PONF x Cinestill Film: Bright Analog Future

How’s it going, PONF Fellows? Having a nice start to the summer? As usual, it’s been busy behind the scenes at PONF. We’re ramping up for the presale of the PONF Camera coming later on this year, and planning how to deliver you the best camera we possibly can. That said, we’ve got something exciting to share with you on this #FilmFriday…we will be partnering with the fine folks at Cinestill Film to send rolls of premium 35mm color negative films with the PONF Cameras ordered in the presale!

We didn’t want you to have to wait even a moment before you’re able to put a roll of film into the analog back to give your new camera a test. And we wanted your very first 35mm roll to be the best of the best. That’s why we’re going to be sending exclusively Cinestill films along with it, so there will be nothing holding you back from taking your first amazing PONF photos on film when the camera arrives. That’s what PONF stands for, of course! I don’t know about you, but I’m always eager to hear the first clicks of the shutter in my new cameras.

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Brandon and Brian Wright, creators and cofounders of CineStill Film, have been innovating and charging ahead into the future of film photography for the past few years. That’s part of the reason that we’re so excited to be partnering up with them. Their film is creating a new gold standard in color negative films, thanks to their own innovation, which you’ll read about below. We went behind the scenes with Brian and Brandon to learn about their own personal history of photography, their adventure into film making, and finally, their thoughts on PONF. Enjoy!

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PONF: Where are you from, and where are you now?

Brian: We were born in the LA area, with a stint in Seattle during our formative years. Now we are back in LA.

Brandon: Hollywood, to be specific.

Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken? Can you remember the moment you took it?

Brian: No. I don’t think I have a favorite, actually. They are like your children, you know?

Brandon: Some you love. Others, you are really disappointed in how they turn out.

Brian:  Man. That was good actually.

Brandon: Thank you.

Brian: Super messed up though…

What is your earliest memory with photography?

Brian: My mom’s ultrasound.

Brandon: [Eyes Rolling] No. Taking pictures on our dad’s Olympus OM-1 while skateboarding.

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What about your first encounter with digital photography?

Brandon: We got a free HP digital camera that came with our family computer.

Brian: It was fun to play with and get instant feedback. Anything we cared about we also shot on film.

Brandon: Actually, I think we may still have those files somewhere…

So what are your favorite film(s) and cameras or image making equipment /processes so far?

Brian: [Smiling] Our favorite film is anything CineStill.

Brandon: HA!

Brian: And the camera I have with me is my favorite.

Brandon: [Another Eye Roll] Come on.  We love our Leica M2. Pentax 67ii.

Brian: And our Rollei TLR. I can keep going.

Brandon: Yeah.  I guess whichever one we have with us.

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Tell us about the journey of Cinestill. As long or short as you wish!

Brian: About seven years ago now, when we were strictly doing the photographer and film maker thing, we recognized some of the more special characteristics of motion picture technology and emulsions. We set out to find a way to adapt it so we could use it to make still photos.  So, I guess the initial concept was actually pretty selfish.

Brandon: Hahaha. It was purely selfish! We wanted to shoot movie film in our Leicas. That’s it! So we started figuring out how to do that.

Brian: We began posting our results online so people could see how cool motion picture film looked when it was shot as stills – especially in low light. 

Brandon: Our friends and other professionals started messaging us asking if they could get some as well. But no one seemed willing to jump through all the hoops we did in order to shoot it.

Brian: Until then, it really didn’t occur to us that other people would necessarily want this.

Brandon: Yeah. We were essentially just tinkering for our own reasons. But enough people started showing interest that we said, “Oh yeah. If we want it others might too.”

Brian:  So we started trying to make it available to our friends and colleagues. Fast-forward seven years and here we are.  Making film for people around the world.

Brandon: So cool.

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What was the biggest challenge? The biggest surprise?

Brian: The biggest challenge so far was probably making CineStill in medium format.  It was kind of a monumental undertaking. Bigger than we realized initially.

Brandon: Yeah, I agree. I think it just took way more resources and capital. It makes sense now, but at the time, we were hoping the path to large scale manufacturing was going to be smoother than it was.  But we did it. And it took a lot of support from the film community to make it happen.

