road-tripping the end of the world

Archive for September, 2012

planning focus points and readability tests

This will be pretty dry and technical but some of my former students found this useful and perhaps someone else will as well!

The composite method I use for piecing together large-format prints with a high degree of detail relies heavily on planning out what parts of the ‘scene’ will be in focus and where the crucial areas of interest lie. This is also a distinguishing factor and plays into the conceptual creation of the image, and why a single frame (for instance, from a large format 8×10 film camera) won’t achieve the same effect – fundamental to the ‘readability’ of these images themselves is the rather neurotic control of depth of field and focus across the composite frame. This allows for a ‘flexible’ depth of field that can be essentially deformed across the image, allowing the simultaneous sharp focus of several elements at once that wouldn’t normally be possible with a single-frame image.

The second work I’ve planned for The Once and Future King is tentatively titled “The Impact”, and it’s just easier to copy and paste the narrative description from the proposal here to give a sense of the final product:

The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)

On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.

Instrumental to the work will be the ability to “read” a lot of the details of the “stuff” piled into the Jeep – literally read the book titles, but then also a lot of the signifiers and symbols present in the rest of the ephemera spread throughout.  So the first function of this test shoot is to map out the focus points / depth of field across the scene, and make sure that everything that needs to be in focus, is in focus. The second function is to test the viewing angle with respect to the composite – rudimentary at this point cuz my tripod head sucks – but because we need to be able to see “inside” the Jeep the angle of the shots, and the Jeep with respect to the camera, is somewhat crucial and does complicate the composite somewhat.

Last, the test generally brings to light unanticipated problems with the shooting/composite process, and gives me a sense of “what I have to work with” – just how much detail I get straight out of the camera under uncontrolled conditions without any post-processing. As such these images haven’t been touched and a few look a little dark or desaturated for a few reasons I didn’t anticipate. Learning!

Anyway, some fairly large images and such follow, so click below to read the rest.




I am not often a fan of “urban exploration” (ugh … “Urbex”) photography, but I tend to think that’s more because of the culture than the photography itself. Which, admittedly, seems like a conflict of interest, because half my work is staged in similar areas, but anyway, coming to a semblance of a point: Sticky Sounds, musician, photographer and fellow H.P. Lovecraft fan made a connection with respect to urban exploration photography I hadn’t put together myself for some reason – fear of the unknown connected to the thrill of supernatural horror“.

Somehow this sentence and the Lovecraft connection transformed a lot of Sticky’s photos for me, but what I appreciated more was the context he gave his work (to follow), specifically in the exploration of Manchester’s industrial past:

“The industrial revolution brought great wealth to the city, but hand in hand with this came unparalleled poverty and squalor for a large part of the population. These people were nothing more than cattle for the greater good. A new underclass destined to live in a new kind of hell. The fires of this hell burned and smouldered in the red bricks as smoke billowed constantly from the dark satanic mills. The unbroken, monotonous rumbling of the looms filled the air and mingled with the heat of the steam. The city was a giant machine and its inhabitants reduced to units of labour, small expendable parts of the whole. Not so much a city as an assault on the senses. Overcrowding was chronic with whole families living in single rooms, and little or no sewage works for most of the nineteenth century. The only refuge that most of the poor would ever know from the hardships of their everyday life was found in alcohol. Their anger often expressed itself through violent crime, from domestic violence between husband and with to the youth gangs, or ‘scuttlers’ who ran amok on Manchester’s streets. When you look at these past extremes of the city it raises the question ‘what does it mean to have a life?’ These people remain in Manchester today, in it’s red bricks and the canals that run like veins through the city. As do all inhabitants who come afterwards, we are all Manchester, all serving the beast.” (from )

Needless to say I quite enjoy the tying of a supernatural horror to the concept of the monstrousness that is the Industrial Revolution. In a coincidental parallelism, I started reading Metro 2033 today, which discusses a similar black unknown in the monstrous labyrinth that exists below the Moscow Metro, unmapped tunnels left over from the equivalent industrial revolution, long forgotten, another source of that preternatural fear of the dark. Speculation in the novel exists as to the true origin and function of these tunnels, hinting at the specter of menace they represent in present-day.

Sticky Sounds, from (Hidden) Manchester:


finally, part 3 (D800E video)

Completely randomly the first video I shot with the D800E ended up being for my brother, who was making a short tutorial on shaving with a straight razor. Even with my completely noob technique and generally terrible focus the footage looks rather pretty. My brother did a great job putting the video together from my scrappy camera work, bonus points if you spot the curious dog:

finally part 2 (my new D800E)

After a couple years of waiting and planning, I’ve finally acquired my new camera: a beautiful, very definitely intimidating Nikon D800E. Google will tell you about the differences between the D800 and the D800E, likely accompanied by all manner of delightfully dramatized arguments shifting to one or the other or neither … the fact is the work I do is probably perfectly suited to a camera with this degree of optical resolution, and I’m excited!

I’ll be posting the results of some “readability tests” for some preliminary planning for The Once and Future King soon, but meanwhile, and much more interesting, the first dozen shots directly out of the camera, no processing, no nothing – the dogs of course (btw, this is also with my new 50mm 1.8 G lens):