Laughing Man – The Magic of the View Camera


When I tell people that my favorite camera is my view camera, they ask “What’s that?”. I tell them it’s a 4X5 camera and I usually get a blank stare. So, first a small description of what a view camera is. A 4×5 view camera uses single pieces of film held in a double sided film holder giving two shots per holder. Each piece of film is 4″ x 5″ (really large) and the holder is inserted into the back of the camera just before making the exposure. It is a fully manual and mechanical endeavor and is the most pure form of photography that I practice. The image is formed on a ground glass, which is the same size as the film, and focusing is done by viewing the image and extending or contracting a bellows with a lens attached to the front. Setting the exposure involves selecting an aperture and choosing how long to expose for. I have lenses with shutters built in as well as a lens with no shutter. The photograph above was exposed without a shutter. After setting the aperture and installing the film holder, I covered the lens and removed the dark slide from the film holder. Next, I uncovered the lens and made the exposure. Once the exposure was complete, I covered the lens and reinstalled the dark slide. This is just a basic description of how it works. Now on to the magic!

The camera is large and requires the use of a tripod, so I always carefully look at the scene and position myself in the same position I plan on using for the camera. This allows me to see a similar composition as the camera will see and gets me into a great starting position for the camera. Viewing the image on the ground glass is surreal. The image is upside down and laterally reversed. I immediately see line and form and I mostly stop seeing the actual subject matter. I begin to see things I never noticed when first looking at the scene as I explore the beautiful glowing image on the glass. This experience alone is extremely fascinating and satisfying. Sometimes, in the case of abstract photos, after printing the photograph I like to flip it upside down and then right side up to compare the impact of the different orientations. Some photos transform when upside done and remind me of different things. One photo, for instance, reminds me of a snow crab when viewed upside down! Very cool stuff. In the photo above, when I viewed the image on the ground glass I began to see a man with his head rolled back and an arm flung high. When I printed it, I decided he was laughing. A very fun picture of ice, snow, and flowing water. This begins a long term project of photographing from river beds and creating abstract work that frees the imagination.

One thought on “Laughing Man – The Magic of the View Camera”

  1. I love this photo. there is so much to interpret from this. I personally feel like “He” is putting his hand to his head as if to say… Uh.. Really… I now have a headache… or the famous “Doh!!!” moment from Homer Simpson… Love that everyone can see something different in the same photo.. Bravo

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