávila has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, largely due to the walls which are its most impressive monument but also for its 12th Century cathedral and Romanesque churches. I want to go back and shoot Ávila at night, as it is beautifully illuminated – apparently it is the largest fully illuminated monument in the world.