Brian: I think that connects to the biggest surprise as well, which is the degree of support we have had from the global photography community – pretty much from the beginning. 

Brandon: I agree. It completely blew us away. Within our first six months of launching, people started sending us images from all over the world that they shot on film we made. 

Brian: We were stunned.  It was so exciting. 

Brandon: Yeah – such a great feeling.

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From where you stand, what do you think the future holds for photography?

Brandon: I think things are headed in a great direction right now.  Look, nothing will supplant digital photography, or the tech that is driving it.  It is here to stay and it is super cool. But something interesting that came out of the “digital vs. film” days is that it gave serious  photographers, hobbyists and enthusiasts an alternative place to go. A place to explore. Now, more than ever, people – young people – are exploring film alongside digital. Many for the first time ever! And it is capturing people’s hearts and creative energy like never before. I don’t think this kind of passion over available mediums ever would have happened without the digital revolution. 

Brian: For sure. The market seems to be exploding with newcomers to film shooting. And it really is a renaissance fueled by the merging of old and new ideas. The future is so bright!

What are some of your initial thoughts on the film and digital PONF Camera? 

The PONF camera seems like a great option for those of us who shoot both film and digital and appreciate the benefits of each medium. As film photographers who love film, I think we’ve all dreamed of having the ability to switch seamlessly from shooting film for the images we really care about to shooting digital while still using the same 35mm camera system.

How might you customize one — what does your modular dream camera look like? What special programs does it have?

We would love to see a true optical rangefinder camera in Leica M mount that can shoot both film and digital backs. Add to that the ability to switch the front module to an SLR-style viewfinder/mount and you could easily fill out a full system with longer lenses. In terms of special programs, it would be great if the digital back could upload files to the cloud via wifi and scan 35mm film negatives to the memory card.

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Let’s end with your advice to another photographer but with a twist: Five words or less or a Haiku.

SHOOT MORE FILM!

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History Lesson: Wet and Dry Collodion, The Precursors to Film (pt. IV)

By Gregg McNeill

In this series, we explore the history of photography in terms of image-making methods and various technologies available to photographers at different periods of time, leading up to the present host of available ways to make a photography. It wasn’t always os easy! In the previous entry, we talked about the paper processes. From the preceding photographic technologies, they were a step up in ease of use, but a step back in image quality.

Our story resumes in 1846. Louis-Nicolas Ménard, a gentleman scientist in France, discovers collodion. Collodion is basically nitrocellulose, or gun-cotton, dissolved in ether and alcohol, creating a sticky film (the name collodion comes from the Greek κολλώδης (kollodis), meaning gluey). In 1847 collodion was first used as a covering for medical dressing, then in the battlefield during the Crimean War. Collodion is still used today in the medical industry, as well as the Theatrical industry as a special effects make-up.

Frederick Scott Archer by Robert Cade, 1856.jpgFrederick Scott Archer by Robert Cade, 1856

Enter Frederick Scott Archer. He was a Sculptor. He often used Calotypes to capture images of his work. Archer became frustrated by the lack of definition of the images and extremely long exposure times, he sought out a new way of making images of his work. In 1848, Archer began work on his Wet Collodion process. He published his process in The Chemist magazine in March of 1851. This was the first time that glass had been used as a substrate for photographs. They were called Ambrotypes.

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The Chemist title page

It also should be noted that a Frenchman named Gustave Le Gray had been working on a collodion-on-glass process and had published an article about 1 year earlier. However, his article was vague as to the process and has been described as “a theory, at best”. It’s a cruel irony that we have a wealth of fantastic images from Le Gray and less than 100 images known to be made by Archer.

Gustave LeGray - Tree, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1856.jpgGustave Le Gray, Tree, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1856

The first step in the Wet Collodion process is to grind down the cut edges of the glass plate, then meticulously clean the plate with a solution of alcohol and calcium carbonate.

Collodion is flowed carefully onto the glass plate, allowed to partially set, then lowered into the silver bath.

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Inside the silver bath, the bromides and iodides in the collodion react with the silver nitrate to form a light sensitive emulsion on the plate. After about 3-4 minutes, the plate is sufficiently sensitized to create an image.

