Photos & Projects

A 4×5 Portrait with a Toyo 45A, Schneider 210mm f/5.6 & Fuji Acros – By Louis A. Sousa

September 30, 2020

This is a story of, yes, a spur of the moment 4×5 portrait session from my habitual morning visit to Angelina’s Cafe. I have a daily delicious scone baked with care by Chelsea. I have ridden the evolution of Chelsea’s scones from the first batch resembling blueberry pancakes through today’s flaky and succulent ones. The daily fix is washed down with a hand-poured coffee made by her husband Goodwin. Goodwin puts every ounce of his being into making a perfect cup of coffee. For me, this is good. Coffee is my drug of choice.

Before leaving home, the inner voice whispered “Take Chelsea’s portrait”.  I have never taken a portrait before using a 4×5.  Onto my fragile back went the 4×5 bag’s dead weight. I went to the cafe’s garden and set up my Toyo 45A and attached a Schneider 210mm lens. I metered the light and struggled to get good pre-focus using the retractable hood and a loupe, sans dark cloth. Chelsea is a new mother. I plucked a large hosta leaf and decided to use it as a symbol of new motherhood. The advance work was done.

I love Angelina’s Cafe. Some of my favorite images grace the walls, gathering dust. I enjoy talking to Lisa the owner and making small talk with other customers. When the crew needs ice, I fetch ice. When they need cool, I bring in fans.  At this place the world’s stresses are beridden. I do crossword puzzles in the garden and have fallen asleep there in “my” chair several times. When I am in this cafe, I feel damned good.  Cafes are my element.

I entered the place and wasted no time asking Chelsea if she would like to have her portrait taken. The prospect of a lens unmasking was unsettling and unexpected. Our friendship has bred trust and respect, and this fostered a resounding “let’s do it”. Out to the garden we went.

I confess to being nervous at go time. I am not well familiarized with the camera. I checked and double checked the meter readings and focus to avoid spoiling what for me was a special moment. 4×5 is a plodding process that my anxiety accelerated. Chelsea sat and I made a suggestion for a slight tip of the head and a serious demeanor. I positioned the coddled hosta leaf. It was time to press the shutter two times.

When the scanned negatives appeared on my screen I was overcome. I had made soulful imagery with special personal meaning. I added a small amount of warmth to the lower key image, giving a retro feel.

I lost a child to the flu virus in 2009. Chelsea has a beautiful newborn. The happiness in her and Goodwin’s eyes as they hold their beautiful child evokes memories of good times with Victoria. I know now, this is why I take pictures.

I hope you enjoyed this post.   My imagery is shown on my blog Victoria’s Light, named in memory of my daughter.
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  • Reply
    Floyd K. Takeuchi
    September 30, 2020 at 10:08 am

    A lovely tale, and a fine portrait, too. I’m sure your photograph will be the subject of many a retelling in the life of your friends. As you say, this is why we take photographs.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Rowin
    September 30, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    Excellent portrait with a well done story of why this was important for you. I have only used my 4×5 for landscapes because of my own inner anxiety of how many ways a portrait session with the big camera can be messed up. Hats off to you for the courage to do it and to succeed so admirably.

    • Reply
      September 30, 2020 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you so much. I was quite anxious during the process, especially since it all came together so fast. Perhaps the spontaneity actually helped things along!

  • Reply
    Graham Spinks
    September 30, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    Really strong portraits. I love these!

    • Reply
      October 1, 2020 at 1:31 am

      Thank you Graham. My intent is to do a portrait project using this camera. It is definitely outside of my comfort zone. The bellows has a small light leak in the lower left side. Both images had the leak evident near the lower left leg of the chair that I did my best to repair in Photoshop at which I am not very skilled. You can see the jagged lines in the rug patterns. I purchased a new bellows and dropped the camera off today for installation by my repair shop. I was considering doing it myself, but changed my mind.

      • Reply
        Graham Spinks
        October 1, 2020 at 8:31 am

        You might like to have a look at Jack Lowe also creates great images of strong women.

        • Reply
          October 1, 2020 at 3:02 pm

          Thank you, I will check it out. My wife is an Alpha so I need training!

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