Shooting Medium Format

For some time I have been considering shooting medium format, as my research continually takes me to practitioners who use non digital formats especially for personal projects. As I scrutinise images (as much as one can using a screen) I am intrigued by the depth of such images. Looking and sometimes getting lost in the detail. Larger formats seems to invite the viewer into a world defined by the medium with the differing formats appearing comparable to material with my Cannon 5D being cotton and large format being silk.

Throughout the MA I have quietly been building a knowledge base and appreciation of traditional forms which was a subject I was quite unaware of. I’m not from a traditional artistic background although I did enjoy the subject at school. I have also previously read about the benefits of engaging with the process of making as a form of therapy. However, my most pertinent memories of using non digital techniques are ironically, being a runner for a TV show and being charged with the task of digitising hundreds of DV tapes. A task that traumatised me until this day.

Bronica ETRSi

I have often spoken about this with my tutors who seem to have the same the same response which is to ask ‘why I would be using such techniques?’ A question that I would seldom have a good response for. One of the better reasons I felt is surmised by Zylinska (2010) who suggests

‘in using analogue techniques and collecting such work is important ‘preservers of value and the past, as keepers, against all odds, of a certain world that (allegedly) once was.’  (Zylinska 2010)

A sentiment I whole heartedly agree with and a very admirable reason but although I confer. Such reasons don’t belong to me, or not enough to motivate me to rethink my personal process. I also took note in a tutorial when Colin Pantall described using traditional processes as adding capitol to a project. Once again, an adequate description. However, this wasn’t really a reason to make the jump in a personal sense.

In her project ‘exploring masculinities through mental health’ Jenifer Pattison re-engaged with the process of developing her work in the darkroom in an effort to identify with her Father…

“I decided to use this process because I wanted to physically make something with my hands. To experience some of the same benefits my dad did when he was making his objects as part of his occupational therapies.

Here the process of engaging with the process really became real and travelled beyond a generic justification. This provoked a much deeper thoughts about why I would take the time beyond the obvious ‘self improvement’. To provide some context, I work as a full time FE lecturer in both media and photography, I shoot twenty weddings a year and have three step sons in addition to a four year old Daughter. I am a volunteer football coach and have made it this far into the MA course.

Firs success in developing 120 film

At present I find myself in an odd place, the lockdown period means that I life it seems has slowed down, and due to self awareness I understand that when I slow down I struggle to cope with mental health. Learning how to shoot and develop my own film, at this point is no longer a task for tomorrow.

Therefore, I acquired the use of a Bronica ETRSI, took it home, took it apart, put it back together again. I must have done this several times over the course of a week or so before I even attempted to load it with film. Eventually I did and it was another few days before I plucked up the courage to fire the shutter. I shot the film, convinced the technician at work to help me develop the film and…. Ah! The film was completely ruined!

Without being deterred, I loaded another film and shot the roll as quickly as I could by making portraits of those immediately around. I needed to get back to the stage of developing as i’d figured out the camera worked in addition to using a light meter.

Loading the reel in the dark was also an interesting experience but I managed to get there in the end.

Anyways, the second attempt was a success of sorts as I managed to develop the film.

The feeling of achievement was something that I cannot remember experiencing in a long time. And the experience of being alone in the dark room with my images was almost spiritual. At this stage I really identified with Pattison when she highlights her desire to do something physical with her hands.

In my experience, I was able to drift into a world which was much slower and methodical than digital techniques. I now understand that in shooting digital the ethos is always to get the shot, review it as quickly as possible, especially when shooting weddings. The impatience was enjoyable with a slow building of excitement about the potential results.

First observations of the outcome, I always find difficult and i’m not really that concerned with the outcomes as the emphasis of this task was really about the process. This is perhaps fortunate because I had to wash the film again as I didn’t leave it to dry for long enough. Maybe an ironic representation of my journey to being more patient.

Helguera (2011) Education for Socially Engaged Art: A Materials and Techniques Handbook. New York, Jorge Pinto Books.

Pattison, J (2015) Exploring masculinity and mental health through the image. British Journal of Photography [Online] Available at: (Accessed 2nd Nov 2020)

Rosen (2020) Alex Majoli on Artists and the Rewards of Environmental Portraiture. Magnum Photos [Online] Available at:  Accessed: 17th Nov 2020

Joanna Zylinska (2010) On Bad Archives, Unruly Snappers and Liquid Photographs, photographies, 3:2, 139-153, DOI: 10.1080/17540763.2010.499608

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s