John Offenbach began his photography career in 1994, primarily shooting campaigns during the “golden age of UK advertising” for billboards and magazines. John contacted us a couple of months ago as he was heading out on a trip to Georgia to photograph abandoned architecture. He wanted to hire our Phase One IQ4 150MP to use in conjunction with his Alpa SWA technical camera and we were delighted to facilitate.
We caught up recently to hear about the experience and see some of the final images.
How did your trip to Georgia come about, John?
Well, it was a particularly modern starting point. I follow a brutalist architectural photographer on Instagram called Sephano Perego. He advertised a tour to Georgia to visit abandoned Soviet modernist locations, and I jumped on it.
Georgia is a fascinating country, pulled in many different directions, with a rich history and a seductive culture. The two main cities we based ourselves in, Kutaisi and Tbilisi were easy to get around and easy to be a tourist in. The daily trips out of town were in a small mini-van. We had a driver and a guide, and there were about nine guests, some of whom were professional photographers or filmmakers and some who were amateurs. There was a good camaraderie between us all, and we laughed at the irony of our shared interest. We all knew most of the world would rather be by a beach than standing in the rain in front of a crumbling concrete sanitarium! But we loved it.
How would you describe the landscape and the architecture?
Brutalist. Concrete. Grand abandoned (mostly). Many of the buildings and monuments we visited were built under former Soviet rule and so symbolically local people have felt the need to bulldoze them and expunge them from the landscape. They will slowly disappear, so I feel very grateful for the privilege of having seen them.
Did you arrive there with a particular aesthetic or vision in mind?
Not especially, although I have a particular aesthetic which has always underpinned my photography. I like neatness and order, which I find at the heart of my photographs. I tend to eschew chaos in favour of a calm and peaceful beauty. I find geometry inspirational too, which is why I am often drawn to architectural subject matter.
It is fascinating to see how history and politics are imbued in a nation’s attitude towards its public architecture, public housing and its historical monuments. Ultimately I find a photograph successful if it delivers an emotional response. Sometimes this is factual information, ie; what it is I am looking at, but more often it is the mood or the atmosphere, brought about by light, colour or composition.
You were using our Phase One IQ4 150MP digital back on your Alpa SWA, how did you find the process of working with this setup?
Unbelievable. This really is the pinnacle of digital photographic equipment. The superbly engineered Alpa, with the remarkable combination of the Phase One IQ4 150MP files with Capture One software. The files arrive with gorgeous bright, creamy clarity, which was perfect for what I was doing.
I have used older Phase One digital backs, but the IQ4 150MP is a huge leap forward. In order to focus the older kit, I needed a laser meter to measure my distance to the subject, which was a nuisance. Using the IQ4 I can easily and accurately focus using the live view mode. Not only that, but exposures are made easier and the bit depth is so extraordinary that any corrections are flawless.
What is it you love about the process of working with a technical camera?
Well, it’s been said before, so no secrets here, but the process of working a technical camera is slower and allows you to take your time. Think, look, look again and shoot. Actually enjoy the moment. The optics are far superior too. Wide angle lenses have no discernible distortions or aberrations, and have a very wide spread over the sensor enabling all the camera movements you might need. In fact, despite their wide angle, lenses have a curious ‘flatness’ which is difficult to explain, unless you see a print or an image taken by a technical camera.
What lenses did you use to make these images?
These are all single images using a Schneider Kreuznach Apo-Digitar XL 35mm f5.6
What is your approach when it comes to post-processing?
I work a little on the colour, so the representation is what I remember it to have been. And, I must admit to have removed some bits of graffiti, mostly tagging, as sensitively as possible.
How would you summarise the process of working with a technical camera system to someone who’s never experienced it?
Working with a good technical camera is like sitting down at a beautiful grand piano (not that I have done that). It is something that has been engineered to the highest possible quality. It is not a case of shooting and hoping for the best, rather more a case of seeing and creating.
Do you have a favourite image from the trip?
There are a few, but for me, the Wedding Palace in Tbilisi has something curious, ghostly and mesmerising about it.
Do you have any other similar adventures planned?
Perhaps Armenia is the next obvious destination, or maybe an architectural trip to Japan.
If this article intrigues you about working with a technical camera, and the different options that are available, give one of our specialists a call +44 (0) 207 323 6455 or email us to arrange an introduction.