Julia Kalungwama, with her niece, Carolina Francis Kalungwama, in the background

Passing By the Circle presented some technical challenges during the exposure, the processing and the printing. We were working in a very small space – Julia’s front room of her home is about 6 x 10 feet, and the only source of light is from the front door, visible in the upper photograph here. The walls are dark adobe. An 8×10 camera on a tripod takes up about the same amount of space as two people sitting close to each other. In front of which are Julia and Carolina. Sarah Mwaga, my collaborator, friend and guide, was to my right, holding up a small reflector. The range of subject brightness was, despite the large bright single light source on the left (the door), barely 6 stops, and due to the bellows being extended, the low light, and a touch of reciprocity failure, the exposure ended up being 1 second long at f16. Crazy.

Julia and Carolina were astonishingly patient, but kept misunderstanding the cue to keep still. They thought the photograph was taken each time I pulled out the dark slide from the film holder, and promptly readjusted their positions… so we would start all over again: close the film holder, take it out, open the shutter, put my head under the dark cloth, focus, ask them not to move at all, close the shutter, head out from dark cloth, load the film holder, pull the dark slide… we began to get it right after about 5 tries, and I made two exposures.

Back home, the film needed more than the normal development time (N+) so that the highlight tones would render in the final print without loosing all the details in the shadows (‘expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights’).

Finally, with some masks and printing controls, the platinum-palladium print was ready. Thank you Julia and Carolina, Sarah and so many others who patiently stayed outside, instead of crowding the doorway (and obliterating the light) to see what magic was happening inside:

From left to right, a couple of visitors, our local filed assistant Savela, Carolina, Sarah Mwaga, and Julia.
From left to right, a couple of visitors, our local filed assistant Savela, Carolina, Sarah Mwaga, and Julia.