I spent February and March experimenting in London slowly learning the constraints of the equipment. I had a number of maddening light leaks that forced me to re-examine every step of film handling and picture taking – even the slightest leak will make a picture unusable. By late March I decided that despite the difficulties I would take the camera, 15 boxes of film and five film holders to the extreme heat and dust of northern Kenya. It was only in the final days before my departure that I narrowed the light leak problem down to the supposedly “light tight” slit of my filmholder and worked out a solution.
I would be hitching through this harsh, rugged environment and risked all the time, money and sheer physical exertion being wasted if my fix didn’t work. I could feasibly return to find all of the film fogged, so I was glad to have the added insurance of my digital camera.
It turned out to be an amazing, if challenging, experience for me and my subjects. At times I had large crowds watching the mad Englishmen working his big contraption. It may not be a direct equivalent of their lengthy traditional lineage, but the interest and laughter it created could certainly be classed as a cultural exchange. Certainly it provided a meeting point given the prolonged period of interaction required between photographer and subject, particularly when I showed them the equipment and tried to explain – ‘It has nothing inside…it’s….it’s just a box!’
Compared with the digital world every aspect of photography is more complicated. This was compounded by my choice of film – Provia 100 pushed to 200. I shoot in the shade to reduce the extreme effects of light which meant either my shutter speed was very slow or my aperture very wide, resulting in a narrow depth of field. Everything had to be set manually, and often reset multiple times, as the light or subject’s position changed. Focusing is checked by examining an inverted image on a plate at the rear of the camera, the film holder is then inserted and a dark slide removed before the shutter is released. Even a small adjustment in the subject’s posture in the time between the original focusing and releasing the shutter could result in an image lacking sharpness. And of course you can’t see the picture composition when you actually press the shutter release cable. Pray that the person doesn’t blink! Without an assistant these challenges are very tricky even without the windy, dusty, baking Kenyan desert to contend with.
I started the trip aware of all these problems and did my best to adapt my working practices to give me a chance of success. So I am amazing pleased with the results of my efforts.”