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Under safelight conditions, the plate is removed from the Silverbath and loaded into the plate holder. Since collodion is only sensitive to the green blue and some of the UV spectrum, exposure times are determined by experience.

Developing the plate is done by removing the plate in safelight conditions and pouring developer onto the plate. Once developing is complete, water is poured over the plate to arrest development.

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Plates can be fixed in either Sodium Thiosulfate (photographic fixer) or Potassium Cyanide (KCN). This is the part of the process where you can see the image turn from negative to positive, right before your eyes.

The plate will lose sensitivity to light if the collodion dries, so all of the above steps have to be accomplished while the chemistry is still wet.

Once the image on the plate is dry, you must protect the delicate collodion emulsion by varnishing. This is done with either a sarandac, or lacquer varnish. After heating the plate over an open alcohol flame, flow the varnish over the plate and allow it to set. Heat the plate again to cure the varnish. Many modern Collodionists use Renaissance Wax instead of varnishing since it doesn’t darken the image on the plate like most varnishes. The downside of this is that the image layer isn’t as protected as it is with varnish.

The Ambrotype represented a sea change in photography. Prints from these glass negatives could be reproduced hundreds of times and unlike the Calotype, held a fantastic amount of detail.

Ante Room of Great Hall, Frederick Scott Archer, 1851.jpgAnte Room of Great Hall, Frederick Scott Archer, 1851

Wet and Dry Collodion, The Precursor to Film will be published in two parts. Keep an eye out for the next chapter!

Sources:
\http://www.frederickscottarcher.com/
http://www.samackenna.co.uk/fsa/thechemist.html
http://www.historiccamera.com/cgi-bin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=fredrickscottarcher
http://www.samackenna.co.uk/fsa/FSArcher.html
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_wet_collodion.htm
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_wet_collodion_-_thomas_rodger_00.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Scott_Archer
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis-Nicolas_M%C3%A9nard
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion_process
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collodion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambrotype
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintype
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_plate
http://www.thevictorianphotographer.com/workshops/
http://www.johncoffer.com/
https://www.topshitphotography.com/
http://www.jonathanstead.com/index.html
http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org/course/dry-plate
http://thelightfarm.com/cgi-bin/htmlgen.py?content=PictorioGraphica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photographic_film
http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/gloss10.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JDfdHWBVG4
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albumen_print
https://www.etsy.com/shop/Pictoriographica
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance_Wax
Reilly, James M. The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895. Light Impressions Corporation. Rochester, 1980
A Silver Salted Gelatine Emulsion, Richard L. Maddox, British Journal of Photography, September 8, 1871

 

The Many of Uses For Cameras

By Katherine Phipps

Remember cameras?

Real cameras. Because our quest is to produce a camera for all, we at PONF spend a lot of time thinking about the uses of cameras. Before smartphones were packing imaging sensors as sophisticated as my first DSLR and making simulated bokeh, it seemed to be a lot more common that people every now and then would get themselves a new camera. Or maybe they’d get one handed down from their family. Cameras used to be built to last, silently clicking frames to freeze moments of time as it passed by.

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A Time Before Ubiquity

I remember an interesting intersection of time when people had all types of cameras. People had point and shoots of varying cool automatic capabilities. Pro photogs had cameras with big battery grips and lenses like soup cans, many elements of heavy glass, artsy photographers had beautiful view cameras and old, mechanical 35mm and medium format cameras that had silently witnessed the 60s and 70s. People had Polaroids, and didn’t say “that still exists?!” in amazement when you went to snap a photo.

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Enter the “camera phone” which seemed to for some period of time distract us from the wonders of having a dedicated camera, so much so that to “non-photographers” grow accustomed to shooting photos and now the people taking pictures who never had a dedicated camera perhaps outweighs the number of people who did have a “real camera” and carried it around for some period of their lives, and far less who do so on a regular basis today.

There’s a Million Reasons  To Carry A Camera

So here is a list of all of the uses for photography, in case you were wondering how you might use your new PONF camera. We are excited to help people remember cameras. Do you have another idea for a way to use a camera? Write us a comment with your own ideas below!

