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The Brickworks

Architecture as Landscape


Brickworks #7 — Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 35mm f/4 Distagon
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

When this photograph first appeared on the site's Index page I received a number
of e-mails from readers who were convinced that this was produced using some sort of Photoshop trickery.
Firstly, as long-time readers know I never do anything in Photoshop other than traditional image processing.
Secondly, a visit to the Brickworks on Bayview Avenue in Toronto on any sunny morning will prove the veracity of the image.

As I was setting up the shot all I could think was — this feels exactly like a slot canyon in the southwest. I was shooting for the first time in an abandoned brickworks not far from where I live in downtown Toronto. I had gone to the park area surrounding these buildings while testing a new DSLR. It's been a frequent spot where I go to shoot tests because it's convenient and not terribly crowded. The brickwork buildings are fenced off, and though I've always been curious about them I'd never thought about finding a way inside. Out of sight, out of mind.

On this particular day I had wandered around the far end of one of the buildings, up a muddy trail, and came across a spot where there was an open doorway leading into the main building. No signs. No barriers. With much curiosity and not a little trepidation I entered the building.

It was very dark, and not a little spooky. But as my eyes adjusted to the gloom I walked down a narrow corridor, rounded a corner and found myself in a visual wonderland.

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Brickworks #11— Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 80mm f/2 Planar
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

It was about 11am on a sunny day and light was streaming through holes in the ceiling. The air inside the factory was dusty, and each shaft of sunlight was blinding. So much so that the rest of the interior space appeared very dark due to the contrast. In fact my first thought was that B&W would be the way to shoot here. I was proved wrong though, as will be seen shortly.

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I didn't have a tripod with me, and I wanted to shoot this amazing place with as high resolution gear as I could, so after a bit more exploration I quickly headed home and came back a couple of hours later with my Contax 645 system with medium format digital Kodak DCS Proback.


Brickworks #1 — Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 80mm f/2 Planar
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

The light had changed. The sun had moved quite a bit and there were very few shafts of sunlight any longer. I knew that I'd have to come back on another sunny morning, but I couldn't waste the current opportunity. I found a large open loading dock that faced onto an enclosed outdoor courtyard. The indirect light caused the suspended ladder near the door to almost glow while still throwing enough light into the gloomy interior to provide some detail.

Curiously, what appears to be an electric light inside the second story room, isn't. It is where a shaft of sunlight is slicing through a hole in the ceiling and hitting the wall.

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While the light shafts were gone the broken windows were casting bright patches on the walls. The brickwork's interior was covered in places with graffiti and as I was preparing to leave the building I saw this serendipitous tableau. Of course there was no way that any form of photography could capture the huge dynamic range between the strong sunlight and the shadow areas, but that makes the image all the more fun.


Brickworks #1 — Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 80mm f/2 Planar
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

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Fortunately the next morning was again sunny and I made my way back to the brickworks by 10am. The light beams were glorious. I had enjoyed working on some of the previous day's images in B&W and so spent some time concentrated on tonalities and textures rather than colour.


Brickworks #9— Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 35mm f/4 Distagon
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

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I was very pleased with how well the Kodak back handled the huge dynamic range. There is an abundance of shadow detail, and by careful work, exposing to the right and keeping the files in 16 bit mode as long as possible, excellent tonalities were possible.


Brickworks #6— Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 35mm f/4 Distagon
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

I was also concerned about noise problems because of long exposure times. Digital does not suffer from reciprocity failure the way film does, but can be affected by random noise during long exposures. I was shooting at ISO 100 for maximum image quality, and also at f/11 or f/16 for maximum depth of field. This meant exposures of between 15-30 seconds. To my surprise virtually every image was clean and noise free. Of course I had the camera's dark frame subtraction noise reduction turned on, which doubles the processing time for each shot, but this proved to be a worthwhile minor inconvenience.

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Brickworks #12 — Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 35mm f/4 Distagon
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

I think that what surprised me the most about these shooting sessions was how little the eye could see in terms of colour and detail, compared to how much was recorded by the camera. Below a certain light level the colour receptors in the eye lose their sensitivity, but the camera doesn't. It was not remembering this that caused me at first to think that the best way to shoot inside this building would be in B&W. But once I saw how much colour added I only ended up making a few B&W prints.

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Brickworks #8 — Toronto. November, 2003
Contax 645 with 35mm f/4 Distagon
& Kodak DCS Pro-Back @ ISO 100

There are places like the Brickworks everywhere. Not the same, of course, but ones offering similar photographic opportunities. From old barns, to buildings under construction, to derelict structures of all types. Search them out. You'll probably find something challenging within 20 miles of where you live. Explore it first without a camera. See what it looks like under different lighting conditions. Return more than once and see how the way that you see it changes as you become more familiar with it.

A word of caution: Often buildings such as these are dangerous. They are usually closed off and have posted No Trespassing signs. Don't let your enthusiasm for photography blind you to either your safety or the law. If a place is closed off but appears to have great potential, try contacting the owners. Explain why you want admission, and offer to share the resulting images with them. Accept a guide / guard, if that's one of the conditions attached to entry. You may even have to pay a fee. Do be careful though.

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Concepts: Light, Camera, Lighting, Noise, Photography, Light beam, Eye

Entities: Toronto, Kodak, image processing, Michael Reichmann

Tags: brickworks, images, huge dynamic range, sunny morning, long exposures, camera, certain light level, worthwhile minor inconvenience, traditional image processing, format digital kodak, high resolution gear, open loading dock, long exposure times, dark frame subtraction, different lighting conditions, maximum image quality, brickwork buildings, Bayview Avenue, Photoshop trickery, sunny day, slot canyon, strong sunlight, new dslr, indirect light, light beams, little trepidation, long-time readers, light shafts, muddy trail, frequent spot, best way, electric light, downtown toronto, serendipitous tableau, narrow corridor, old barns, gloomy interior, interior space, park area, open doorway