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Masks, casts and little straws

Crescent Beach, February 2006

I try to resist talking about gear too much here, I know it must be a terrible bore for non-photographers. But before I built my 5×12 camera I masked off my 4×5 camera to the same ratio to see how much I would like it, and spent several months with it. It’s quite an undertaking to build a camera. Especially with an exotic format like 5×12- I would have to build the film holders as well. I wanted to make extra sure I would actually use it before I started the project. It wasn’t enough to crop from 4×5- my brain doesn’t work that way. So I made one mask for the ground glass and a matching one to insert into the film holder.

I’m a big fan of cinema, so it wasn’t hard to fall right in to a 2.4:1 format- which is essentially the same as wide screen letterbox. Something about the long and skinny of it really draws out the geometry of most compositions. Nature is…well, meandering. I like to reign in boundaries before chaos takes root. This early shot was one of the first panoramas I took and I was hooked. I love the simple lines of it, the solid ingot of rock and the puckered almost magnetic flow of the water around it; the land barely distinguished by a slender thread of shadow and highlight.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to start on the camera until I temporarily disabled myself. It was such a joy using the masked 4×5 that I probably never would have made a 5×12. I severely sprained an ankle at work and that gave me the time to get started, since I was unable to get out even on the simplest trails- even with the little cast they gave me that you inflate with a straw. But it was enough to get me hobbling around the shop and milling the pieces, provided I puff into the cast on occasion.