  1. Taking photos of your friends
  2. Taking photos of your family
  3. Taking photos of your dog or cat
  4. Taking photos of all the dogs
  5. Taking photos of beautiful light
  6. Wedding photography
  7. Art photography
  8. Landscape photography
  9. Travel photography
  10. News photography
  11. Documenting injustice
  12. Documenting kindness
  13. Documenting everything
  14. Sharing perspective
  15. Wildlife photography
  16. Astrophotography (photographs of the night sky)
  17. Photography for research
  18. Photography for forensics
  19. Photography for education (literally, pictures of Everything!)
  20. Photography for advertising
  21. Photos of products
  22. Food photography
  23. Stock photography
  24. Fashion photography
  25. Historical photographs (the moments are happening right now, folks!)
  26. Medical photography
  27. Architectural photography
  28. Industrial photography
  29. Interior photography
  30. Photo Booths
  31. Event Photography
  32. Concert Photography
  33. Album Art
  34. The Yearbook
  35. Personal photography (a record of your own intimate time and place)
  36. Look around. Tell us the next best use for your camera.

PONF is the Everything Camera.

So there you have it, folks. So many reasons to carry a camera, so many opportunities to look up and around, away from your smartphone. You’ll notice so much more of what’s happening around you, if you only open your eyes. The PONF Camera Systems seek to put all of the possibilities at your fingertips. No matter what your camera will witness on the day to day, we are here to build it perfectly for you.

Stock Photography sourced from Pexels.com

History Lesson: Daguerreotypes and the Popularization of Photography (pt.II)

Written by Gregg McNeill

In this series, we explore the history of photography in terms of image-making methods and various technologies available to photographers at different periods of time. In part one, we explored the origins of the very first photograph.

In our previous entry we looked at Nicéphore Niépce and his Heliograph, View from the Window at Le Gras. This entry focuses on his business partner Louis Daguerre.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was born on 18 November 1787 in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d’Oise, France. He was trained as an Architect, but was known for his skill at theatrical illusion and diorama painting. His fascination began when he used a camera obscura to aid in the painting of his large Diorama Paintings for his theater. When he partnered with Nicéphore Niépce, his mind was always on the money-making potential of the medium of photography.

 

Portrait of Louis_Daguerre, 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot .jpgPortrait of Louis Daguerre, 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot, George Eastman House

In 1833 Nicéphore Niépce suddenly died, leaving all of his notes to Louis Daguerre. Daguerre would all but abandon the bitumen-based photographic process they had been working on in favour of a silver-based process that he had been experimenting with, separately from Niépce.

Daguerre’s process was as follows:

A silver-plated copper sheet was polished to as perfect a mirror finish as possible. This first step was essential to making a good-looking photograph. Getting a perfect finish by hand, could take up to an hour. First, rottenstone, a fine polishing abrasive, is applied with a hide-covered buff, then jeweller’s rouge. Lampblack is then applied, usually with a velvet-covered buff. Applying nitric acid, to remove any remaining matter, finished the polishing process.

The polished plate is then sensitized in a darkroom using a fuming box:

Stephen_day_fuming_box.jpgStephen Day Fuming Box

Here is an in-depth look at a modern fuming box. The plate was placed into the fuming box carriage, and then slid over a dish containing iodine crystals. The plate is fumed until a yellow tinge appears. This produces a coating of silver iodide.

The exposure time was several minutes. This made the first portraits quite an ordeal, with the sitter clamped into all manner of metal braces to prevent movement. It was later found that an additional fuming over bromine fumes, followed by a second shorter exposure to iodine fumes greatly increased sensitivity, reducing exposure times to as little as 30 seconds in full sun.

Once exposed, the still invisible latent image was developed in the darkroom, over fumes of heated mercury. Even though the toxic nature of mercury exposure was well known, precautions were rarely taken. Modern practitioners of this process use fume hoods and other laboratory-grade safety equipment.

The much safer Becquerel process of Daguerreotype development involves sensitizing the plate only to iodine fumes. Then, after exposure the plate is developed in sunlight using a red filter to cover the plate. This red-filtered “sun bath” intensifies the latent image to visibility, as if the image were exposed for several hours.

