On Hasselblad and Analogue

Darren Kelland

Whether Kelland is shooting Hasselblad 501, Leica M3, or Canon EOS 5D, his work is easily identified. His frames contain a certain melancholy and, perhaps, a degree of unearthliness. His love of analogue photography and seascapes have created a most unusual and impressive body of work. Why analogue? Darren replies, “I believe that our planet is still very beautiful. Surely landscape photographers should see that more than anyone. The truth is that before I shot with film, I don't believe I did”.

I search for pieces of calm in a busy world. My life is full of important things such as work and family. Photography gives me a moment to myself. I find beauty and peace in minimalism. For this reason I work almost exclusively with black and white photography. I hope in my work, people will see that there is beauty all around us. I shoot for myself, but if others can find something beautiful or peaceful in my photography then I will be content." Darren Kelland

Kujaja: What type of photography do you enjoy most and why?
DK: Black and white, square format, long exposure, and seascapes. Any one of these or a combination of all four will do it for me. Although it can be complex to create these images, I see a great deal of simplicity in the final images that I produce with these characteristics. I like to view images that provide a moment of calm and I find it in these areas.

Kujaja: How did you get involved with the type of photography you’re doing now?
DK: I feel as if I have come full circle as I am currently shooting quite a bit of film photography using a Leica M3 and a Hasselblad 501cm. I found that when I was shooting digital I preferred black and white images and used Silver Efex to introduce grain to my images. Last year my wife announced that she was pregnant and I decided that I wanted to shoot the first image of my newborn child on an iconic film camera. After a little research, I settled on the Leica and then set about acquiring one and learning how to use it. I also fancied a medium format camera and it had to be a Hasselblad.

I still shoot digital but love the challenge that film presents. Digital works in some cases and film in others. I also enjoy shooting with my iPhone. I acknowledge that I have perhaps picked the best film cameras to shoot with but that is because I believe they are beautiful pieces of kit. The final photograph is king. The camera you use should be one that allows you the freedom to articulate your vision.

Kujaja: You commented, “I found that when I was shooting digital I preferred black and white images and used Silver Efex to introduce grain to my images.” However, medium format cameras are often chosen because of the smooth gradation without grain or blur. Do you find that to be true when shooting Leica or Hasselblad?
DK: Absolutely not. I think this is a commentary on MF digital cameras. It also could be due to choice of film. For color I shoot Portra 400 and while it is great quality and low grain, you can still tell that you are looking at a film image when you see the photographs. If you look at Michael Kenna's images you can tell they are film photographs. He shoots Hasselblad film cameras with (mainly) Tri-X film. I feel that grain adds an edge to my images. In a sense they are more soulful than digital images which can be very clean and almost too perfect. With the Leica M3 (which is a 35mm camera) the grain is very noticeable. I find this challenging as you cannot really crop images as they start to break up a little. Best to get it right in camera. Tri-X 400 in 120 (MF) still has grain and I am very happy with the amount. You can buy less grainy films but where would the fun be in that?

Kujaja: It is said that medium format images are easy to detect because they have a signature look that is recognizable due to the lack of perspective distortion, or flattening of the image. Do you agree?
DK: This is a tricky question. I think SLRs are improving to the extent that the dividing line between 35mm digital and MF digital is quite blurred. I have seen some images from the Nikon D800 and the new Canon 5DS that are a step into the realms of MF cameras. I'm not completely sure that I could call it if I was asked to pick out a MF image over a 35mm image although I like to think that I could. It is true that very high-end MF cameras are incomparable and the images that digital Hasselblads and Phase Ones produce are stunning in their rendition of color and detail. There is a general step-up in quality across the board and this can only be a good thing for great photographers. I think perspective distortion is a function of lens focal length and this applies equally to MF as it does to 35mm. I suspect greater photographers than I will have an opinion on this question that does not agree with mine.

Kujaja: Medium format cameras demand a slow, deliberate approach because of the limitations they impose on a photographer? How has this changed you as a photographer?
DK: It has changed me significantly. I am a lot more careful now about what I shoot. Before I started shooting film, I could quite easily shoot 20 or 30 digital images of a scene and then just pick my favorite when I got back home. You can do this with film if you wish but it becomes an expensive exercise. I think I am a lot more controlled now about my setup and my final shot. Sometimes, I come home after a morning or evening out with just one photograph. I could never imagine this with digital. I work harder at a landscape now. I will walk around, checking the angles and perspective. I spend more time looking at the scene through my eyes than through a viewfinder. There is a greater depth of communication that I experience. I believe that our planet is still very beautiful. Surely landscape photographers should see that more than anybody. The truth is that before I shot with film, I don't believe that I did.

Kujaja: Somewhere I read that medium format cameras create images that are almost spiritual. Considering Josef Hoflehner’s work, I couldn’t agree more. Your image, Le Hocq, is one such image. Tell us about the making of this image?
DK: Recently, I took my Hasselblad to Le Hocq to see what I could discover. I have one lens for this camera and it is a 80mm prime so your options are limited. I like this though - it makes you work harder. The tide was high and the sun was setting so the conditions were perfect. I set up as usual and was using a 10 stop filter stacked with a 3 stop grad for the sky. I metered, calculated my 10 stop exposure time and adjusted this for reciprocity failure. Then it is a question of stepping back and letting the camera do its thing.

I have to admit there is a huge sense of anticipation that builds during the time that your films are away to be processed. I am set up to darkroom print but the processing of films to negatives is best left out of my hands due to the potential to ruin a perfectly good set of negatives.

