One Frame

Shiprock, New Mexico

C1117 at Shiprock, New Mexico C1117 at Shiprock, New Mexico C1117 at Shiprock, New Mexico C1117 at Shiprock, New Mexico
Setting up for the first shot ever...
Loading the first sheet ever...
Shiprock, NM

The very first image made with the new camera.

This was something of a stressful time. I'd been working non-stop to a deadline- a trip to New York, followed by a visit to New Mexico and Colorado a few days later.

The camera was more or less complete, but the film holders weren't finished. Not only that, but they were first generation holders, completely untested.

They didn't work at all- in my rush to get things finished before departure, I had cut them to a pattern that I had already superseded. The realisation was somewhat deflating, but it would have been much worse if I hadn't had a better plan, one that I should have used in the first place, had I not been under so much pressure.

So I modified the holders- I had four available, and I loaded up the film, 11x17 x-ray film. These were prototype prototypes, and I could only use one sheet per holder, but I had a camera, and film to put in it.

The trip to Shiprock had been planned for a long time. A photographer with a lot of local knowledge, Robert Langham, had been extremely generous, providing us with a dossier of detailled information, photographs, and maps, so we were very well prepared in that regard. If not in any other...

I have got to say, that even if it hadn't worked out at all, the trip to Shiprock would have been well worth it anyway. It's a completely alien landscape, formed comparatively recently- around 30 million years ago, which is a geological blink of an eye. On the road between Albuquerque and Corrales, we had stopped off in Santa Fe, and had visited the William Clift exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art, itself a stunning piece of architecture in the Pueblo Revival Style.

The exhibition, pictures made in Shiprock and Mont St. Michel, contained a lot of beautiful work, and so I was under no illusion that I would be able to produce anything comparable on my own trip- a tourist with a camera is still a tourist, even if the camera takes up all the baggage allowance. As I mentioned elsewhere, there is no substitute for a thorough knowledge of your subject, formed over a long period of time, to give breadth and depth to your work.

We set out early, around 4.30am, and arrived in the area for dawn, probably the most spectacular approach. Shiprock, or Tse Bitai- 'The Winged Rock' as the Navajo have called it since antiquity, loomed for miles, and its dark shadow became edged with gold as the sun broke the horizon. We left the main road, and joined the dirt tracks leading to it.

Eventually we got up close, and I unloaded the camera and set up for the first time- in retrospect, much too close, but we had already driven through the best light. I should have stopped much earlier. I was only carrying one lens, the Nikkor 450 M, and while the spot I had chosen was perfect, it didn't tally with the lens. This was all new to me. I should have taken a wider lens too, but in an unusual bout of self discipline, I had elected to eliminate the variable of lens choice.

We took this, and one other, and I ruined one sheet due to my unfamiliarity with the sequencing of the operation of the camera. While not a great picture, it was something of a milestone for the camera; against all the odds, a completely new and previously untested camera had successfully produced its very first picture.