Colin Dullaghan

Colin Dullaghan

Posted on 03/16/2014

Photo taken on May 23, 2013

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calumet 4x5

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Crabtree Creek, Revisited, Thanks to Clyde Butcher

Crabtree Creek, Revisited, Thanks to Clyde Butcher
This was one of my first efforts with the 4x5, and I don't think there's much spectacular here, particularly in terms of the composition. What's more interesting, I think, is why I came back to it.

Last week, during a vacation to Florida, I went to a lecture by the photographer Clyde Butcher, whose work I am not alone in admiring. Afterward, he was good enough to sit down and talk with a few of us who'd lined up, and during my turn I gave him a print of this image -- just my awkward way of thanking him for the inspiration he's given me with his black-and-white landscapes of the Everglades.

I was naturally embarrassed when he initially had trouble orienting it right -- the way I handed it to him, he must've thought it might be a vertical image instead, which is pretty understandable given the lack of any dominant element (that lack is also the reason I'd previously chosen not to post it here). But after he quickly rotated it into position, he surprised me with an on-the-spot critique! Pointing to the blown highlights on the right, he said "Ooh, that's a no-no, there."

Not having expected this, I stammered a bit and apologized, saying that I knew it was far from a perfect print, but that the bright sun streaming in through the branches above was what attracted me to the scene in the first place. "No," he went on, "This is a no-sun shot. You should've waited to take it on a day that wasn't so bright."

Now, you (or I) would have to look pretty far and wide to find a more knowledgeable person than Clyde, especially on the topic of accurately metering sunlight on water! But I'm curious whether you agree with his assessment. Is it true that this scene, at that moment was simply not suitable to be photographed? I put a lot of faith in the dynamic range I could extract from my usual 4x5 combination: Ilford HP5+ and stand-processed Rodinal. But, as you (and Clyde) can tell, it wasn't enough. There's no detail in the highlights, and I'm fairly sure I lost the shadows at the other end of the spectrum as well. Should I have just folded the tripod back up and returned another time?

In the end, I ask this mostly because I'm curious (and because I want to brag that I got to meet one of my photographic heroes in person). But I'm extra interested to hear any comments, because despite this expert, offhand critique, I expect I'll still continue to find myself drawn to scenes like this -- dramatic streams of light cutting through shadowy wooded areas are a major theme in some of my favorite of Clyde's (and some of your) images!

But it's worth, noting, too, that the more meaningful part of my mini-gift to Clyde was actually the note I'd written on the back. And whatever approach I take next, what it said there will remain as true as ever:

"The click of the shutter … the glow of the enlarger ... the magic of seeing the image develop in the tray. Thanks for inspiring me to enjoy more of these moments of peace."

Rolleigraf, Holden Richards have particularly liked this photo

Colin Dullaghan
Colin Dullaghan
Thanks for those insights, Holden. Your explanation makes much more sense than I was able to draw from my (necessarily) brief conversation with Clyde, and you're inspiring me to be a little more patient in setting up my shots.

N-2 stand development sounds pretty promising as well. I *am* getting results that please me, as you mentioned, but -- as you know -- sometimes that pleasure leads to more striving for improvement!
5 years ago.
Cedric Muscat
Cedric Muscat
Colin Hi! First I like the image t doesn't get me wound up with the comments/critic that was given by your hero.
What may "balance" the image would be some burning in of the rocks that will give the catchlights a bed to leap from and the bottom right corner to to pull one into the image without falling/sliding off the image diagonally through that corner.
Do what makes you happy yes and be open to critic okay but in the end it is you that has the final say.
Who knows how he would have torn this image apart but I still like it, Good luck all the same:
2 years ago.
Colin Dullaghan has replied to Cedric Muscat
Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment, and linking to a "rule-breaking" image that is, to me, undeniably beautiful.
2 years ago.