Back to the Future

 (Lauge Sorensen/© Lauge Sorensen (

I recently read a great book about photographers William Pennington and Lisle Updike who captured some fantastic images of native Americans around 1910-20. Their images are absolutely stunning – and it’s truly mind boggling that the two photographers captured and developed these pictures on glass plates as they traveled the wild west on a horse-drawn wagon. See

Inspired by this book – I was fortunate to get my hands on an old Zone VI large format film camera a few months ago. You know one of those big things made in mahogany wood, with bellows, leather straps and large brass knobs. It’s been sitting idle on my shelf for several months now – collecting dust and looking like a beautiful antique. This past week – I finally had two shoots offering an initial opportunity to take this old beast on a trial run – and to be honest I’m pretty excited about the whole experience.

Maybe it’s just me being a photo geek – but there’s something special about film. The act of loading the individual film sheets into cartridges while sitting in complete darkness, the sense of folding out the camera and adjusting all the brass knobs (this is not your camera of choice for the candid snapshot), the way you have to crouch under a dark cloth to focus the camera and create a composition while looking at an upside-down image on the cameras ground glass, the complete creative control you have over focus plane and perspective, the very mechanic shutter operation and finally the chemical processing of film development – which will eventually tell you if ANY of the many previous steps were somehow flawed.

Anyway – long story short – I went to the film processor earlier today to pickup the images – and let’s just say that I had fairly low expectations – almost assuming that something would have gone awfully wrong in this first attempt. I was therefore quite relieved when realizing that actual images had been captured.

If you follow the link below – you can see the outcome of my initial experiments in this “back to the future” world of large format film photography. With the camera’s tilt movement – it’s possible to keep the face in focus while letting the rest of the body go soft. I tried this effect on the simple black & white portrait of Jesse – which was part of a more extensive model portfolio shoot. In the second color image – dancer Jessie is creating magic with her graceful moves in Mountain Sanctuary Park outside Johannesburg.

I’m definitely looking forward to my next opportunity to experiment some more with this old school of photography.

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