Photography News | Issue 41 | absolutephoto.com
Interview Instanto Outdoors Professional photographer Henry Iddon has been shooting since his early teens when he had his own darkroom. Now he’s decided to go back to basics with the Underwood Instanto 10x12in camera to explore the changing technologies within photography
Interview by Jemma Dodd
The Underwood Instanto camera was originally used by George and Ashley Abraham during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The two brothers who grew up in Keswick in the Lake District were the first to take the camera into the hills, capturing both landscapes and action shots of themselves climbing. Now over 100 years later photographer Henry Iddon got hold of the camera and decided to follow in the footsteps of the Abraham brothers. this particular photographic project? I always like doing something new; if it’s been done before then I’m not really bothered, because it doesn’t move anything forward. The opportunity came to use this camera through The Wasdale Collection and the Mountain Heritage Trust. Instead of doing a recreation – making our own wet plates and recreating old climbing pictures or doing traditional type landscapes – I thought it would be curious to shoot modern climbing, with modern sheet film, but literally through the lens of this old camera, because this camera was owned and used by the Abraham brothers. Whentheystartedphotographing rock climbing in around 1910 it was a brand new sport. Now we would thinkof climbing as anextreme sport with sexy connotations, but back then it was basically men in tweed jackets. There’s this whole industry of extreme sports now; I do some of it commercially and people talk about themselves as professional adventure photographers or action sport photographers, but the provenance of the camera goes back to the very early days of that genre. Now you have someone with a GoPro action camera paragliding, but back in those days when the whole genre started they were using big plate cameras. That was the interest for me: to try and fuse together the two things. How heavy is the camera and how hard was it transporting it to these extreme locations? If we were going out for a proper day shoot, the rucksackwith all of the kit and the camera and bits and bobs for the day would weigh about 20kg. Then I’d carry a tripod that weighs about 6kg, then my assistant would have another rucksackwith the dark slides and that weighs about 12kg. What was it about
Definitely not a one-man job, then? That’s one of the first things that came to light; the Abraham brothers were a double act, the moment you start doing it you think “oh, OK…”. It needed to be a double act. What planning and research was involved? I’ve shot a previous project, called A place to go which is about poignant mountain landscapes and I shot that on 5x4in, so I’m familiar with large- format. Having said that this camera makes a 5x4in look like a compact. The actual mechanics of using it were in some sense straightforward, but when we tested it first the bellows leaked light and some of the dark slides leaked so we could only use one side of the dark slides. It’s also very susceptible to the wind, being so big, so we had to shoot on very calm days when we could. You also can’t angle it very well when it’s on the tripod. If you were shooting with an SLR you could stand on one foot and lean out and get a quirky angle, but this thing had to be pretty much horizontal on a good solid bit of ground. We would have to try and think of somewhere where I could look across and see where the climber would be, where you could get parallel to the climber without having to look up or down at a steep angle. Everything was planned; we decided that we’d try and shoot areas at specific times. With a limited number of shots how did you decide what to photograph and ensure you’d get it right? As everything was planned, it was just a matter of deciding where the climber was going to be and where they could pause comfortably, because there’s no shutter on the before I’m not that bothered, because it doesn’t move anything forward I always like doing something new; if it’s been done
Above Chris Fisher climbing Nowt Burra Flee’in Thing, Cam Crag, Wasdale, Lake District. Below Below Scafell Crag doing test shots in April 2014 with the Underwood Instanto, a Ross lens and Ilford FP4 10x12in sheet film. Top right Leah Crane on Tourniquet on the Giant Stone, Little Font bouldering area, Kentmere. Bottomright Set- up on a promontory 200m up Wasdale Screes shooting Chris Fisher on Nowt Burra Flee’in Thing.
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