Why Hamilton photog John Haney is the opposite of Instagram

What's the opposite of Instagram? John Haney's photography. In an era of instant smartphone snaps and social sharing, he shoots with a camera from 1928.

Old-time photo tools force John Haney to pay careful attention to detail

What's the opposite of Instagram?

There's nothing fast about John Haney's photography. In an era of instant smartphone snaps and social sharing, he shoots with a camera from 1928.

Each picture can take 15 minutes to set up. 

His camera sits on an antique wooden tripod from Hollywood, uses black-and-white film, and if everything goes well he'll fire off four pictures in one outing. His camera was made in 1928 of wood, brass and leather.

I don’t use them because they’re a novelty. I use them because they are the tool that helps me make the kind of images I want.—John Haney

To top it off, to get the shot he buries himself under a big black hood.

In an era where people are digitally snapping, reproducing and sharing photographs in a matter of seconds, Haney prefers a slower approach and vintage tools that force careful attention to detail.

“I don’t use them because they’re a novelty,” says Haney. “I use them because they are the tool that helps me make the kind of images I want.”

Capturing the image

Haney’s specialization and pride is called large-format photography, which hearkens to the early 20th Century. “It’s a very deliberate, very methodical, detail and process-oriented way of photographing,” he said.

Haney shoot pictures of buildings and scenes across Hamilton. He took this shot of Irving's Famous Clothes, an old tailoring shop on James Street North, which closed in early 2013. (Scott Summerhayes/CBC)
A Tuesday in late February saw Haney on toiling in downtown, setting up to capture an image of a building he's had his eye on for some time —  the unoccupied building at 135 James Street N.

He said the building has always interested him as a subject. And that day, the light seemed to be hitting it just right.

Haney says setting up his shots take so much time because he needs to play with the camera a lot, moving it, adjusting the tripod and finely tuning the aperture. 

No simply whipping off a shot or two with his phone and shipping it off to friends in an instant.

Especially with architectural photography, he needs to make sure that all the vertical lines are perfect, “otherwise people who do this work seriously would laugh at me.”

“To put this much time and money into photography, you want to make something that you want to invite people to look at.”

Comparing old tech and new

Digital photography provides Haney said that the endless options that end up "constipating" his mind. 

“I don't whip off a million pictures. I have to think before I make the picture, so I have a much higher ratio of images that I have shot that I am happy with and that I will use. 

The negative that's used to develop the photos is the same size as the final print. (Scott Summerhayes/CBC)

"And there are guidelines and restrictions, and I have come to realize that I kind of thrive with that.”

He talks about the endless debate of digital versus film, and says people are always asking him why he doesn’t just shoot in digital.

“Digital makes photographs that are excellent, and you can’t tell if it’s a film or digital photograph," Haney says. "But digital photography has not made any image that I’ve seen that comes anywhere close to a contact print.”

A contact print is a print that is the exact same size as the negative, and is produced by laying them flat together. Contact prints are the purest way to produce an image, he says.  

The downside to Haney’s craft is how expensive it can be to ship in his material. 

“Unfortunately film for these cameras has been drying up, and a lot of manufacturers either are going bankrupt, shutting their doors, or they’re cutting back on the production  of this kind of film.”

Journey to Hamilton

While Haney is originally from Ontario, he lived on the east coast for a while, and studied at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. Haney moved back to Hamilton in 2010 with his wife, thinking it would be a short-term residency.

But before long, he had found a studio space, bought a house and had a baby.

Haney previously lived in the Pasadena apartment building on Bold Street, which caught fire on February 20. He said he'd intended of his to take a photograph of the front facade, but “foolishly” never got around to it. 

He was sad to hear about the fire and now really wants to go back when the lighting is right, to record that beautiful building.

He says that’s exactly what his camera was designed for: “documentary style, large-format photography that really pays tribute to the small details in the image.”