All images by Ross den Otter. Used with permission.
Ross den Otter has been shooting photos since he was 13; and his mother managed a camera shop when he was young. “Since 1985 I’ve worked as a black and white and digital photographic lab technician; starting as a teenager in the darkroom of my hometown newspaper.” Ross explains to us in an email. “For nearly 30 years, I’ve collaborated with my wife; we met in college while studying photography together. Together we run a studio in Vancouver Canada, specializing in commercial portraiture.” And it’s there where Ross has been operating. He also taught a professional photography program at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts).
“In class I show the work of Elliot Erwitt. He’s able to blend humour into street photography in a way unlike anyone else.” states Ross. “This past year I was working through survivor’s guilt and decided to express myself with this series of portraits. Portraits that I’m not sure are mine given how they were executed.” So this year, he set up a project at the Capture Photography Festival called “Photographer Assisted Selfies.” He set up a Cambo SC large format 4×5 camera with a 203mm f2.9 WWII era British aerial recon lens. The camera was loaded up with Ilford HP5 film which was fogged and could have been up to 40 years old apparently.
According to Ross:
“The portraits were lit with a bank of fluorescent lamps that was diffused with a 2 meter x 3 meter tarpaulin. Often with large format lenses, the shutter is built into the lens. In this case, there wasn’t a shutter so I constructed a gravity powered guillotine shutter using plywood, aluminum, a sheet of black polystyrene and a bit of electrical tape. The shutter was held in place with a pin that was connected to a string. The subject was on the other end of the line and was given the control of the timing of the image; the pin could be pulled at the will of the sitter. All other aspects of the project; lighting, film choice and ownership, loading and unloading, film processing, scanning and printing were controlled by myself. Depending on the perspective and interpretation of intent, the copyright of the images could be mine or the subject’s. I wanted to look at the tasks that we delegate and how that delegation can affect an outcome.”
That brings up an even bigger question: If a photographer was unable to activate a trigger due to a physical inability and delegates that task to another, does that other party assume copyright? Is the image no longer a work by the photographer?
Now here’s the even crazier part: how Ross processed the photos. “I processed the film in a homemade developer that I mixed from scratch using a blend of beer, water, vitamin C, washing soda and instant coffee.” Ross tells us.