Inside this issue
David Higgs’ Weald
A Journey into Platinum/Palladium
Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.
The following is a transcription of the screencast recorded after spending a day out with David wandering the Weald and waiting for the coated paper to dry for one of his platinum palladium prints.
Tim Parkin: Hi, we’re here with David Higgs, just spent the day in Ashdown Forest
David Higgs: Doing a lot of walking, chatting and not many taking pictures! That’s fine
TP: Nothing wrong with that, just great being out seeing the world. Also looked at the exhibition, The Weald, it’s final day!
DH: If you want to go and see it, its too late now!
TP: David will be making some prints for me later but right now we’re spending the next half an hour so going through some of your own personal favorites and some of mine too. You’ve been photographing for a fairly long time?
DH: Yes I have, different genres over time
TP: I came across your work as I scanned some of your 6x17’s a while a go
DH: Yes you did! Quite a while ago – 5 years I think!
TP: Since then you’ve started processing prints as platinum palladium
DH: That’s right. I moved to platinum about 4 years ago, I started doing alternate processes and dipped my feet into platinum before going full bore over the past 3 years really.
TP: I was asking earlier how you got into this, as you were already a film photographer and did a mix of black and white and colour. Mostly silver prints though?
DH: Yes. Then making my own inkjets over the years as well as technologies improved. I struggled to get the look I wanted from inkjets compared to platinum images I’d seen, mainly from historical images in museums
TP: Like the Victoria and Albert Museum?
DH: Yes V&A is a good source of old techniques. I was trying to get that, not that necessarily retro look but that tonal look. Where life isn’t black or white as it is with a silver print. There’s more control, definitely in the lower tones. It very gracefully dips into an acceptable black as you get with platinum prints.
TP: A very intense, dark grey?
TP: Where were you getting your photographic references for this from? Who would be the photographers you would be looking at thinking platinum palladium? Was it just the historical photographers? Julia Margaret Cameron?
DH: Yes, definitely. I think also I’d seen a few books by Sally Mann who obviously is known mostly for her wet plate colloidal work. She also had a couple of books where the platinum prints were made from the wet plate collodion negatives. They have got some beautiful warm brown tones, which was just what I was trying to get.
Before I did platinum (platinum / palladium – we’ll call it platinum, as everyone else does!), I was doing argyrotypes - which is a kind of a brown sienna type. Then I was toning them in selenium and that was getting pretty near to platinum.
I think it’s quite good to cut your teeth on a relatively cheap chemical before going into platinum as unfortunately it’s expensive and it’s very unpredictable in the contrast and tones that you get. A change in temperature or humidity in your dark room can make a big difference.
TP: I presume you were talking about the acidity of the paper or water - in terms of the acid / alkali balance?
DH: Yes they all have an effect and as much as you can try and counter those and accommodate those changes, happy accidents can occur!
TP: Do you run your dark room like lab conditions to get consistency?
DH: Even then it’s unpredictable!
TP: One print is not like an inkjet, you get the palladium plate and you do 4 or 5 test prints to get things right? Gives us an idea of a 8x10” palladium print cost wise
DH: Cost wise? It depends, on paper use and how many times you need to make a print. There’s one print in the gallery that I had to print 20 times to get the something I was happy to put up. That is the exception though, some of them are right first time.
Highlight areas are difficult because there are vagaries in paper so you get a change in contrast or you get some specks. It can be a cruel mistress to get an acceptable print. Sometimes it doesn’t go as you expect and then there are other times you get a different look and you think ‘actually quite like that, let’s get that again!’. There is an element of predictability and control over it
TP: The other aspect that comes in from your work is the use of lenses. You use a few normal-ish lenses but also lenses such as Tessars, Xenars, Ektars and are you using a large format camera? 5x4?
DH: It’s all in 5x4
TP: Your using mostly older lenses? That don’t have shutters, so it’s barrel lenses. The most common one people might have heard of are Petzval, which are old projection lenses
DH: That’s right. Old projection and camera lenses as well. They have a very unique lens signature and there’s a lot of curvature to the focal field. They are characteristically sharp in the centre and then blurry and swirly to the edges.
TP: They wander in and out of focus in interesting ways?
DH: My main subject matter is woodland, which is a very chaotic subject matter and your eyes are taking everything in, it’s a beautiful environment and as soon as you commit that to film or pixels you flatten everything. You lose that depth of field and perception that you have in the woodland. Your own pupil enlarges in woodland, and your own natural aperture increases, so you have less depth of field, and it’ a way of capturing that feeling in an image. Which is challenging. Nature isn’t as accommodating with compositions as you’d like! It’s a way of distilling elements of the woodland into something that gives you a feeling or an emotion, but the image is a flat image.
TP: These lenses are mostly Victorian or early 20th century, mainly used for portraiture. The Zeiss Jena Tessar is a lens I love because, and I saw it first in some of your pictures, which has a swirly character, which is the term.
Anyway, the first picture then,
DH: This is taken with a conventional lens, this is a Xenar. It’s the ‘junk lens’ that comes with the camera and taken on a Linhof. This particular tree is my favourite tree. Does everyone have one of those? I do! It changes over the years, bits fall off, bits grow. I was waiting for the right atmospheric conditions which was dense fog and it’s got a bit of back tilt on it so the plane of focus goes through the branches where they are just starting to cross
TP: The exhibition is call Weald, where does that come from?
DH: Weald is an Anglo Saxon term for impenetrable woodland and I live in the South East of England where the Weald is. It’s perceived as an urbanised part, and the most densely populated part, of the UK. Weald comes from a term for a place which is stretched from the south coast all the way up to where London is. The Roman’s had another name for it – The Forest of Anderida and they found it a challenge go get across because most of the land is clay, sandstone
TP: Slightly boggy as we found out!
DH: Quite boggy today. Didn’t take the right shoes did you! Lots of mud and clay. It’s amazing that in a months time it’ll be as hard as concrete.
TP: Ashdown Forest is part of the Weald then?
DH: Yes, it’s a large open access area, which we don’t have much of in the south east. We have The Downs as well, but for a wooded area it’s quite unique and relatively unknown. People know Ashdown Forest though A.A Milne and Piglet, and that lot. This photograph as made only 2 miles from Pooh Sticks Bridge! Eeyore’s gloomy place.
TP: You said you don’t see many people as they tend to congregate to Pooh Sticks Bridge or The car park. Are there many car parks?
DH: Yes if you like large format landscape photography then it’s ideally suited as they provide 30 different car parks so you’re only a mile from anywhere really. What’s unique is that people only walk 100 meters and then go back to their car. So we didn’t see anyone today, which is incredible, felt quite wild in places.
DH: This is a classic Ashdown Forest view with heathlands and Scots Pines and in the distances you have got part of The Downs and right on the right you can see Friends Clump, which was planted in Victorian times.
TP: Is that the area on the right?
DH: Yes that’s the famous kind of bit the forest as it sticks out and there’s a vista from there