Back in the darkroom, the fixing of the image was originally done with a hot saturated salt solution, but this was almost immediately replaced with a bath of sodium thiosulfate, the common fixer we still use in film development today.

After drying, the image on the plate was basically a coating of fine dust and very, very delicate. A gold chloride solution was pooled onto the surface of the plate, which was heated from underneath then drained, rinsed and dried. This gilding gave the image a warmer, more pleasing tone and made the coating a little more resilient. Still, the image was subject to tarnishing from exposure to the air, so great care had to be exercised to maintain the image’s integrity.

The finished Daguerreotype plate had to be encased in an airtight container. A matt was placed over the plate and covered with a pane of glass, bound together and sealed with strips of paper coated with Gum Arabic. This was then fixed into a protective case.

Daguerreotypes were a one-off process, meaning that the plate that was produced was a one-of-a-kind with no negative. They could only be copied by re-photographing them. This was a service that many studios offered but it was costly.

With the help of French physicist (and director of the Paris Observatory), Dominique François Arago, Daguerre would present an overview of his process to the French Academy of Sciences on January 7, 1839. The details were kept secret, with viewings of his plates only at his studio and under strict supervision.  The French government agreed to buy the rights to his process in exchange for a lifetime pension for himself and Niépce’s son, Isidore, as per a previous agreement between Daguerre and Niépce.

On August 19, 1839 the French government presented the Daguerreotype process to the world for free, as a gift. (Despite this a patent agent, acting on Daguerre’s behalf, applied for a patent in England and Scotland just five days previous, entitled “A New and Improved Method of Obtaining the Spontaneous Reproduction of all the Images Received in the Focus of the Camera Obscura”. Photographers in England and Scotland would now have to pay a license fee to use the Daguerreotype process. For this reason the process wasn’t widely adopted in the UK.) Louis Daguerre would also retain the patents on the camera and other equipment used to make Daguerreotype images.

Daguerreotype studios quickly opened in every major city across the globe.

For the next 15-20 years Daguerreotypes would be the most popular and ubiquitous method for image capture. Nearly 5 million plates were created in this time.

Daguerre himself created what is believed to be the first photograph of a person. In his image, Boulevard du Temple, in the lower left corner you can see a man getting his shoes shined. The exposure time is thought to be somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, long enough for the camera to capture the unknown men and render the moving traffic in the street invisible.

Boulevard_du_Temple, 1838 by Louis Daguerre.jpgBoulevard du Temple, 1838 by Louis Daguerre

This image is thought to be the oldest daguerreotype portrait, taken by John William Draper, of his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper.

Portrait of Dorothy Catherine Draper, 1839 by John William Draper.jpgPortrait of Dorothy Catherine Draper, 1839 by John William Draper

The first self-portrait was taken by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius in October or November of 1839. He wrote on the back “The first light picture ever taken”.

Self Portrait, 1839 by Robert Cornelius.jpgSelf Portrait, 1839 by Robert Cornelius

It’s difficult for us to understand the impact that Daguerre’s photographs had on the public. For the first time in history, people could see places they could never visit and images of someone long dead. The best way to experience a Daguerreotype is to hold it. Alison Nordström, a photographic curator, called Daguerreotypes “Mirrors With a Memory”. This is very apt. The image is both a negative and a positive at the same time, depending on the angle at which it is viewed. The image appears to lift off the plate, with the viewer often reflected in it.  

A properly exposed and focused Daguerreotype has nearly infinite detail, exceeding even modern digital methods. One can get lost in the image examining every tiny detail and staring into the eyes of someone from the past.

Daguerre had introduced photography to the populace and photographs were being made all over the world, for those that could afford them. The process was complicated, cumbersome and somewhat dangerous but photography was gaining popularity.

