Written for 43Rumors.com
Sometime in 2011 I got into digital cameras through a very intelligent friend. My first one was a Panasonic GF1. I was completely skeptical to begin with and used it only some of the time, sticking to my film cameras the rest of the time. I was a die hard film person and very attached to the medium, form and function. I shot Voigtländers, Hasselblads, Mamiya 7s and one Leica M6 which I took this picture with.
In 2012 that same friend introduced me to Olympus's micro four thirds cameras. Now I shoot almost nothing but them. I owned a big digital SLR for a period of time opting for optical viewing over viewfinders and reassuring my clients with big bodies, but that was before the viewfinders got better and I wised up. These days I go in for big brains and small cameras. This was handy because over the past three years I made more than a dozen trips to Iceland to work on what began as a portrait series. It was especially helpful last fall when I travelled to Iceland in October for the final voyage to complete what became An Equal Difference, a book with 165 images and 20,000 words which I produced with the help of Kazoo Independent Publishing Services. They did the layout design, text editing, proofreading, and handled the printing of the book from the final files I produced.
For that I needed to bring an iMac workstation which I packed into a flight case along with my keyboard, mouse, colorimeter, tablet and pen, and portable hard drives. I also needed to take my regular shooting gear as I was still photographing people for the book. Since the airlines don’t afford you much weight or size these days and I don't like putting glass in the hold I wanted to keep my camera gear in carry-ons along with my laptop, recorder and main hard drives. That aside I like to travel light whenever possible. Well that really didn't happen for this trip but it wasn't my camera gear weighing me down. I needed to pack clothes and supplies for the Icelandic weather and winter to last me nine months and books to read and look at.
Once the book was shot, written and edited I finalised the colour for the images. I used an i1Pro colorimeter with my iMac and the profile given to me by my printer to proof the colours before and after converting them to CMYK - a process which at first terrified me. I read several blogs, spoke to several book designers and photographers and got mixed messages. One photographer told me not to attempt the conversion, that I'd "fuck it up". An experienced press person told me to leave it simply as a straight conversion, not think too much about it and it would be fine. That’s what I opted for. I wouldn’t attempt to technically advise on this workflow as I do not feel like an expert but what I found worked and I'm pleased with the results.
The printers did an amazing job not only with the print quality but with the entire book. The book is handsomely bound in dark blue cloth and has a silver foiled cover and spine, golden headband and a champagne ribbon. It is published by Restless Machinery and available worldwide through www.anequaldifference.com. If you are based in Iceland or visiting you can pick up a copy in local bookstores beginning in September. There is even a chapter about tourism in Iceland called "On Being a Guest".
According to Dr Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir who wrote the foreword for the book, An Equal Difference is "no regular photography book. Neither is it a regular sociology book. It is both. And it is more. Philosophy. Sociology. Social activism. Art.”
The book is the amalgamation of my time spent speaking with and photographing forward thinking members of Icelandic society about just about everything. Iceland is statistically the most gender equal country in the world and has been for the past seven years. I wanted to know what that translated into in real world terms and what mentalities existed in Iceland and what some of the ideas they gave birth to were. The first one I heard about back in 2008 was their idea to feminise banking culture. I liked the use of the term feminise because it applies to everyone and removes gender blame and places the focus on behaviour. It also forces us to look at our ideas of gender and how society constructs them. The central vision in the book is that equality leads all of us to be more of who we are. Many of us do not fit perfectly into gender constructs and repress parts of ourselves and each other to do so which is a loss for us and our society. Equality which is a destination at the moment, leads to more intelligence and intelligent choices and creations. There are many stories in the book as well as observations, reflections and the photographs. Not just of people but of the land. How could I not? Iceland is a special kind of stunning and the land and weather certainly has an influence on the people and their outlook on life.
I used two OMD EM5s for the initial portrait series which began back in July 2013. Then using that series Olympus launched the OMD EM1 in London at the Loading Bay in Brick Lane. We enlarged around 20 photographs to A1 size mounted on reverse acrylic. They looked magnificent and any doubts I might have had then about the quality these small cameras can deliver vanished. That same series plus a new image of the 4th president of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadóttir hung in the Icelandic Embassy in London for all of 2015. One portrait from the later series of deputy MP and human rights activist, Freyja Haraldsdóttir, was accepted into the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2014.
For the the rest of the project I used the OMD EM1, later adding the OMD EM5 Mark II. I also converted one of my OMD EM5’s through Kolari Vision into an infrared camera and wound up using shots from that camera in the book. I asked the colorist Peter Doyle to help me with these as I was struggling. He did what I could not. The infrared shots, of which there are three in the book, are otherworldly and I look forward to experimenting more with that style in the future as well as mastering the art of grading them.
The portrait sessions were more like informal chats where I wasn’t directing the subject and so I often carried with me three bodies with three prime lenses picking up what I needed on the fly for whatever the situation required. I later cut my carry down to two cameras adding a 12-35mm zoom and keeping my 17mm for my main lens. I used the zoom for a lot of the landscapes because I would often travel out with just one body like I did on my skis this day in November 2015
One of the main things I love about small cameras is they get out of your way leaving more space for you and your subject. It is important to have the tools you feel are right for you to operate seamlessly. Because at the end of the day, portraiture is not about cameras. It is about connection.
That said cameras are like shoes. Find what you need for the situation and make sure you feel comfortable in them.