A few years back, a number of factors coincided to bring about one of those creative projects that bloomed into something greater than the sum of its parts. I had been experimenting with my newly acquired Hasselblad X-Pan camera, a beautifully crafted and clever hybrid 35mm film camera that could expose two frames to make a true high quality panoramic negative. It was an ingenious piece of kit, if slightly tricky to use, and during its relatively brief production run built quite a following, in turn contributing to the growth in popularity of panoramic photography at around the turn of the millennium.
At the same time, as a family we were just beginning to explore the south coast with an eye to moving out of London. We also happened to receive a couple of invitations to Norfolk, near Burnham Market and the beautiful stretch of coastline around Holkham with its pines, rolling dunes, horizon-bending beaches and expansive skies. These were the kind of landscapes for which the X-Pan camera was made. The boys were at an age when the seaside offered all sorts of possibilities and adventure. I thought of my own family holidays in Cornwall when I was their age - there is something particularly nostalgic about children and the seaside and an idea was beginning to form about documenting this period in their lives with this camera. I started clicking away on these seaside ventures.
Meanwhile, I had been using Queensberry albums for three or four years in my burgeoning portrait and wedding photography business. In my mind Queensberry was, and arguably still is, one of the few companies that understood the essence of what a genuine, lasting family album - wedding or otherwise - should be and had made that production option available to photographers worldwide. In 2003, I visited their stand at a UK trade show and a huge 24 inch panoramic-format album caught my eye, clearly a statement piece. It stuck in my mind as being an ideal vehicle for my small, but growing series of family panoramas and which could double as a unique showcase for my work as well. In fact it gave me a disciplined objective: I would make one of these albums and just with panoramic photographs taken on the X-Pan.
After our third seaside trip to Norfolk I had collected just about enough material to start thinking about the design of the album and how the photographs were going to be printed. The negatives, being of unusual shape, had to be treated carefully at specialist labs. I turned to Genesis, a fantastic lab local to me in South West London and which I had used for a few years (they are still going strong). They had a full black and white darkroom then and were able to offer the high quality hand printing and toning that I was after. I wanted the design of the album to be austerely simple, just one image per page, but it still required sketching out by hand and faxing to Queensberry - yes, that’s how we did album design in those days. It was to be a page mount type album with black core pages and ivory mats - I would trim and mount the prints myself so that the underlying black page would show as a border.
One of the things that struck me while researching this article was the amount of associated material that came to light in various boxes and files - the negatives, obviously, and the contact sheets and a load of test prints - it was like finding all the sketches for a painting.
A whole mini archive came alive and made me realise just what a hole is likely to be left in the absence of printing anything, now that we all use digital cameras and store the images on drives and servers.
The first photograph for this project was taken in February and the final print was mounted in the album in July. It was six months in the making and I can’t deny it was expensive to produce. Eleven years on, I consider it worth every penny and every hour of investment, value that will continue to grow as time goes on. It is a personal legacy that I imagine will one day be picked up and leafed through by my children's children. Will I be able to say that about my digital photographs, I wonder?