PHOTOGRAPHER FOCUS · John Whitham
The fact that John Whitham has chosen ‘voigtf64’ as his blog’s name, is a way to remember-and honor, no doubt- his old Voigtlander Bergheil, a folding medium format camera that -he tells me- he carried everywhere with its 120 roll film back, and later, replaced by a Rolleiflex that has remained in use until today, basing much of his work. Consequently, it is clear that his training and photographic background are undeniably rooted in analog photography, in the days when, as he says, it was only the photographer with access to a darkroom and mechanical knowledge who had the ability to record the beauty. However, in these days, that let’s say certainty about the nature of the photographic process and its practitioners has been replaced by a wonderful chaos of high and low art in which photography has turned under the emergence of technology -he calls it Visual Language-. John considers himself a photographer based in an area of permanent transition, someone who stands, in a way, between these two worlds, and swims with and against the tide trying to reconcile the old and the new, much as has held firmly rooted in the analog era. But, nevertheless, he doesn’t waive to participate, to understand that revolutum formed from the moment when the photographic experience taken as a whole, is socialized with the advent of digital photography, Perhaps now more than ever, it is difficult to define, to understand, to find out what is a photographer, which includes the notion of photography. Probably, the the boundaries of this latter have become blurred by digital techniques. But I believe that in the core of this process remains an essential idea that comes directly given from the time of maximum splendor of chemical photography.
To observe John’s photography gives me the feeling that, whatever the genre treated at any given time, his photographs seem miniatures; sensitive approaches to particular aspects of reality, objects or scenes that visually decontextualized from its surroundings, from the place from which they come, take a different meaning and adopt a relevance that maybe it would have been unnoticed to us in the overall picture. The frames, here are small windows that stand between us and the subject, composed with perfection. We feel in most of his shots the presence of an emotional distance imposed by the photographer in relation to the object; an effect in which, I think, works that wonderful square format which takes us away from the visual language and proportions to which we are more used in 35mm cameras.This medium format imposes undoubtedly its own compositional rules; a different way of presenting lines, proportions and positions whose understanding and application requires no little talent because they remain at the discretion of the photographer; who works free of axioms. The exception to the foregoing represents John’s portrait, in which the chosen square format reveals not distance but immediacy to the model, which is shown to us centered, filling the frame into images of great visual force. On the other hand, observe calmly his landscape photography, either urban or ‘natural’ -which, in fact, is usually shown to us as a ‘humanized' reality, intervened by human hand …- ; see that ‘adapted' manner in which John makes use of the rule of thirds -approaching the foreground or the horizon lines at the edge of the photo-, or the balanced way in which the scene ‘fills’ the frame, in such a way that he could haven’t done it, if he had used standard film… John creates thus sophisticated scenes by cultivating an awareness of subtlety in composition, in the alternation of planes, in the dialogue between lights and shadows …
We are also powerfully assaulted by that feeling when we see his magnificent botanical photography. In it, the taste for detail is exquisite, without the need of falling into ultra realism, whether in B & W or color works. They are especially suggestive those flowers of delicate tones and shades, presented on a neutral background and embellished by that patina, the recognizable visual quality attached by the chemical process to these images, which is digitally irreproducible no matter how much we try. In its treatment there is an undisguised interest in studying the subtle variations that light produces in the soft shapes and textures, in approaching to the object to the point of almost making us lose track of what we’re seeing. …The same way of looking, of approaching with a camera in hands serves John to show under a new light the most diverse objects, to approach them in such a way that he turns them into fascinating almost-abstractions, whether a old spring, or a broken umbrella. This is certainly a way to argue that more than art, there is artistic vision, that everything depends on the prism through which we look.
Besides his Rolleiflex and other medium format cameras that he uses occasionally, John has two digital bodies, a Canon 5d mk2, and a Sony Nex 5n, of which he declares certainly satisfied. He has no auto-focus lenses, but uses a variety of old preferably german or english lenses from the classic 35mm period. And as a vivid demonstration that he gives up nothing that evolution of photography may impose, he concludes: ‘I cannot wait until the smartphone has the optics to replace my cameras, not long now, and the future is so far beyond my imagination that I just take pics day by day’.