Clusters of Discrete Dots
Photographing Hammersmith Bridge on Sub-Miniature Film12 min read by
Are we to accept the paradox that states “there are no rules is the only rule” in photography? Is there an expectation that the most ponderous, heaviest and largest format we can lay hands on is always the best choice for photographing buildings and various other static things that could not possibly run away from our gazing lens?
Photographing architecture with a sub-miniature film camera does bring to the fore, however, the problem of revealing the structure of the image, with the potential disadvantage that the photograph could become too much about the visibly separate points of colour, or the clusters of photographic grain, and less about the subjects and objects depicted in it.
Vocabulary always matters. Before the digital age, the 24x36 mm format on 35 mm film was deemed to be “miniature,” and it followed from that, that anything smaller was to be labelled “sub-miniature.”
Revealing too much the structure of the grain of the image also reduces the overall amount of detail, although the quality of the lens, if present, may still be perceptible.
In painting, all of this was thought about too. There is a technique called “pointillism.” It involves placing on the canvas small and separate dots of colour that are applied in patterns so as to form an image. The technique was developed by a group of post-impressionist painters, among them, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, in the late 19th century. It relied on the findings of a “science of the eye” because pointillism concerns optics, and in particular, what happens when colours are placed in dots or small lumps next to each other and then seen from some distance — any result depends on the ability of the eye and brain to blend those spots of pure colour into colour tones.
The small negatives produced by a 110 camera require considerable magnification to produce a print, even one of relatively small size, and therefore surfaces depicted in the images are much more likely to appear as clusters of discrete points than solid areas.
With this awareness, I photographed Hammersmith Bridge and its surrounding area on a few separate occasions in April and May 2022. The bridge, which links two boroughs in West London, connects Hammersmith on one side of the Thames River with Barnes on the other. The bridge is considered of special interest for its engineering, for the materials that were used in its construction, and for the fact that it is one of the world’s oldest and still surviving suspension bridges of the “chain bridge” type. Although my photographs have more in common with holiday pictures in the fact that they are not the result of pondered long exposures, I attempt to show with these images, the admiration I always felt for the bridge as a piece of architecture as well as for all that I see it adds to the urban landscape of this corner of London.
The architectural and engineering descriptions of the bridge I read online indicate that it rests on pier foundations constructed for an earlier bridge on the site.
A striking feature of this bridge is its ornamentation, which can be seen in its wrought-iron towers and on the cross-beams covered in ornamental cast-iron castings. The bridge is painted dark green and gold, the colour scheme that was always intended for it. It is 250 metres long and 13 metres in width. It was opened in 1887. The designer was a Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-91), who held the office of chief engineer at the long abolished Metropolitan Board of Works.
Strengthening work on the bridge is currently underway, and it has been going on for some time. At the moment, Hammersmith Bridge does not appear to be in its best shape.
The last time I drove over Hammersmith Bridge was in 2015. I used to commute by car to a job I had in a town located south of London, and sometimes due to traffic, driving across Hammersmith Bridge was the shortest way back. I have always been a frequent user of the bridge as a pedestrian. In 2019 the bridge was closed to cars and buses, but pedestrians and cyclists could still use it. Then in 2020 as a result of further structural inspection after one of those heat waves that seem more and more common in London every year, it was deemed unsafe and it was completely closed, even for river traffic underneath.
Later in 2021, however, more inspections were carried out and the authorities decided to re-open it for cyclists and pedestrians as well as river traffic. Reports in the press suggest that the finance necessary for the type of more complete restoration that would, in turn, allow again vehicular traffic on the bridge, is not yet in place.
As an embodiment of some of the ideals of Victorian bridge design, the beauty of the bridge is a result of both the overall proportions and gracefulness of the design and the ornamentation that was either added to it or was already part of the design of the component parts of the bridge. In these photographs, I also seek to depict the degree of uncertainty that there seems to be about the future use of the bridge. My hope is to see it restored in full.
Minolta 110 Zoom SLR mark II.
The Minolta 110 Zoom SLR mark II camera that I used to take the photographs depicted in this article was one of the finest ever produced for this format. While most 110 cameras were squarely aimed at the mass market, a small number of quality cameras were also made. The Minolta 110 Zoom SLR mark II was among those.
The Minolta camera sports a high quality non-interchangeable Rokkor zoom lens, 25 to 67 mm (the “crop factor” in the 110 format is 2, the same as in the digital Micro 4/3 system, so this lens on this camera gives the angles of view of a 50 mm to 135 mm zoom lens for the 24x36 mm format on 35 mm film).
It is an aperture priority camera, with no full manual mode, however, there is a very convenient +&- 2 EV exposure compensation dial. The zoom lens has a constant maximum aperture of f. 3.5 and a macro switch. My most-liked feature of this Minolta 110 is that it is a single-lens reflex camera with a split-image rangefinder on the focusing screen, which allowed me to focus accurately and without guesswork. I used a monopod at all times, in order to ensure camera steadiness. This is, after all, a small camera, all too easy to shake inadvertently.
The 110 format (also called Pocket Instamatic when it was launched by the Kodak company in 1972) uses 16 mm film with special perforations and a paper backing. It is all enclosed in an easy-load cartridge that does not require rewinding at the end. The two types of film I used for the photographs here are made by the Lomography company.
One is called Lomography Orca, which is a traditional ISO 100 black & white emulsion. The colour images were taken on Lomography Tiger film (ISO 200).
I developed the black & white film in a Rodinal solution 1+25 for 6 minutes at 22C using an old Yankee Clipper daylight developing tank that I bought some years ago at an online auction site. (Its reel can be sized to take 16 mm film.)
The C41 film was processed by a commercial lab. Both colour and black & white negatives were scanned commercially on a Fujifilm Frontier scanner. I then finalised the high-resolution .tiff files in Adobe Lightroom.
At the end of 2012, I acquired my first pro-level data body, and for about five years, I only used digital equipment. I revisited film in 2017 — a project required that I source a film body. I re-acquired the same model of camera that was my favourite before I began my digital journey. I look for lenses and cameras in charity shops, second-hand sections in camera stores, flea markets and auction sites. When a new (or at least new to me) item comes in, I follow the rule that another one must go, as I am not a collector, and also, I live in London where space is limited. I am not a nostalgic person. I am very happy that digital equipment does, in fact, exist and that the old and the new can be used in many different and successful combinations. My goal is to embrace both analogue and digital photography, both for my personal projects and for client work when appropriate.
Websites last visited on 21 June 2022.
Hammersmith Bridge, information on the Historic England website: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1079819?section=official-list-entry.
Closures of the bridge reported in The Guardian newspaper: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/11/hammersmith-bridge-closed-to-cars-after-critical-faults-found.
From the local authority website: https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/transport-and-roads/hammersmith-bridge-all-you-need-know-and-latest-updates.