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The art of seeing #20: Photography with the wrong chemicals and no lens

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

(Image credit: Benedict Brain)

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine.

This simple image of flowers on my kitchen window sill was captured on Fujifilm 4x5 Provia reversal film (a large sheet of slide film). At the time I made the image, quite a few years ago, I worked part-time in a pro photo lab in Miami Beach.

I ran the C-41 dip-and-dunk colour negative machine and could, within reason, process my personal work without a charge. I also used to get a whole lot of slide film from photoshoots I assisted on – typically a few rolls or sheets the photographer didn’t want to hold over for their next shoot, as they needed to use film stock from the same batch for colour consistency.

I ended up in a situation where I had a lot of slide film and the facility to process a lot of film. This was good and frustrating in equal measure.

The inevitable outcome saw me cross-processing most of my colour work, which is basically running slide film through colour negative chemicals. This unpredictable process tended to increase contrast, and saturate and skew colours. It was a fashionable, albeit gimmicky, technique for a while. For me, well, needs must, and sometimes it worked out well.

The other point to highlight about this image is that it was taken without a lens! I used a simple birchwood box with a pinhole, just a few centimetres from the bottle. Using a pinhole negates the need to focus; everything was tack-sharp from front to back.

Composing with a pinhole camera can be a bit hit and miss, as there’s no viewfinder to help frame up with, but I rather like the unconventional placing of the mass of colour in the top right. Overall the pinhole perspective and the cross-processed colours have created an ethereal image that I feel has stood the test of time. I am still pleased to look at it, (many) years later. BB

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