Large format photography is enormously challenging. Simply the act of loading the film into the holder is – frankly – a bit of a schlep. Even fiddling a rollfilm into a Hasselblad's magazine in a dusty desert by the light of an oil lamp is more straightforward.
And large format negatives, by their nature, are hugely prone to picking up imperfections: dust, scratches, blemishes, errant dog hairs in the film holders, more dust, more scratches... So as an artist and a photographer I'm left wondering what to do about those.
Doubtless, fastidiously clean work habits will make a positive difference. But Namibia is a dusty place; no matter how careful I am, there will be dust. The photographer / perfectionist in me is naturally a little cranky about that. But then there's imperfections in the surface of the film itself – that's nothing I can do anything about. I tend to use film that I can afford, and that means making certain sacrifices.
And so, the artist voice in me pipes up: it is part of the nature of the medium. Roll with it.
So I've decided to do what I can to work carefully and cleanly, but I will accept what comes. Obviously I'm not going to eat a handful of rusks over my negs and my enlarger's stage before making prints, but if there's little bits and pieces, well, there they are.
It's a little like listening to music on vinyl. The sound quality may or may not be better than a digital format – this is not the place to discuss the relative merits – but to me it's undeniable that there is an immediacy and individuality that derives from the inevitable pops and crackles of a well-loved record. And so it is with my large format photos.
In particular, this applies to my Namibian Women project. There will be no retouching at all, and only minimal tone correction and cropping. It's not about making the Women look perfect – "perfect" in this context is a social construct, an aggregate standard of expectation: this is what a woman is "supposed" to be – beautiful, approachable, friendly, empowered only in palatable doses, individual only in easily compartmentalised ways. I don't want to make these Women look "perfect" – I will photograph them as they are, as they would like to present themselves.
And I've chosen large format photography in part because I happen to love the medium, but also in no small measure because of its quirks; it is at once kind to the subject of the photograph, and unforgiving of the photographer's technique.
And the pops and crackles of an old record, in my mind, add to the nature of my message.