Next: The Calotype and other paper processes make the photograph repeatable and easier.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daguerreotype

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Daguerre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography

James, Christopher. The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Cengage Learning, 2016.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d932Q6jYRg8

http://www.alternativephotography.com/becquerel-daguerreotype/

https://goo.gl/cfqRiV

http://www.cdags.org/wp-content/uploads/HowImadeDaguerreotypes1972.pdf

https://agno3solution.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/daguerreotype-fuming-box-ver-3-3-march-2015/

http://www.daguerreotypes.co.uk/Equipment.htm

http://www.alistairscott.com/daguerre/

http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/1_early/1_early_photography_-_processes_-_daguerreotype.htm

http://cdags.org/

https://goo.gl/Cnjudu

http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/dagprocess.htm

https://www.filmsnotdead.com/joyeux-anniversaire-daguerreotype/

 

History Lesson: The First Photograph (pt. I)

Written by Gregg McNeill

In this series, we explore the history of photography in terms of image-making methods and various technologies available to photographers at different periods of time. 

View_from_the_Window_at_Le_Gras,_Joseph_Nicéphore_Niépce 1826View from the Window at Le Gras, Nicéphore Niépce, 1826

This is the oldest surviving photograph made by a camera. It is called is a Heliograph and it was produced in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce. This image is the manually enhanced version made by historian Helmut Gernsheim in 1952. The actual plate looks like this (The dimples were caused by damage sometime after 1952):

Point_de_vue_du_Gras_by_Niépce,_1826

Niépce’s other pioneering work included the invention of the Heliogravure, a process used to copy drawings and engravings. He worked with Louis Daguerre perfecting many photographic processes like the Physautotype.  Niépce and his brother Claude invented the Pyréolophore, the world’s first internal combustion engine.

View from the Window at le Gras was created by dissolving Bitumen of Judea in Lavender oil and brushing it onto a pewter plate. The sensitised plate was then loaded into the back of a camera obscura similar to this one:

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The exposure took anywhere from 8 hours to several days (modern experiments lean toward several days). Notice how the sun strikes both sides of the buildings?

After the plate was exposed, it was washed with lavender oil and white petroleum. The bitumen in the areas of the image that received more light would harden and remain and the areas that received less light would wash away. The Heliographic process doesn’t yield a terribly detailed photograph, but considering this is one of the very first times that a permanent image was made with a camera, it’s pretty incredible. This process, as well as Niépce’s Physautotype process, are still practiced today.

View from the Window at le Gras is on display at The Henry Ransom Center, in Austin Texas. You can also visit Niépce’s home and workshop, The Maison Nicéphore Niépce in Paris.

With the birth of photography, the process of making a permanent photograph was neither easy nor convenient. It was the domain of scientists, inventors and craftsmen. It would be some time before everyone would be able to be a photographer.

Up next: The Daguerreotype

Links:

http://www.photo-museum.org/niepce-invention-photography

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicéphore_Niépce

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/permanent/firstphotograph/

http://www.photo-museum.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliography

http://www.photo-museum.org/niepce-nicephore-daguerre-physautotype/

Focused on Photographs: Meet Gregg McNeill

In this interview, we meet photographer, filmmaker, and educator Gregg McNeill, who joins the PONF team as our key tester of the prototype of the PONF Camera, and leader in the PONF Foundation for Photographic Education, which will provide resources to Fellowship members.  He is currently based in Scotland, but was born in the United States and has lived all over the world, working as a director of photography and photographer on TV and film documentary projects including the acclaimed “Outside The Wire” for The Red, White, And Blue Project, the heartfelt story of soldiers working to make the lives of children better in climate of war in Afghanistan. He has also worked on many other commercial and personal projects. Because of his love of all types of picture-making, from digital filmmaking to traditional (or alternative) photographic processes such as wet plate collodion, we think he is an excellent resource for all of us in the PONF community and his test images are certain to be beautiful. Without further ado, we are pleased to introduce Gregg.

Big Birtch

PONF: Where are you from, where did you grow up? Where are you living now?

Gregg McNeill: I was born in Michigan, grew up in Ohio, moved to Virginia and currently live in Scotland with my wife and daughter.

What is your earliest memory with photography? 

My mother used to take snapshots with a Kodak Instamatic. The ubiquitous form factor of that little camera has stuck with me. It used the blue flashcubes. There were always a few stashed in a drawer in the living room.

Describe your first encounter with digital photography.

