For photographer Ben Parks, there has always been a spark with analog photography. But he developed a certain affinity with large format while back in college and has carried this love story all the way through his career. From the magic of seeing an image appear on the ground glass to the manipulation of Instant film, Ben gives each step of his creative process a dedicated amount of work and attention. Testing the LomoGraflok 4×5 Instant Back he shot landscapes with his usual psychedelic signature, on Instax wide, for a vivid (and quick) result!
When did you start shooting large format ?
Probably in early 2000. I started shooting film back in High School, in 1988 through 91, and then transitioned into medium and large format photography in college. I took a little gap between high school and college and then went back because I was focused on painting for a little bit.
I never made the switch over to digital at all. I have a digital camera I just don’t use it. I may use my phone to check a lighting situation and then shoot on film. It just never worked with my style of shooting.
What is it about shooting large format you like the most?
What I am attracted to the most is that it makes you slow down your process. You don’t have that sense of immediacy which I think a lot of people have with digital or even with 35mm and 120 to some extent. Once you have gotten to know your cameras, you kind of just shoot automatically without thinking about it per se. You know your settings, you know the lighting conditions and so you’re able to just kind of cruise through a large body of work in a short amount of time. While with large format, especially using rail cameras, with the ability to use tilt shifts, you really have to think about your lens and your composition and your exposure because your apertures and shutter speeds are gonna be vastly different from faster lenses on more traditional cameras.
It also takes you outside the norm, with the ability to compose on ground glass in a way you cannot necessarily do in medium format. It really gives you the ability to use every square inch within the frame.
Being under the hood and looking at the ground glass and seeing the light change across the large screen versus just a traditional ground glass, I think that’s where a lot of the magic lies for me with large format. That’s why I gravitate towards it more now. As I’m getting further and further into my work I am using my medium format cameras less and less. Which is interesting, I would think that as I am getting older that I would want to speed up the process and use faster cameras like my Hasselblad but I’ve fallen in love with large format and I am seeing my work continuing on with large format.
Photography is always such a magical experience for me when I get to see it emerge – now on instant before it was in the darkroom – it continues that magic for me. I love instant film.
What is it about instant film that you prefer?
Having shot peel-apart polaroid for so many years and when that went away moving into FP100 C, FP3000B and then that went away and moving into traditional film – I kind of missed something about the look of Peel Apart film you can’t replicate with regular emulsion stocks. I felt like I was missing a step. I could manipulate film stocks or the film backs to see how it would look for me and if I can tailor it to my work and look. But when I started to work with Instax a while back, I saw that it had a completely new look that let’s say FP100C – the tones are warmer, the saturation is a little different, it’s not quite as sharp as FP100C but I’m not so much concerned about the crispness of an image. I think you can see that with my work for the most part my focus is not accurate and that’s not what I’m looking for.
But Instax gives me the ability to go through a whole different color spectrum which I can’t get with other film stocks.
And now with the new LomoGraflok 4x5 Instant Back, I won't have to use so many film holders. For so long I was using light bags and tents to constantly load and unload film. That was one of the things that were always in the back of my mind: When will somebody come up with an idea where we can utilize the 4x5 cameras with an instant back of some sort?
Now having had the LomoGraflok Back for a few weeks, I probably burnt through more film in the last few weeks than I have in the last few months. Which is great, I love shooting constantly and this is giving me the ability to shoot more easily, which is great.
What was your first impression ?
It was really intuitive. The mask was simply a new step. Once I put in the mask and I was able to set my distances on my camera, I just marked things off with a piece of tape on the rail, so I had infinity focus, maybe 8 feet, 3 feet, and then I could just put the mask aside.
I know not everybody works that way because they’re looking for more precision in their work as far as the focus goes but for the way that I shoot, it works. Once I had the distances set on my camera, I didn’t really have to use it again to compose things.
I used in total four different 4x5 cameras with the LomoGraflok, trying out different looks with different setups. For me, it was an easy transition going from one camera to the other, and that opens up a whole world for a lot of people who are thinking about 4x5. They don’t have to look at the traditional rail cameras or view cameras, there are other modified cameras, like the Polaroid 110 B, which are going to be a little more kind of labor-intensive for them to use, but once they figure out their focuses and meter, even using the mask in those cameras is easy as well. The body of work that we'll start to see coming from artists and photographers is going to be really something to kind of watch over the next year. I'm excited about it because I love seeing what people are going to do with new products and new films.
How would you integrate this new tool into your workflow?
For me, it's going to be definitely the ease as far as when I'm working out in the field or out in the city, it allows me the flexibility of choice, more easily accessible peripherals to use within the medium that I think that will just help us all in the end just to kind of keep filming alive.
People will use it as proofs, I think it will allow folks and artists to become more comfortable shooting with large format cameras. It won't be so intimidating and they won't have to waste, $10 on a sheet of 4x5 when they can proof it first and then get their exposure and then send it off. I think it benefits so many people into photography right now.