I’ve been asked many times, Why shoot 4x5? Isn’t it expensive? And slow? And frustrating? If you’re reading this, you must know that the answer is yes! Choosing to shoot large format film photography can be incredibly time (and money) consuming. The high chance that your photograph will not come out, compared to shooting roll films, can be gutting. Even the most seasoned Large Format photographers will nod along to this; so much more can wrong when working with sheet film, but the risks are totally worthwhile. The large format camera is amongst the simplest of its kind but that simplicity is deceiving, that simplicity gives to the photographer a breadth of control and creative power unattainable through any other camera. To be that much more involved in the taking of a photograph, in the making of an image, is a distinct pleasure for those of us who work in such a strictly mimetic medium.
When I first decided to take a large format camera with me on my residency in Svalbard, indeed when I decided to go on the residency at all, I encountered a logistical conundrum: the cold. Although the temperatures in Svalbard’s autumn would not reach the painful, instant-frostbite levels of the Antarctic, I knew that the weather would waver around freezing and frequently be below it. That meant batteries would die incredibly fast, plastic could become brittle and metal would be painfully cold to touch. Though there was not much I could do about my medium format or digital cameras besides prepare for the worst, I thought of the wonderful wooden view cameras of the past. In an initially failed search for an affordable wooden view camera, I came across the Intrepid Camera Company’s kickstarter page. Their camera was incredibly light, compact, and made of a material that would prove comfortable to use and reliable in the cold, dry arctic. The camera’s dimensions even meant it would fit perfectly into my padded camera backpack compartment, despite having been designed for DSLRs. Technically and logistically speaking, it couldn’t have been a more perfect camera for a traveling large format photographer.
Moving from ship to shore multiple times a day in a small rubber zodiac meant that keeping your load of gear manageable was super important. The camera was the lightest piece of equipment I had with me and accompanied me on every landing. If only my tripod had been wooden, too! Its weight and icy chill made it a misery to work with. Once set up, the camera was easy to hike with and owing to this I was able to get shots of glaciers, mountains and moraine from any perspective I liked (as long as it was in range of our polar bear guards, of course!) It was a pleasure to use in that challenging environment and now that I’m home it’s a joy to revel in the images we made together. Now I just have to figure out where our next adventure will be!