I was shooting for a company in Virginia and they had bought a digital camera that I was asked to become proficient in using. It was an early Nikon (I don’t remember the model number).  I was a fairly late adopter of digital photography. This wasn’t intentional, it was just that my personal work wasn’t calling for it. After using several digital cameras, I understood digital’s place in both my professional life as well as my personal work.

Several years ago I was shooting a documentary in Afghanistan. I was shooting both video and stills. There would have been no way to do that job with film. I was a one-man band, with all of my gear carried on my person. In addition to the video gear, I had a Canon 40D (that had just been released), a kit lens, a Nifty-50 and a 35mm 1.4 prime. I shot some of my best portraits with that set-up. Digital was definitely the right tool for that job.

DPP_2360 copyDPP_0088aScreen Shot 2018-01-29 at 1.52.16 PM

I feel like in the last 5 or so years, we’ve gotten beyond the Film VS. Digital debate and that is a good thing for the photographic community in general. Both mediums have their place and we need to remember that. Analogue photography is becoming what it was always meant to be, an artistic medium that can be practiced by anyone. It’s not as cheap as it used to be, but any artistic pursuits never are.

What is your favorite film and camera or image making equipment/process?

That is a tough one.

I have a great affection for the Pentax K-1000. It was my first camera. Its shutter clack has always been comforting to me. The K-1000 is in my opinion the very best student camera ever made. It’s very sturdy and has an accurate meter. The 50mm 1.8 lens that came with mine is a great piece of glass. To this day I still shoot with it.  I love the quality of image this camera and lens produce. When coupled with TMAX 3200 and a high acutance developer. The sandy granularity of the images brings to mind the classic looks of old-school street photography from the 40’s and 50’s.

The Original Holga is right up there. At one time I had 5 of them. Each one had a different personality, photographically. I shot exclusively with them for about 5 years. The removal of the inserts meant that I was framing and exposing to the edge of the film itself, often including the edge numbers of the film in the final image. The focus fall off and vignetting combined with the 6×6 format made this a wonderfully challenging camera to shoot with. It’s tough plastic construction meant that they could sit in the bottom of my bag all the time. 2 or 3 Holgas were my constant companions for many years.

INT Shed

The Bronica ETR always felt really great in my hands. The 2¼ frame was a really nice format for framing objects and people. The tack sharp lens and rectangular frame was a nice compliment to working with the Holga.

Where the Holga taught me to let go and embrace the unknown, The 4×5 Graflex Press Camera brought me back to a place where I had to really slow down with my images and concentrate on the components of the frame again.

IRzembla2

When I took up Wet Plate Collodion, I bought a Vageeswari 10×12, my current favourite. It’s the most simple and honest camera I have ever used. The process of Wet Plate Collodion is the most challenging, frustrating, amazing and fascinating process I have ever done. I constantly feel challenged and right at the edge of my comfort zone. I haven’t been this excited about photography since the first time I got excited about photography over 30 years ago.

Steampunk Charlie - Half-Plate Clear Glass Ambrotype

Favourite film is easy: Medium Format Tri-X Pan ASA320. The tonal gradation and grain structure of that film was always second to none.

What has your career been like? 

I’ve been making images since I was a teenager. My photographic journey has taken me through many film formats (Minox, 35mm, 120mm, Polaroid, Pinhole, LomoKino, 4×5, 8×10, 10×12). I am currently obsessed with the Victorian wetplate Collodion process. I split my time between Corporate Video and Documentary work and Wetplate.

What are some of your favorite or most formative past projects or roles?

My first University photography teacher (whose name has been long since lost in my memory) had a tremendous influence on me in ways I didn’t realize at the time. She instilled in me, among other things, the maxim of framing in camera. So that we couldn’t crop our shots in the darkroom, our first assignment was to hand cut our 35mm negative carriers out of matt board so that the whole frame of our printed work was presented within the grindy uneven frame of the carrier, sometimes showing portions of the sprockets. (I kept that negative carrier and when I later moved to Medium Format, I cut another neg carrier, this time in 6×6, for that very purpose.)

Church Mescal, AZ

This idea of framing in the viewfinder had an enormous effect on my work. It kept me looking at the frame as well as objects within in the frame, moving a step here or there to keep things out of the frame or move things into the frame.