The moment that you open your set of 12 prints and slowly leaf through them is quite something. You're never quite sure what to expect and when I saw Le Hocq I was blown away. I hope this doesn't sound too pretentious or narcissistic but I do sometimes think "did I really take that photograph". It still surprises me to think that I have a little creative streak that allows me to produce moments of wonder (to myself at least).

The whole experience is quite spiritual in my opinion. It's why I love photography.

Kujaja: Who are the photographers who have influenced your thinking and photography?
DK: I have a number of very clear influences. It will not come as a surprise if I mention Michael Kenna (who I met in London last year) and Michael Levin. I love their work and find it aspirational and inspirational. The person who has had most influence though, is Colin Homes. Colin ran a workshop in Jersey last year with a small group of locals and I found that after the workshop I see things differently. Also, he used a mixture of film and digital and we spoke at length about how film had its part to play in modern photography. I suspect this is where I picked up the film buzz and I feel that I owe Colin a lot as result.

Although not photographers I am also influenced by Ludivico Einaudi, The National, Radiohead and Pink Floyd. I am always listening to music either while photographing or processing and it is consistently one of these four. My view is that their creativity helps open up my creativity and my photographs are better as a result. There are also a few snatched lyrics in the title of a few of my photographs.

Kujaja: Can you identify a unifying theme throughout your photography?
DK: I look for things that I find aesthetically pleasing. I think being tied to one theme is limiting. Somebody once commented that there are no people in my photographs but images such as Storm Watcher do have people in them. I have a sweet spot and this will always be black and white, maybe long exposure and quite often a seascape.

Kujaja: What is the most challenging part about being a photographer?
DK: Finding time. I have a busy job and three kids (all boys) all under the age of 10. The youngest is 5 months old so it can be difficult to justify spending 3 or 4 hours alone out of the house to my wife. She is incredibly understanding which is great. She is the biggest supporter of my photography. There is no doubt that photography is an escape and that can feel great when the rest of life is so busy.

Kujaja: What are your photography weaknesses?
DK: I have my own ideas of perfection and I measure myself against those (in many aspects of my life). Sometimes, this means that I am just never satisfied with the final image. It drives my wife crazy. I will often see something that is flawed in a final image and every time I look at it that is all I see. I am working on this but can't pretend it is improving much.

Kujaja: What is your best photography tip?
DK: Shoot what you love and keep working at it. If you shoot for yourself you will find photography immensely rewarding. If you only shoot to climb the social media ladder you will be disappointed at some stage and that can be disheartening. I've been there.

Kujaja: What are your photography ‘must haves’ (without this/these, I will not shoot)?
DK: I don't like shooting in groups. My photography is my quiet time. Occasionally I will join another photographer but I prefer my own time and space. Solitude is therefore a must have for me. Neutral density filters are quite important and consequently so is a tripod. The last bits I need are a packet of sweets and my headphones.

Kujaja: Do you think gear really matters?
DK: A great picture can be taken with even the most fundamental equipment. A poor photograph can be taken with the most expensive equipment. I have lots of lovely gear but I am not one for the pixel wars that seem prevalent in the digital world at the moment. I would never say 'no' to a nice new lens though.

Kujaja: How do you choose the places you photograph?
DK: I like places that are calm where I can be alone. Interestingly, this can be in a foreign city such as Geneva where nobody knows me. When I'm not in a foreign city I will often go to places where I have spent time before - always trying to find another perspective that will make the viewer see some familiar, but in a different light.

Kujaja: Can you describe your post-process workflow?
DK: Great question. I send my films away to be developed and my work begins with the negative, negative scan or a RAW file depending on what format I have shot. At the moment I am playing with an enlarger that I bought second hand and I can't wait to generate my own prints. Whether film or digital I will typically add some contrast and there will be a little dodging and burning. Sometimes with digital images I go for an abstract feel but there is no confusing these with the minor adjustments I make to other images. In a sense, it is either very minor adjustments or extreme manipulation. ‘The Running Man’ is an example of what I mean by extreme manipulation.

Kujaja: What’s your useable-to-unusable ratio when you review images from a shoot?
DK: There is no doubt that the ratio is a lot better with my film images. This is having an impact on my digital images. I survey each scene more thoroughly before I shoot since I picked up a film camera again. I am not sure what the ratios are but to be honest I don't care. I have lots of old images that I have never processed and I will quite often find something in them after a period of time has elapsed.

Kujaja: What is your best post processing tip?
DK: Henri Cartier-Bresson said that sharpness is a bourgeois concept. This relates to 'over' anything. I see so many images that are over-sharpened or over-contrasted or over-saturated. They are not for me and I would urge anybody who is seeking advice to go easy on the sliders. Less is more in my opinion.

Kujaja: How has photography changed you as a person?
DK: It adds balance to my life. As mentioned already, life is busy. To have time to myself is a luxury and I appreciate it all the more. It has been a revelation for me to realize that I have some creativity and can gain some pleasure from this aspect of my personality. I think that balance makes me calmer and more patient. Waiting on a roll of film to be developed also helps with the 'I need it now' aspect of modern life. I can wait.

Kujaja: What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
DK: I believe there is so much beauty in the world and I want to open people's eyes to the beauty that is all around them. If I can bring a little moment of calm into the lives of people then I will be very happy.

Kujaja: Finally, what is one question no one has ever asked you that you wish they had asked you?
DK: How much do you want to be paid for this interview...

Kujaja: Thank you for this interview Darren.

Darren Kelland at Kujaja (click)