I have been gradually going through my library of 35mm slides, a collection over 20,000 strong, and going back to the 60s. Whilst a little daunting and very time consuming, I must admit to really enjoying the process. My latest series is from a Papua New Guinea visit in 1994, with Ingrid and our 6 children. Dan, our youngest, was only a year old. As Ingrid just told me – typical Mick, writing a blog post 22 years too late!
We were in the Southern Highlands, and started in Tari. We first met Pajia the Witchdoctor. Scary looking but ultimately rather a nice man it seemed. What is photographically interesting, though, is looking at these images with a 21st century eye. I used the superb Nikon F4s, with a 35-205mm Nikkor zoom, and loaded with Ektachrome 100. This camera is still one of my workhorses today.
The strong light and heavy shadows under the trees meant that I opted to use daylight flash. Oddly, I hardly ever think of doing that today, probably because of the much higher ISOs available on digital cameras. Looking back, I find the results filmic and pleasing. It’s of course helpful to be able to use modern Lightroom processing to deal with excessive contrast from the flash.
Nearby was the home of the famous Huli Wigmen, where young men have a short profession growing their hair (apparently lying around chilling for the months they do it :-)). And there were lots of characters to be seen.
Another thing to note is that, whilst I have hundreds of slides from Papua, generally speaking in those days like many people I took only one shot of each subject – and maybe a second closer or at a slightly different angle. I certainly didn’t take a “digital series”. With no chimping possible, I had no idea what result I would be getting until a couple of weeks later, returning home and having the slides processed.
Whilst digital clearly increases the chance of success, does it mean better photographs? I think the care we have to take with a “shot at a time” is a great discipline, whatever medium we employ. I was particularly delighted to re-discover this portrait of a young boy from Wabia Village.
Zooming in with the loupe shows more grain than a comparable digital file (although maybe that is my scanning technique, not sure). But I just love the overall result here, flash included.
In Wabia, we enjoyed a performance of the Spirit Dance. That said, catching the individuals getting ready for the dance was very instructive. The care taken with the makeup was clear, and whilst it was a dance clearly set up for visitors, there was much local pride in the event.
So, what do I conclude? I can see how my current fascination with candid portrait and documentary has been with me for a long time. Daylight flash I need to experiment with. And I can also see that more discipline in “shooting one at a time ” is something that is very valid today.
Of course, film never dies, and clearly gets great results. Both digital and film have their place, I believe.
But most of all, I am just having a blast re-working my old images.
Here’s a last shot from Lumu Village.