Knowing that whatever I saw would be included in the final print, made me very aware of my subject and it’s relationship to the other objects in the frame.

Another incidental effect this would have on my work was that the edge of the negative carrier and the film frame itself worked as another frame for the image, allowing me to let highlights blow-out on the edges of an image, not having to worry about detail in a bright sky or a streetlamp, to save more important detail in the darker parts of the image. A side effect of this is that the neg carrier became part of the image itself. This would also tune me into experimentation with frames within a frame (the jagged neg carrier would become the frame of the frames within the frames.).

I was working for a media firm in Alexandria, VA. One of their clients, a group that certified sustainable forests, needed images for a new campaign and website. My boss VC1had seen my work on Flickr and asked me to shoot some images of old growth forests and executives in those forests. He told me that he liked the “old-timey” look of my work.

When I started to explain what I would like to do, he stopped me and said, “I don’t understand a word of what you’re saying. Just do whatever you need to do and show me when it’s done.” The only stipulation he added was that he wanted me to take the digital Nikon to shoot backup images of the portraits, just in case. I walked away from that conversation knowing I had the Holy Grail of assignments. It would be one of the best photo experiences of my professional photographic life. The Film tally of that project was: 120mm Tmax 400, 120mm Ilford Delta 3200, 120mm Portra 400 NC, 120mm Portra 400 VC, Polaroid 690, Polaroid 3000 BW , Minox 400 colour, Minox 400 BW, 35mm Portra 400 NC, 35mm Tmax 400, 35mm Tmax 3200. Cameras used: Canon A-1 (28mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4), Canon T-90 (wide zoom), Pentax K-1000 (with a screw-mount East German 400mm f5.6 lens for portraits), Minox B, Holga, Holga fitted with a pinhole, Polaroid 200 Land Camera fitted with a pinhole, Nikon Digital (kit lens)

The first leg of the trip was to Shenandoah National forest. I was awestruck by the size of some of the trees. I came back with several amazing images. I had them scanned by another photographer I knew. This was one of my first experiences with a hybrid process (capturing on film and finishing digitally).

IMG072

The second leg of that trip would be to a National Forest outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. Words fail to describe the beauty I captured there. For the post on this series of images I purchased an Epson Perfection V750 scanner and a wet-scanning kit, as well as several film holders and ANR (anti-newton ring) glass. The library of images for this job was as vast as it was varied. I loved using the different formats and films within the same project and the results were great.

VC3IMG181

How did you get involved with PONF? 

I contacted Rafaello through Instagram when I saw one of his first posts about the project. I told him that I wanted to talk to him about what he was doing and that I’d like to test the camera and help him refine it. We met at a café in Edinburgh for a ‘quick chat’ that ended up being a 2½ hour in-depth conversation about what we loved about film photography, cameras and lenses.

Priory Ruin!

Tell us about your role with the project.

I will be one of the very first testers of the camera, sharing my work along the way, and also will play a key role in the PONF Foundation with a focus (pun intended) on education. I will be co-writing educational materials and leading courses on photography available to members of the PONF Fellowship.

I am very excited to introduce this camera into the world and I’m looking forward to helping new photographers make the most of the PONF system. My personal goals for this project are to get more people shooting and help young photographers to gain enough experience to be able to shoot with intention.

What I mean by this is to visualize the image that you are after and using your knowledge of what your camera, film (or sensor) and chemistry can do, and more importantly they can’t do.  With this level of understanding of your tools, you can more easily make the images you want rather than hoping for something amazing to happen.

John Brewer - Half-Plate Clear Glass Ambrotype

What are you interested in besides photography?

As a filmmaker and photographer, my vocation and my hobby have joined forces to destroy me.

Let’s end with your advice to another photographer but with a twist: Ten words or less or a Haiku.

Know All Of Your Tools

Always Shoot With Intention

Go! Make Images

Thanks Gregg! To follow Gregg’s work, you can check out his wet plate website, Dark Box Images, his commercial photo/video website, Blue Box Images, or you can follow him on Flickr or Instagram. Stay tuned to learn more about the team here at PONF, and the development of the world’s first multi-back 35mm film and digital camera.