How to photograph nothing, without really trying


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Doing any of these things would be like giving me a little Christmas present. And I’ve got a Christmas present for you at the end of this post 🙂

Happy Christmas, or whatever holiday you prefer. Personally, I’m quite keen on Newtonmas. Just because Wikipedia has deleted it since last year (!) doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it.

One of the reasons I like using a Holga camera is tha it invites accidents. I’m happy to admit that randomness and chance form a large part of my work. In fact, unless we are talking about very precisely controlled studio work, chance always plays a part in photography. With the Holga, it is a major part.

One thing Holga photography has taught me is to never throw out a roll of film. I was on a shoot once with the CQ Saturday Safari group, really keen to use my Holga fisheye to shoot some “people on the beach” shots. In the process, the back of the camera fell off (this is common with Holgas!) and the film popped out into full sun. I caught it, popped it back in and finished the roll.

Whenn I had the roll developed, what I found was beyond mere light leakage. It was actually a roll of composite images, part photograph, where light from the subject had come in through the lens in the traditional manner, and part photogramme, where light had come in through the backing paper and imprinted an image of it on the back of the film.

With some judicious cropping of the image, I had a result I was very happy with. Here’s an example:
I remember, when I was a kid...

The lesson here is that you should always develop that roll of Holga film. Unless your dog has eaten it. Even then, I’d think twice.

Part of what I do is select. A damaged roll of film is only the first part of this process. The film then becomes the object of a process of excerpting and processing to end up with a balanced and beautiful object. This is my favorite type of photography, where chance and imprecision result in surprise.

If this is a valid artistic process, and I think it is, then it implies that the “intended” image is not a necessary part of the final piece.

On another outing with the Safari, I was using my Holga 120WPC Pinhole Panoramic camera. I was photographing a bridge when, surprise! the back came off. When I developed the film, I found this image, which puzzled me for a while:
spirit bridge
It looked about right to be some sort of image of the bridge and its reflection. Roughly the size and orientation I was expecting. But I came to the conclusion that all I was seeing was where the light had entered the spiral of unwinding film, as well as a black spot from the backing paper coming through. This was one of my first Flickr images to be Explored, which I thought was pretty funny.

Still, I like the image, and began looking for interesting things that might fall between the frames. Like the below:
the doorway
(By the way, aren’t frames and signatures ugly? I never got sucked in to signatures, but I did go through a frame phase, as you can see.)

More recently, I shot a roll of 35mm film in a National Park. I couldn’t remember if I’d loaded the film or not, so I peeked, figuring the worst that could happen would be a few lost frames. I held the camera up and took three or four exposures to move the film on. When I developed the film, it was so perfectly exposed and crisp. (Imagine being synaesthetic and crunching into a big crispy apple. That’s what it’s like to pull a roll from your tank and hold it up to the light, seeing perfect exposure and focus.) But there were these two fuzzy ill-formed frames. Having learnt from my Holga experience, I scanned one frame, cropped, emphasised a puzzling colour streak, and adjusted the levels. I got this very interesting ghostly urn:
the urn

I  like it!

Photography that’s about nothing. Sounds a little Seinfeld, but it can work.

I’ll close with two things. Firstly, an invitation to speculate on just what you think might have been captured in “The Urn”. Let us (i.e. me and the other readers) know in the comments.

Secondly, an early Christmas gift. This is a deliberate photo of nothing – a photograph of a blank white wall taken with a Holga, especially for people to use as a texture. Download it, use it, and let me know via the blog what you come up with. I’d love to run an article featuring the results.
void (a free Holga 120CFN texture)

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About postdigitalblog

Lecturer in Multimedia at CQUni Wrangler of young kids @ home in Yeppoon Otherwise, photographer and digital media type.
This entry was posted in art, film, visual art and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to How to photograph nothing, without really trying

  1. In this digital age I do sometimes miss the surprises that film can throw at you. I remember borrowing my mum’s Kodak Box Brownie, which was held together with clear tape (clear tape which lets in light, I know what you’re thinking), all the photos had a lovely warm red tint. Also an old Ricoh 500G which had dodgy exposure control following a sudden encounter with a concrete floor – I never knew if a shot was going to be under, over or perfectly exposed – great fun!

    • I think film has become something quite new. I mean, if you are going to be bothered with film at all, now that we have access to such wonderful digital cameras, don’t we want all that stuff!

  2. I agree – absolutely, NEVER throw a messed up roll from the Holga away. One of my favorites is this one:

    where I forgot to put the stem into the developing tank when processing the film. As a result the finished roll was almost totally dark [overexposed by ambient light leaks]. However, I persisted and got this print anyhow!

    • This is a really lovely photo Christian, and as damaged as it may be, the print is in pretty good shape, I like that you have the bubbles on the bottom edge. I tend to get that if I get distracted and leave the tank too long without agitating.

      Thanks for sharing it.

      I did the stem thing too the first few times I developed 4 by 5.

    • By the way, everyone should check out Christian’s page: http://christianharkness.tripod.com/
      Some very fine work indeed, and some great Holga photos.

      • Thanks so much for the support and encouragement!!!!!
        The one point I need to make about making mistakes is that they can happen anytime. When I left the stem out of the developing tank I had been developing film for more years than I care to remember. Stuff happens! 🙂

  3. oneowner says:

    I can’t say I’m a fan of surprises, but occasionally they can be pleasant like these examples. Very nice.

    i went through a frame phase also. It passes.

  4. Anonymous says:

    these are often the pictures i like the most~

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