Rolling Back The Years

This summer I had the opportunity to reprise my role in the (capacity of Head of the) Press and Marketing department at Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue ZOO. This was what I did with my summers before moving to Spain about a decade ago when I broke the habit, and it was wonderful to be back in the arts festival environment. I wish I hadn’t been away for so long, and now can’t imagine doing anything else next August.

Part of my role at ZOO has always been photographing the venue and (some of) its (50 plus) shows. Knowing that I’d be doing so again this summer led me to accelerate something I already had in mind: upgrading my trusty Canon 5D Mark II.

Despite having used film for most of the past three years, I was starting to feel the need to upgrade my digital camera as it was becoming difficult to justify film as an everyday medium since other costs (such as travel, going out and meeting friends) had returned post-lockdown.

The prospect of returning to Edinburgh, and photographing theatre and dance again close to a decade on made the upgrade something of a necessity. Of course, my old 5D Mark II worked ‘back in the day’ and still would now, but the improvements made in terms of low-light performance and dynamic range in particular since the release of that camera are huge. While I’d have been able to deliver photographs with my old camera, a newer one was always going to give me, and the people for whom I was also doing the photographs, significantly better image quality.

Tempus Fuji

I eventually settled on a Fuji X-T4 as a modern digital camera with retro styling reminiscent of the older cameras I’ve been using for the past three years. My planned upgrade had involved a small prime lens as those are what I prefer to use for my personal work, however, the fact that I was going to be photographing theatre and dance again meant I decided to pair the X-T4 with a 16-55 f/2.8 zoom to offer more flexibility for when photographing shows (in production, with a live audience, meaning I’m unable to move from my chosen spot so as not to disturb anyone.) It’s the equivalent lens to what I had for the 5D when I was working before, and the focal range works perfectly for Fringe theatres, if a little short for larger, permanent venues. It isn’t what I’d have bought for myself, but I had a job to do and I knew it would get the job done.

The pairing wasn’t cheap, though, and to help facilitate the purchase on fairly short notice (a month or so before shipping off to Edinburgh) I decided to sell my Leica M4 and lenses. I’d honestly been thinking about it for a while, as thanks to the lovely folks at Gonzalez Fotografía y Astronomía my old Yashica SLR was working again, and maintaining two 35mm film cameras simultaneously (along with a TLR I picked up to celebrate Year of the Chinese TLR) as well as keeping a camera like the Leica around for only occasional use seemed like financial flex beyond my means. When the Edinburgh gig came up, and I needed to make the digital camera upgrade happen sooner rather than later, it was actually something of a no-brainer and I’ve no regrets.

Nor have I any regrets about buying, owning and enjoying the Leica for three years – it was a camera I really enjoyed using the make work, and with it I made some work with which I’m really pleased such as the photographs of 2020’s olive harvest, and numerous photographs of friends and family I haven’t shared here.

I made those pictures, though, not the camera, and I’ve already made work I’m happy with using this new one … this is probably a good time to share some, isn’t it?

Images à la Sauvette

The following are all from Runners, a dance circus music show from Czech contemporary circus group Cirk La Putyka. Images on the run.

I was a bit nervous beforehand; having already seen the show, I knew the visuals were spectacular so there was the potential for some beautiful images, but I also knew the physicality of movement in the piece was going to challenge my still slightly rusty skill set and to an extent my lack of experience with a new image-making tool. Basically, I knew the images were there to be made, but wasn’t fully confident in my ability to make them.

I came out of it unsure as to how I had done, and eventually repeated the show from a different vantage point to make sure, but in the end it’s these photographs from the first run (and a couple from before) that I like the most, and while not every frame was a keeper – they never are – I’m really happy with some of them and generally satisfied with the job I did.

I had thus seen the show several times by the end of the run, including one more time with feeling on the final night, and it never failed to be uplifting – and I’ve still got bits of the original soundtrack in my head now. It’s finally getting close to being the right temperature here in Valencia to rock the (ridiculously cool) hoody of theirs I somehow got my unworthy hands on.

Returning to ZOO, the Fringe, and Edinburgh was amazing, and I loved every minute of it. Returning to digital photography has been great so far as well, and I’m very happy with my equipment choices and the pictures I was able to create using it, which in terms of light, timing and composition are no different from any I’d have made using my old camera, but in terms of image quality given the low-light conditions, certainly are. I can only imagine there’s quite a lot less grain, even in that final frame, than if I had used Delta 3200 as well.

The relative merits of film and digital photography have been discussed far too much already, although I might expand upon some thoughts in another post soon, but I see myself continuing to use both, albeit shifting more to digital for general usage with film being reserved for photographing family and friends, something for which I really enjoy both the process and the results that it brings. Horses for courses.

Anyway, I’m struggling to conclude this post so … somebody play Closing Time or something.

Boutros, Boutros-Ghali,

Owain.

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