Exploring Wildfires and Finding Individualism – Mamiya RB67 & Portra 400 – By Pablo Garcia

My girlfriend and I started this journey of analog photography with an Olympus OM10 three years ago. Now we shoot almost every day, we develop and scan all of our film and I couldn’t be happier.

As a commercial photographer I was starting to become bored of the ease and predictability of digital.  When you’re able to shoot 200+ photos per session the value of those pictures are more or less 1/200… That’s one of the reasons I love medium format specially, I think that 10, 12, 16 frames are more than enough to get the sense of what you’re trying to capture. More than this it’s just background noise, get to the point. Think, shoot and develop.

I bought this RB67 a year ago from a retiring studio photographer, there are so many of them right now here in Spain, selling all their stuff.  To be honest, I don’t use it so much. It’s really large and heavy, very clunky and awkward to hold. I’d rather pack my Hasselblad which is lighter and feels better in the hand, but I must admit this Mamiya is close to be the perfect camera in many other respects. And since I bought a grip for it and it’s a bit more comfy to use.

The focusing screen is bright, and the split screen is quite helpful for fine focusing, the bellows extension gives you the ability to focus super close, which is something I really like – details and close-ups are something I really value in a photo series.

Another key feature of the RB67 is the rotating back, I really miss it when I shoot with smaller 6×4.5 cameras. It inspires me to not get stuck on a portrait or landscape orientation, when I shoot it, every time I advance the film I rotate the back, that way I get one of each picture.

Last summer, we were at a party in my neighbour’s house by the river, when a nearby forest was struck by lighting and a huge wildfire started. These summer storms can get really dangerous when the plants are all dry.  We could see the 20 meter flames from the house, it wasn’t a big loss because it was just re-planted trees, but it was a bit sad.

A couple of days later, when the fire was extinguished, my girlfriend and I decided to go there, explore the area and take a look of the damage, we found this desolate landscape.

I shot a roll of Portra 400 in almost no time, the light was harsh, but I metered for the shadows at ISO 200, so the shadows have some detail. The roll was, as always, developed and scanned at home. Living in a medium/small sized town in Spain doesn’t give you many options with film.

My girlfriend used to do some modelling work, so it’s really easy to take pictures of her, she’s almost always my subject. I found in these pictures a beautiful contrast between the beauty and the fragility of the human being and the roughness of the life we live in, which inspired me to continue to explore the concept of individualism through images.

If you liked these pictures you can see more of my work on instagram: @paulmarble

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22 thoughts on “Exploring Wildfires and Finding Individualism – Mamiya RB67 & Portra 400 – By Pablo Garcia”

  1. Amazing stuff…incredible beautiful colors, great framing. These are real masterpieces.
    A respect for self-developing color negative film at this quality.
    What scanner did you use ?

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. The C41 is quite easy to make at home, I scan with a Sony A7Rii and a 90mm macro lens, the real pain is to get accurate colours on the edits. I use Negative Lab Pro to make the inversions, but sadly the results are not consistent, so I had to edit all of these images on PS to get a uniform color palette.
      Probably an evening of editing. These shots were made this summer, I tweaked my scanning and editing workflow and probably it would be less of an effort right now.
      Thanks for your comment Matthias, you’re so kind!

  2. Pablo, very touching pictures here; even a disaster may have its own and very specific beauty…
    Yes; beauty and demise are so often the subjects of a life…
    May I ask which lens you were using? Let´s face it; the RB 67 is worth its weight by far. It is a true burden around of your neck but the results are worth it and the lenses are of a stunning image quality. I have a friend of mine making a focusing mount to use them on my Leica S2.
    Thank you again and just keep going; I hope to see more in the future.
    Stay safe and healthy, you two over there…
    Harry Machold from Baden, Austria

    1. Hi Harry,
      If anything, the photography profession has taught me to self improve and to be worth it.
      I sometimes feel that I live in a place that doesn’t reward effort. Learning analog photography on my own, trying to transfer something else with the images I took, made me get this feeling of individualism.
      The lens on the RB67 was the 127mm. I’m a bit of a lens collector, but for this system I currently only own that lens. As I wrote in the article, I don’t find the RB very comfortable to use, and since I must fight the laziness and go out and shoot, I’m not investing too much on that system. I’d rather shoot on 500CMs.
      Thanks for your comment!

      1. Powerful work! I’ve seen plenty of photos of the active fires but to see the charred remains is quite shocking. For medium format you should seriously consider investing in a scanner or better yet a darkroom setup. Can’t wait to see more of your work!

        1. Hi Joseph!
          Indeen, quite a sad scene.
          I had tried scanning on Epson flatbed scanners and the result I got from them was good, not better than my rig, but I’ve managed to scan a roll of film in under 3 minutes, it’s very very convenient!
          Thanks for your comment!

    1. You should definitely try, the difference is huge. I remember the first medium format negatives I developed, big surprise!

  3. Brilliant! Excellent choice of subject matter for film, and excellent choice of film stock.
    Portra has rather subdued colors, and even though manually processed, I think the essence is well preserved. The subdued colors really add to feeling of loss and bitterness of a wildfire aftermath.

    1. Thanks Leonardo.
      I would have wanted to have less blues on the sky, but that was the weather.
      I don’t know if I messed up at scanning, but I had a few green hues on some of the pictures. Colour film is not easy to reverse!

  4. These are magnificent – you are clearly very talented. I must say my first instinct was to feel that you were taking advantage of the disaster to take beaut pictures but as I looked through more them I felt that the juxtaposition between your beautiful model and the damage on nature, the dark charred trees really makes it stand out. I do t think the images would be as powerful without the model. Thank you for sharing, I really love photography that makes me question my own impulses ????

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