This year in mid-May Vaikasi Visakam (the birthday of Hindu Deity Murugan) saw a morning of communal ceremony before an auspicious foundation stone laying in the construction site of an extension to the temple grounds. The Milton Keynes Neath Hill Murugan Temple has hosted a growing community for some time, and will now be expanding physically in order to accommodate even further.
Together with Sagar Kharecha I photographed this event, waking up at 5am in order to arrive before anyone else, and staying throughout the proceedings in order to make sure the story was understood in full. Rain was forecast, but thankfully there was only a little early on, and the rest of the day was dry which meant that the outdoors elements of the ceremony weren’t affected.
The first part of the day, from 6am until around 8am we were inside the Temple, at first with only a few others while we helped to set up, but soon joined by the congregants. I was working mainly with my M6, which I’d used over the previous few days in quite bright sunlight, so had loaded in Ilford Pan F 50, an absolutely special low ISO black and white film. I realised that I should have thought just a little further ahead, as the lighting indoors on this overcast morning was not my ideal use-situation for this film. My favourite places to work with this film are ones where there is a background of snow or sand, bright and light coloured against which to work my compositions, and not have to worry too much about the light.
Nevertheless I decided to commit and do my best until I was able to switch out to the more versatile HP5+. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of steady handheld slow shutter work, and surprisingly I didn’t need to work with as slow a shutter speed as I first thought. I metered for the candles and dim electric bulbs, and hoped that my stand development methods would give me a little leeway overall.
Where possible I braced myself against walls and beams, knelt down to use my knees, and kept my elbows in. For portrait images I held the camera with my right hand underneath, thumb on the shutter so as not to twist even slightly when I pressed the button.
I was working wide open at f/2 on my 90mm APO, with shutter speeds of between 1/s to around 1/15ths. You can see motion blur in many of the images, but not from camera movement. I like seeing some motion in these kinds of images, it feels a lot more alive and dynamic than a more stagnant, repressed ritual expression might come across visually.
Overall despite the stress I actually think the aesthetic of these images with the Pan F is quite lovely, and I may look at using FP4+ for future indoor work, which would offer a little more latitude and comfort while still providing the contrast and fine grain seen here.
In between my images throughout this event I worked on a few video clips, nothing fancy as I really don’t enjoy working outside of stills, but I like the resulting mini-documentary which shows Sagar at work, interspersed with some of our images.
The work from this day has been published as “Foundation Stone” which is available to buy here: bit.ly/foundationstonezine
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