December 4, 2008 Childhood’s End
When I was a child, playground equipment was simple: swings, slide, teeter-totter, and merry-go-round. Like most little boys, I played hard on this basic equipment, swinging higher and pushing the merry-go-round so fast that I nearly got sick.
Fast forward half-a-century. I now travel with my cameras, seeking emotional connections with the landscapes, small towns, and natural details of America. When I saw this playground in the forest, I was camping at Pike State Forest in Indiana and using a bit of electricity in the picnic shelter to power my computer. Then the idea struck me that this old and well-used playground equipment behind the shelter would make a fine subject for infrared photography. So I got out my old Pentax 6×7, loaded the black-and-white infrared film in a dark corner of the shelter, and set out with my hand-held light meter and B+W 092 filter to get some evocative images.
Infrared film is tricky to expose, because the film sees a different part of the spectrum than our eyes. With the filter on the camera, exposures are measured in seconds, rather than a fraction of a second, so a tripod is essential. Infrared light focuses at a different point than visible light, so one hard-for-me-to-remember step in taking each photograph is to change the focus. Basically, I compose the image in focus, then screw on the extremely dark red filter, then turn the focus on the lens to a little red mark that indicates the point for infrared focus. Then I set the shutter to B, cock the camera, then trip it with a cable release, counting one, one-thousand, two, one-thousand, etc. until I want to end the exposure. The three pictures shown here were exposed about 10 to 20 seconds each in morning light, and I made several longer and shorter exposures for each image so that I could be sure to get what I was hoping for. Film infrared photography is a slow and deliberate procedure that harkens back to the era when everything about photography was slow and deliberate. It takes patience and is among the few things in life I have patience for.
Once the negatives were processed and the contact sheets made, I scanned the best negative of each piece of playground equipment and printed it.
Black-and-white infrared pictures render foliage in ethereal shades of light gray and white, which gives the photographs a mystical quality. And what could be better for looking back through the mists of time to our childhood experiences?
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