This year’s summer trip, was once again a chance for me to experiment. This time the usual suspects were joined by both my large-format camera and my cherished bicycle.
The focus of my trip this year was to get a handle on using the most recent addition to my menagerie, my 4x5 Tachihara. Planning began back in May, with initial monochrome testers proving successful, and the camera both fun and intuitive to use.
Using colour film while I was away would allow me to capture the colours of the European landscape and architecture. Using C41 would result in a simple darkroom process, as everything gets the same 3m15s in the developer. Using Portra would give me plenty of exposure latitude to play with just in case.
Armed with two boxes of 4x5 Portra 400, I packed a few bags with cameras, disassembled my bike and stuffed them all in to the boot of the car. I should point out at this point that I’m not a MAMIL, (a middle aged man in lycra), but I am a bit bikey. I am for example bikey enough to notice the bearded misanthrope threading his way through a crowd on a fixie in Mulhouse, or the nutters in matching colours screaming up an Alp on their carbon frames.
Even so, as I sat enjoying an Aperol in a bar in Cremona futzing with my Hasselblad, I wondered at the motives of the young man riding across the piazza on a unicycle.
Using the Tach is as close to performance art as I think my photography has ever been. Its large cherry and brass chassis attracts attention and once the bellows became sticky in the heat, I had to carry it around assembled, resting on my shoulder. More people that I would ever have guessed approached me to ask about the camera; to go under the blanket and see the world upside down on its focusing screen. One teenager even crossed a piazza to ask me how much it cost…
One upside to the size and weight of the Tach, is that my medium format load-out immediately seemed both compact and lightweight in comparison, with the Hasselblad proving to be my go-to for the trip in general, followed up by the big Fuji GW690.
As I set up the Tach in Perugia, baking under the blanket, un-converging merging verticals, checking focus with a loupe and the rear-standard with a spirit-level I realised something. That I was, that guy, and that the Tach was my unicycle. A tilt/shift lens would give me the perspective control I was enjoying, as a second wheel would have given him improved stability, speed, and handling.
As I questioned my own motivation, I realised that one should ‘judge hipster not, lest ye be found to be affected’. His arrival in a piazza on a unicycle could presumably be the culmination of a journey as complicated as mine, and that I looked as daft as he did.
After driving the 1200 miles to what would be our basecamp for two weeks I assembled my bicycle, and prepared it for its first outing on Italian soil. The following morning, after only 10 miles I crashed it into a tree at 50mph, very nearly writing both it and me off, the speed stability and control provided by my extra wheel both working against me, and deserting me respectively.
I took enough cameras for a friend to question whether I would actually use all of them- for those keeping score, the Tach got through 17 of the 20 sheets I took with me, the Blad and Fuji saw five or six rolls each, I put one through the EOS3, used the 5dMKIII twice, and swapped the Oly Trip for a GoPro while I was packing the car.
Those of you reading the captions will note that none of these photos appears to have come from the Tach, this is because I haven’t perfected the workflow for digitising the negatives from the 4x5 camera. They’ll be up soon… I hope.