Tall Grass & Sky – Greenwood County

Tall Grass & Sky – Greenwood County   photo by Alex Hawley

Hard to believe that its been a month since I last posted. Its been busy. On Labor Day weekend, I loaded all the photo gear into the pickup and headed back to the Texico Hill area in the Kansas Flint Hills.  Went back on Road CR2 to view the area in the afternoon sun. The sky was mostly hazy but the haze cleared long enough to get this one on the 7×17 Folmer and Schwing. This one is the first in the series from that afternoon.

The more I use the 7×17, the more I like it. For what looks like a simple camera, simpler to use that the 8×10 Deardorff it would seem, the learning curve has been steep. You think after using 8×10 for several years that going to an Ultra Large Format (ULF) camera would be a breeze. Wrongo! Or, at least for me it wasn’t easy.

First, the F&S camera itself is quite literally, a hundred years old. F&S started as an independent camera maker in Rochester, NY. At the time mine was built, early 1900’s, they were owned by Eastman Kodak. Then, the Folmer Brothers patented a focal plane shutter for a 4×5 camera. Soon, the legendary Speed Graphic was born and F&S became known as the Folmer Graflex Company. The legacy of this company is still with us today, quite strongly, even though it ceased to exist nearly forty years ago. But that’s digressing from the point. A century old camera means a bellows of similar age which means never ending light leaks. Finally got that problem solved. Even though I have recoated the bellows, I still take special care to drape it with the darkcloth until I complete the exposure.

Developing the large negatives was another challenge. I thought I was smart and could use the brush development technique by inspection.  I had always developed my 810 film by inspection and didn’t think the 717 would be any different. Bought some relatively expensive hake brushes and proved to myself I could do it. Well, sort of.  Even though the negatives developed quite evenly, I was continually misreading them and underdeveloping. This sucks! Fate intervened and an old set of Beseler Unicolor drums and motor base came my way, which included a 16×20 drum.  Now I develop by time, in the daylight, and the negs come out probably better than I have ever gotten them before. Can’t say enough good things about rotary development. Uses a lot less chemicals too.

Then there was the problem of getting a contact printing frame. I quickly learned that 7×17 frames are custom built for several hundred dollars. On the other hand, 16×20 frames are plentiful and cost substantially less.  So I got a 16×20, which is four times larger and ten times heavier that the 8×10 frame I was used to. The 8×10 frame now feels like it’s for gurly-men.

So, essentially, photographing in ULF magnifies all the little gotcha problems by at least two orders of magnitude, and I haven’t even talked about having to cut down paper, loading/unloading film holders, or even purchasing film (which, let’s just call it “seasonal”). But, all those challenges withstanding, its still highly worth it.

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    • Diane Maher
    • September 17th, 2008

    Girly men? LOL! I take it by your posting a 7×17 image that you got the pinholes in your bellows sorted out? It’s good to see you shooting that camera, Alex!

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