A great afternoon
In early October 2019 I spent a few hours at an industrial museum in an old mill just outside the centre of Leeds, UK. Armley Mill was (at the time of building in 1788) the world’s largest wollen mill. It hasn’t operated as a mill since the late 60’s and was opened as a heritage site in the 1980’s.
Along with me was my good friend Matt from moodmono.com and we had a great time. We both enjoy picking out details and textures so a site full of old buildings containing old machines was perfect for us to get lost in. I shot two rolls of Ilford FP4+ with my Mamiya RB67 and Matt took millions on his very nice digital Nikon (Sorry Matt, can’t remember the model!) with his even nicer 105mm macro lens.
I came away with about 12-13 shots that I am very happy with, out of a total of 20 taken which is possibly my best ‘keeper’ ratio of any shoot to date. I really feel like I am starting to get the hang of the RB67 now and I am a lot more confidant metering which I think is helping a lot. Most of these shots are almost straight out of the camera, with maybe a little crop and a slight contrast adjustment here and there.
I have mentioned in tweets recently that I am amazed at the tonal range of FP4+. You can get detail across a massive range of zones in one shot. In the photograph above, you can see detail on the shiny part fof the shaft in the centre of the shot and also in the shadow in the bottom right hand corner. If the net was in focus you would be able to see the detail in the joints too!
The detail you can get is lovely too. Look at the wood grain on the cam riser in the hotograph above, you can see the tiniest cracks and lines. The texture of the metal water wheel comes out beautifully as well., and once again the range is awesome, as well as those cracks in the wood, you can see the detail in the shadow of the heel behind.
Favourite shot of the day
The walls of the old buildings offer many opportunities for my favourite sort of photography, abstract and semi-abstract textures. The shot below is my favourite of the day, so i’ll talk a little about it.
I spotted this composition halfway along a wall where Matt and I had been shooting machines and using as a base to get some shots of the outside of the mill’s buildings. What immediately struck me was how complex this small area was in terms of construction; there are sandstone bricks, red bricks, a concrete step, a wooden door and stone lintel/frame, and the steel girders.
There is also a wide range of tones, from the sandstone and concrete down to the door and the girder plus the staining on the concrete in the bottom right.
I metered for the horizontal stone bricks lying horizontally just below half height and just left of centre. This came back with a 4 second exposure at about f8 if I recall correctly.
Now, anyone who has used an RB67 and done longer exposures will know the sinking feeling that comes upon you when the meter shows it’s necessary. The RB’s ‘B’ setting isn’t a ‘push as long as you want then let go’ system, no that would be far too convenient… Instead you need to fire the shuter to open it, and then to close it you need to either rotate the mirror lockup switch if you have locked the mirror to prevent the window sized piece of glass from creating shake, or you have to partially rotate the shutter cocking lever, which like everything on the RB is 9 feet long and made out of the centre of a dying star.
With this in mind, and exposure of a few seconds become a juggling act of firing the shutter with a cable release in one hand and triggering a stopwatch in the other. Several seconds later you are then trying to twiddle one of the two available closing methods without moving the camera. It’s amazing any of these came out at all, let alone looking so good!! Once again, the amazing lattitude in FP4+ means that being a little over the planned exposure isn’t a disaster.
Mamiya did produce a double cable release for the RB but they are rare as hen’s teeth and cost a pretty penny when they do come up, more than the lenses usually!
Seeing the machines and imagining the place in full swing is a bit terrifying, especially when you remember that children were regularly employed to do some of the most dangerous things because their hands could reach places whilst the machines were running!
We don’t know we are born….
The depth of field you can get with the 6×7 negatives is pretty damn narrow as you can see from the two photographs above.
Funny story – the photograph called ‘bucket’ immediately above this paragraph was metered for the wood of the bucket which came out at 1/2 a second. I set the camera up, composed, focussed and pressed the shutter release. I wandered off having seen another potential composition, then wandered back and noticed that the camera was still set to ‘B’! I quickly cocked the shutter, thus closing it, and wrote the shot off in my mind. It must have been 20-25 seconds or so that is was open, so over exposed by about 4-6 stops. All I can think is that reciprocity failure came to my aid as the resultant photo above is only slightly darkened in photoshop.
The photograph above is the scene you would see if you rotated 45 degrees to the right after taking my favourite shot of the day as told above.
I will finish with a shot that tells a story. The two signs are showing the height of flood waters in two distinct years. The bottom one is from 1866 and the top one is from 2015 and is almost to the top of the window! The mill is on an island between two canals/rivers so often has to cope with some dgree of water ingress, but that 2015 level is incredible.
I hope you have enjoyed this amble through the mill, and the photographs I took on the way. Please do take the time to look at Matt’s website at moodmono.com, he has a great eye and is working that 105macro really well.