Isabelle Baldwin's Large Format Experimentation with the LomoGraflok 4×5 Instant Back

Isabelle Baldwin is an Arizona-based photographer with a love for environmentalism and analogue photography, so when we found out that she takes her large format camera on her adventures, we knew she'd be the perfect match for our LomoGraflok 4×5 Instant Back.

In this interview Isabelle talks about how the instant back provided the perfect companion for streamlining large format photography in the great outdoors and shares her tips and tricks for those looking to get into large format photography.

Self-portraits taken with the LomoGraflok (right) versus traditional large format film (left) by Isabelle Baldwin

Hi Isabelle, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your work?

Of course! Thank you all so much for having me. I'm a photographer, writer, and creative strategist based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2018, I earned my BFA in Photography with a minor in Sustainability from Pratt Institute. Originally from western North Carolina, my creative practice has been shaped by the people and places I've called home over the years— from the Appalachian Mountains to the Texas Hill Country and, now, the Sonoran Desert. My work is heavily inspired by the organic materials and shapes of the American South and Southwest.

What experience do you have with large format?

When I was at school in New York, I took a large format course. Throughout the semester, I would spend my weekends lugging a suitcase loaded with gear from Brooklyn to Coney Island to take portraits of my friends with the ocean as a backdrop. Over the years, I've crafted most of my projects using medium format and 35 mm film, a choice partially influenced by the cost of large format film and partially by the time commitment each shot demands. I'm so inspired by artists like Justine Kurland, Sally Mann, and Alec Soth, who regularly use large format cameras to create stunning portraits and landscapes. Their work has encouraged me to challenge myself to shoot more 4x5 film and to really just slow down my creative process.

Could you tell us why you chose to shoot with the LomoGraflok 4x5 Instant Back in particular?

One of the things that really stuck with me from my large format class was our first exercise. The professor had us take out our 4x5 cameras and create portraits using expired Fujifilm FP-100C, a discontinued instant film. It served as an ideal introduction to large format photography, a medium that usually takes a while to set up and then wait to see if the exposure and focus are just right. Yet, with instants, we could see immediately what needed tweaking or changing.

As I'm getting back into this format and found the LomoGraflok, I felt it would be an excellent way to ease back in. I was so pleased with the first instant self-portrait I took that I loaded my film holders with HP5 sheets to capture the same shot. Now that Instax proudly hangs in my office next to the picture I took with my classmate, Delilah.

What were your first impressions of setting up and using the LomoGraflok?

My initial encounter with setting up and using the LomoGraflok was a mix of intimidation and excitement, which is pretty standard whenever I get my hands on new gear. The provided instructions, combined with some fantastic YouTube tutorials (big shout out to Kyle McDougall), went a long way in preparing me for the experience.

In the past, I've invested in polaroid backs for my medium format cameras —like my trusty Mamiya RZ6— only to face malfunctions and complete breakdowns. So, I approached the LomoGraflok cautiously. But when that first shot materialized, and not only came out perfectly but also sported the right exposure and focus, I couldn't contain my excitement (I think I even startled my dogs!) From that point onward, using the LomoGraflok became quite addictive. I found myself eager to see every shot transformed into an instant photograph.

What did you decide to shoot with the LomoGraflok?

I had some ambitious plans for what I wanted to shoot on the LomoGraflok. Living in Arizona, I was eager to photograph the beautiful saguaros and the desert landscape (even in 110 degrees). However, I encountered a series of technical hitches with my Intrepid camera during every outing. While the LomoGraflok itself performed flawlessly, I struggled with recurrent light leak issues stemming from the lens board, and faced challenges with the ground glass refusing to stay in place while attempting to insert the mask for focusing.

These roadblocks led me to pivot my shooting plans. Instead of grand desert scenes, I focused on capturing moments closer to home and nearby parks. My subjects ranged from beetles feeding off cactus pads in our front yard to intimate self-portraits using natural light in the guest bathroom, and the pine trees of Mount Lemmon on a picnic with my partner. Ultimately, the world of film photography rarely adheres to perfection, and that's exactly what I love about it. Imperfections add character, making those "good" shots all the more precious.

Photos by Isabelle Baldwin

Do you have a favorite image taken with the LomoGraflok?

Aside from my initial self-portrait, one image stands out as a favorite—a photograph of pine trees crowning the summit of Mount Lemmon, the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains. This moment holds a special place for me because of the journey that led to its capture.

I convinced my partner to join me on a scenic drive to the summit, which took around an hour. Despite shooting 3-4 instant photos, the day was marked by struggles with the ground glass and persistent light leaks. But, I was committed to leaving with at least one good photograph so we drove to my favorite spot on the mountain—a serene, forested area adorned with picnic tables and grills. I'd forgotten a dark cloth for focusing but substituted with my shirt which provided just enough darkness. For the light leak, I used duct tape found in the car to prevent any light leaks around the lens plate. And finally, I got the shot.

While it might not have been the exact image I originally envisioned, I was content because of the journey and can now laugh at the amounts of things that went wrong leading to the photo.

How would you compare the experience and results of the LomoGraflok to the experience and results of taking a more traditional large format photograph?

Traditional large format cameras and the LomoGraflok share a common thread of demanding deliberate mindfulness that goes beyond just mastering the technical elements. It extends to the thoughtful consideration behind each photograph and the rationale for selecting a specific camera for the shot. The LomoGraflok significantly enhances my overall enjoyment of the process. While photography can often carry the weight of seriousness and monotony, especially with substantial equipment, the LomoGraflok infuses a sense of playfulness. The immediacy of holding a tangible instant photograph in your hands is really affirming during the image-making process.

Photos by Isabelle Baldwin

Do you have any pointers for someone using the LomoGraflok for the first time?

Ultimately, my advice to anyone using the LomoGraflok for the first time is simple: have fun and don't fear mistakes. Like any film process, there's an initial learning curve, and that's perfectly okay. In fact, some of my best work over the years has come from the very mistakes I made at the outset. Embrace the process, experiment without inhibition, and remember that the journey of discovery is just as rewarding as the final photograph.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I also want to echo the sentiment about legacy brands in photography wholeheartedly amplifying the voices of female artists and smaller content creators. It's incredibly fortunate to find myself collaborating with brands like Lomography, who are truly committed to nurturing and expanding creativity within the realm of photography. Working alongside such brands has been a privilege and an inspiration, as they demonstrate a genuine dedication to pushing the boundaries of artistic expression. To all of you, I extend my deepest appreciation for affording me this incredible opportunity. Thank you all so much for this enriching experience!

If you're interested in. keeping up with Isabelle and her work, make sure to check out her website, Instagram, and TikTok.

written by eloffreno on 2023-10-09 #gear #people #large-format #instant-photography #instant-back #lomograflok

Mentioned Product

LomoGraflok 4×5 Instant Back

The only readymade solution for shooting Instax Wide film with all Graflok-equipped 4×5 cameras. Easily experiment with your large-format camera thanks to the most cost-effective method, in a matter of seconds.

View in Shop

More Interesting Articles