Photographer, Leon Krige explains the work behind his works: Erased Landscapes and Altered Landscapes.
Erased Landscapes – a brief history 1983 – 2018
The first medium format images of Johannesburg, starting in 1983, were aimed at carefully documenting the built environment of an ever-changing mining city. These home processed black & white photographs often recorded buildings or landscapes on the brink of removal, as a student of architecture. Studying the work of David Goldblatt and other masters emphasized the need for fine resolution, meaning larger negatives. The initial series was done with a 6 x 6cm Hasselblad, borrowed from Wits architecture department, on roll film close to the sell-by-date as finances were very limited.
A common mechanism of medium format cameras is the separation of shutter and film advance, which means the same negative could be exposed multiple times, either by intent or by accident. (Seen in the first interior/exterior negative of the Colosseum theatre, demolished 1984.) Light is measured with an old Lunasix hand light meter, which works well even in very low light, its current battery lasting 20+ years.
Around this time used medium format cameras became very affordable as many photographers moved towards motor drive 35mm format for speed and ease. A used Bronica 6 x 6cm was the initial training ground. An old Linhof 6 x 9cm with lenses surfaced at my trusted contact Roger Vieren circa 1991, just after completing 1-year military service in Heidelberg and Alex. This 50+year old camera has a tilt-shift mechanism with a fold-out concertina, to correct perspective distortion. Composition is done on a faint inverted ground glass, very difficult to focus at night, on a heavy tripod. Light is measured relative to film speed, and finally, the film holder is attached, allowing only 8 exposures on a 120 roll film.
Despite limited financial means, there was a wide range of roll film available at reduced prices from the agents. The complexity of processing time for different dilutions using different film types required sticking to one developer, Agfa Rodinal, which has an incredible shelf life. For a number of years documentary images were printed on old imperfect paper, as a large archive of negatives recorded the constantly changing urban landscape in analogue detail. Stitching multiple digital files became a new method for very high-resolution images mostly at night from 2007, allowing for very large prints with extreme detail, mostly nocturnal.
Since 2018 a return to analogue documentation of the city and people, mostly from rooftops followed, often using long-expired film stored in a cool cellar, (1993- 98) Some still yielded beautiful black & white negatives, while others crumpled up detached inside the camera. These images were purposely double-exposed, changing lenses or composition. Double exposures started by accident in 1983 with the Colosseum exterior.
Altered Landscapes Vortex – 2019 – 2021 & beyond
Multiple exposures on rooftops resumed in 2018 on black & white Fuji Neopan roll-film expired 1993. The camera is rotated 4 times to form a vortex, focusing on a faint inverted glass plate, hand light meter, with 15-20min exposures for each of the 8 negatives per spool of film. B&W film is home processed in Agfa Rodinal. Kodak tungsten colour slide film (expired 1996) revealed 8 magical slides, done over 2 sessions of four hours each, from rooftops in Newtown and Hillbrow for high-resolution scans. Each slide is exposed between 12 and 15 minutes after careful setup, achieving sharp focus is very difficult on a dark rooftop. The tungsten film causes a blue cast for any light source except tungsten bulbs or sodium street lights.
A roll of 50asa Agfachrome (expired 1998) resulted in warmer tones with fine detail, despite howling wind in August/September 2021, a miracle considering the 15-20 minute long exposures. The vortex reveals the sign of the Moulin Rouge hotel from the Hillbrow Summit, on the edge of a 15-storey rooftop with no balustrade. The Summit marks the watershed flowing Northwards towards the Limpopo River or South to the Orange River. Taillights from a new, surreal Moulin Rouge, spiralling into the dark city.
- Please note that my photographs of Leon’s work do not do them justice and are merely a representation. To experience the detail of Leon’s work, you will have to attend his next exhibit.