Robin Mills Fine Art Photography

To answer the most frequently asked question first: why haven’t I gone digital? The answer is that I think there still remains a particular level of quality, and something that can only be called flavour, with film photography, especially monochrome. The equipment necessary to capture digitally anywhere within a mile or two of the information available on the medium or large format negative, is also quite frankly a mile or two out of reach of my pocket. More importantly, I love darkroom work; and although amazed by its capability, I get no joy from my computer.

Most of my landscape photographs are taken on a Bronica SQAi 6cm x 6cm camera, using ISO 50 or 100 black and white film. This camera takes square format pictures, rather than rectangular, which might be considered the norm. It does take a while to get used to composing a picture within the square, but the result is visually satisfying: Fay Godwin, whose work I love, often used square format. I generally use an orange filter if stronger sky tones are required, and always use a hand-held light meter and grey card to assess exposure. I have three lenses, a 50mm wide angle, standard 80mm, and a 150mm short telephoto. Using the meter, a tripod, filter, cable release, etc, has the essential, benign effect of slowing me down before taking: this photography is not the “whoops-quick-flash-bang-wallop-what-a-picture” type. Often I’ll research a shot by visiting a couple of times, to decide on what would be appropriate light, etc, only to find when I come armed with all the gear someone’s picnicking in the middle of the shot. Documentary work has to be carried out more instinctively, and for this purpose the 35mm camera is preferable.

After processing the films, a meticulous stage with the potential to spoil everything, I’ll proof-print any frames that look promising from the contact sheets, to full size (12” x 16”), to check for critical sharpness or negative faults. Then, producing one print on exhibition quality fibre-based paper, as in these photographs, might take me 4 or 5 hours and 10 to 15 sheets of paper before I’ve achieved what I think is the full potential of the print. Even working from my notes, reproducing more prints of the same image is unpredictable due to the many tiny variables possible, and of course the fact that I’m only human and therefore not being driven by a piece of software.

The prints are thoroughly washed to remove all traces of chemistry, and air-dried, before being pressed to flatten out the fibre-based paper’s tendency to curl. All the best prints are then re-soaked in water, and dipped in a selenium solution, which gives a slight increase in contrast, and ensures the print is of archival quality. Drying and pressing is done again, and the prints will then be mounted behind archival quality mount board, with a hinged flap behind to add protection and keep them flat in a frame.

I find this type of photography ultimately the most rewarding: it gives the greatest pleasure when each part of the process is carried out with care, skill, and love of the subject matter. I hope the photographs reflect this view.

Currently most of my work is of a documentary nature and I would welcome commissions or suggestions in a similar vein.

Technique and Technicalities

Thoughts on the art of photography.