I am a Camera Operator.

Working in the apartment-studio.
Working with the De Vere 480 camera in the apartment-studio. Image taken by Anis Ramzi

This weekend’s event was significantly important to me. I had several realisation of why I do of what I do. The image which I had made yesterday had gave me the sudden flashback of why I did photography in the first place.

It was a simple direct observation of a cauliflower, blooming with its leaves which was freshly available at my local marketplace. It’s been many weeks I have been trying to get a proper subject underneath my table camera.Though I think I stared too long at the produce aisle in several visits, which I know had made few passing people uncomfortable.

The vegetable in my hands, it wasn’t much to look at… but when it appeared while developing the plate, the sudden struck of waves from the light bluish-tint plate (post developing) to fully rendered sepia image in the tray was that reflective moment.

The Cauliflower, Table Study March 2015
The Cauliflower, Table Study March 2015.

I had taken up photography as my life ambition when I saw a postcard of Weston’s Pepper no. 30 (refer to its image here).It was a simple postcard print, nowhere near the tones of the original. But it opened up to me as how photography could see things so beautiful.

Since then, I had taken up photography as my major and had been trained to be dedicated to the Zone system (pretty much a cult in that college’s photo department). Its a rigour, systematic, yet giving consistent process.

It is an important practice for those wishing to gain expectation of what the image would turn out from start to finish. However the rise of digital cameras years after I graduated had mitigated the darkroom practice as an arcane, time-consuming, expensive, and unable to relieve the fast expectations of the media world.

I believed in all of these to be the case for awhile, and I think it still are. And my last granduer project utilising film was my ventures inside the Pudu Jail which was done fully with 99 rolls of medium format fims. That took alot of time developing them, and much more contact print and individually edited to print them.

That was the last run I had ever done with my enlarger.

And the negatives were later scanned, one of my resort as the resources of chemicals and papers were becoming fewer and too expensive to obtain (which was in Malaysia).

Current arguments nowadays seems to highlight that digital files are fragile and prone of being damaged. Some say the solution is to place the files in various copies. Sounds like a big, continuous investment to me. And I had lost alot of work, yet I felt I could not care less as it is what it is.

I had tried HDR at some point of my career. I thought it was the closest effect to hyper-realistic representation of the subject. How wrong I was when its just began to be too.. colourful.

However, I realised now what I had wanted from doing HDR was to spend more time “taking-images” with the digital camera. It did extended the time as bracketing, as it was required to make the necessary tone-mapping to embed as one image.

And more time was spent post-processing as well.

I guess the more time I spend with images, I believed then I was making them, somewhat creating the image with the actions and the power of Photoshopping them together. Those were my tools then.

Though, most of the recalled memories of me doing HDR was playing around with curves, levels, and staring at the monitor waiting for the rendering bar to fill up.

I didn’t feel much attachment to be honest, though I missed the places I explored the most. And spending time “making-images” of those places re-aligned my position of bringing that memory back to me.

Then came this.. the photography historical process, it brought back to remind me of why I did of what I had been doing with darkroom practice. It brought back the sound of water again in practising making images!

Yesterday’s image of the cauliflower was the highlight of my weekend, if not, for many years since 2005 when I turned off the enlarger (and my darkroom). The white of the cauliflower, the movement of tones of its petal leafs, all almost perfectly aligned to the tones as how I would have done on film.

This image had recovered what was buried in many of my attempts of image-making. It had reflected my joy, my happiness of being a camera operator. This term arrived from a loosely translated profession description from my native language, “taukang gambar” (which also refer to most photographers back in Malaya were done by the Chinese entreprenuers). It is what I prefer to refer to myself to others of what I do, which seems requires very little explanation when asked. I believe this is an interesting exploration in later writing.

I love being a camera operator; the adjustment of tools, the things to wind, align, the preparations, the composition, and the darkroom processes involved after. Its the best job in the world to me, I need it as much as I want it.

No more the need to call myself as an ‘artist’ like before, which most of the time its always a defensive measure in explaining why I make images. Or even to be calling myself a photographer, which always ended up explaining which type of photographer am I / photography I do.

I start seeing now why I need to go on. It brought me back to the shop where I saw that piece of postcard 18 years ago.


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