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

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.
Click here if so inclined: victoriaslight.blog

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

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

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

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