Feature #006: Greener Pastures
Greener Pastures was the first full project I attempted on my Pentax 6x7;
And by extension medium format. To be fair, I actually did do my preliminary work on the series, sketches if you will, on it (in a gallery here), on the good old Minolta XD-11 (the prototype shots are Fuji Pro400h, 35mm), but the work of the finished project was mostly done on my Pentax 6x7 with a mixture of Fuji emulsions -- Pro 160NS, Pro 400h, and Provia 100, most of it was shot with the the Late Version of the Pentax 67 55mm F/4 SMC.
But let’s be honest. Technical details without context are boring. Or they should be. I get into why I chose the equipment and film I did, deep in the article so keep reading to be sure of why.
My artist statement, and working process is outlined below:
Thematically, Greener Pastures is an exploration of Architecture and Landscaping in Los Angeles, a subseries, of a bigger project on life and Architecture I’m working on. Typically, in these projects I’m looking to show the Landscaping, or Architecture, and the environment around them, as an anthropological study on how the people who live in a set region, live in relations to their neighbors, either localized to one specific neighborhood, or in comparison to the rest of the city.
I first had the idea while waiting in the Silverlake neighborhood, Los Angeles’ answer to Williamsburg, near the reservoir to shoot with a friend of mine. As I’m often given to doing, I started wandering around the neighborhood, and quickly took notice of the beautiful homes and landscaping, and began shooting them. My friend showed up fairly quickly, and once the sun fell we got to work. I brought my rolls of film to the lab the next day, and looked through the results. The photos of my friend were good. They fit thematically. But what really struck me was the houses.
The house photos felt good while shooting them. (I realize this probably sounds crazy) but it was that weird feeling of “this just feels/looks right.” Maybe other photographers can relate to that. So when I got my photos back, I was pretty stoked to see that they turned out well. When I started digging into the photos, I began to notice a pattern.
Most, if not all of the houses were landscaped extremely nicely, but the manner in which prevented anyone from really easily approaching them, or easily seeing the house unless you walked through the driveway, or another very specific route. To put it simply, the houses were landscaped passive aggressively. At first blush they appear friendly and inviting, but once you realize they’re all tall hedges and imposing trees, you feel incredibly unwelcome in the neighborhood. Or like the landscape design is a show of wealth, for the upper middle class inhabitants, aimed at keeping the riff-raff out while flexing their affluence and taste.
To that same end, when I finally ponied up and bought my Pentax 6x7, and begun the project in earnest, I found myself largely unwelcome presence. On more than a few occasions strangers would stop what they were doing to confront me about why I was there, or why I was wandering around in an un-sidewalked, otherwise remote part of the city. I always told them I was documenting the landscaping.
The only other phenomena of note, that I found while out exploring is that, as one got higher up in the hills, the houses would go one of two ways: They would either A, be more open, and less guarded from the general public, because who’d dare to climb the hill to take a picture; or B, the houses would become mini fortresses much like the mansions of the Hollywood Hills, but perhaps, maybe a little bit more tastefully landscaped.
Shooting the houses proved to be its own challenge, setting aside the hiking with the Pentax 6x7, that I had to do just to do my rounds, more often than not I’d be confined to a narrow road, or worse, the sidewalk next to the houses, and I’d be forced right up next to them, ruling out the use of a normal lens like the Pentax 6x7 105mm F 2.4. Luckily, when I first invested in the camera I had invested the 55mm f/4 SMC, which was roughly comparable to the 28mm I shot the prototypes on.
However I quickly found that even the 55mm wasn’t wide enough to really get the houses in the shot in a reasonable fashion, and that I had to get clever with my angles. About halfway through my first day shooting I began to look into another, wider lens, the 45mm, but quickly found it was out of my budget. So I learned to work around the 55. With that being said, this was most definitely the beginning of my “wide angle everything” period. Where I basically only ever shot with a 24mm on my Minolta XD-11, and carried that over to the Pentax 6x7 as well with the 55mm. The other main difficulty was some of the dramatic lighting or shadow that I ran into while out shooting during the afternoons. It often made the houses too bright, or the walls, forcing me to return multiple times to re-shoot or re-attempt to shoot certain places because of how off some of the images would look.
I do think learning to use the wideness of the lenses to learn to play with foreground and background in the same shot, or to use elements of the foreground as compositional elements to make a “flat” picture that felt colder, and more removed as an observer.
My film choice was also informed by that same commitment to an observational process. Typically I like Fujifilm quite a bit anyway, and the cool color cast or profile that tends to be present in their emulsions. That said, that coldness, to me, made them ideal for this project, and selling the fundamental cold feeling of the neighborhood. I ended up using a smattering of Provia 100f, Pro 160NS, and Pro 400h. Both of the negative films have a nice, low saturation, and even Provia, for a slide film, has fairly low saturation, or at least a compatible look.
In retrospect, if I were to redo this segment of the larger project, I’d most likely use the Pentax 6x7 45mm lens (which I finally managed to find a deal on.) And I’d probably commit to using only Pro 400h, because there’s no way in hell I’d attempt to do the project shot at 80 iso on Pro 160NS, or “correctly” at 100 iso with Provia, also on a tripod.
For my first real outing or project with the camera, I’m actually pretty happy with the project overall.