Andrew Sanderson explains the process behind capturing this cherubic image of a young child in a forest
A renowned photographer, tutor, author and Ilford Master Printer,
Andrew Sanderson offers practical tips on working with film and
traditional darkroom techniques
Something that the readers are likely to pick up on with a large majority of my images is that it’s very rare that I actually go out looking for a shot. More often than not, a photograph will present itself to me in the most ordinary of circumstances, such as on a day out with the family or during a nice relaxing drive. This image is no exception.
The photograph was taken way back in 1987 in a lovely beauty spot called Aysgarth, a little village in North Yorkshire. I was there with my friend, who was accompanied by his wife and their three young boys. It was a particularly hot day and the boys had shed their clothes to dip in and out of the water. I was taking pictures of the environment because there are numerous beautiful trees in the area as well as a waterfall. I turned around and noticed that one of the boys, Jack, had just fallen over. He was slowly getting up again and I saw something in the positioning of him that was so angelic. It was the shape of his form that struck me. I had one chance to take the shot so I quickly moved into position and got the image.
The power of the image is in the fact that he looks like a cherub and that he is in a lovely position. He looks like something
from a Michelangelo painting. However, as great as all of the present elements were, the shot by itself wasn’t quite enough – I
had to make it look more exciting. During the printing stages, I subdued the background apart from the path that leads through the trees. More importantly, I made Jack glow by printing him in the higher values. Everything else was in the darker values. I cut out a small card dodger in the shape of a figure, attached it to a piece of wire and then held it over the part of the image where Jack was for some of the printing exposure time I did the same with the path in the background. Printing in this way made Jack stand out as if a shaft of light had fallen on him from above. It’s an element that gives the image an almost biblical look.
I shot this image using a 35mm Contax 137 MD, which on this shoot was set to auto-exposure.
The lens was a Sigma 28-85mm. With that particular lens, the optics give you a very slight glow when you zoom in and that was something that really helped with the glow of the child – so the glow was caused partly by the optics and partly by the dodging.
Dodging can sometimes be like trying to colour within the lines, and you don’t want the fact that it’s dodged to look too obvious. If you don’t have a steady hand then you’re going to get the light falling outside of the area that you’re trying to focus the dodging on. However, in this case that’s exactly what I wanted and the effect worked.
I felt it was important to highlight the path in the background because it offered a way to balance the composition. It meant that I didn’t just have a glowing child and a black background. I’ve always been drawn to paths through trees and secret walkways and things like that.
It’s a visual element that’s always appealed to me. On another level it has a conceptual grounding because it’s about a child and the mysteries of existence – Jack’s got the path behind him and he about to embark on the journey of life.
A lot of the images that have been selected from my portfolio to feature in Photo Insight have been to do with the decisive moment. The funny thing is I hadn’t realised just how many images I had taken with this in mind. This was one of those moments. Despite the themes that develop afterwards, there’s no time at the moment of capture to critically analyse exactly what it is that this image means or represents. For each moment you have a camera in your hands, and a fraction of time to get the shot, you have to be alert to the possibilities. That’s why it’s so important to understand your equipment so well. Then you have the confidence to get a shot as soon as it appears without having to fumble around with the settings or lightmeter.
Andrew Sanderson was talking to Oliver Atwell
If you would like to read more about paper negatives, Andrew’s book Paper Negative Photography is available from www.blurb.com, price £15