The British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSoUP)
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One man show

Peter Rowlands

Reproduced from in focus 15 (April 1986)

Peter Rowlands - 2007
Peter Rowlands - 2007

Peter began by thanking BSoUP for asking him to put on a One Man Show, something which he regards as an honour.

'I joined BSouP about one year after taking up underwater photography. I'd started land and underwater photography at almost the same time and blame Trevor Smith for my initial struggles, He offered me a Rollei housing complete with bulb flash. My first few rolls of film were hard work and very erratic.'

'Fortunately my brother had a Nikonos and I had use of this, but 1 never felt happy with what seemed a miniature camera compared to the 6 x 5 cm format of the Rollei.'

'The result, I feel, is that I entered underwater photography at the closing stages of medium format advantage, when the modern film emulsions, which now help 35 mm, were not available, The old adage that 'the larger the format, the better the quality' was true then, but I believe is not as true these days.'

'My love affair with large format was encouraged by my attendance at BSoUP meetings, where the quality of the work by Peter Scoones in particular, helped convince me that large format was worth all the extra effort. I couldn't sleep after each BSoUP meeting as I tried to absorb all the information and chat. However, I was still severely limited with the narrow angle of the lens of the Rollei and when I heard that Peter Scoones was selling his housing for a Bronica S2A, I snapped it up.'

'The Bronica gave me closer focusing and ability to use wide-angle lenses. A trip to Malta was imminent, so I bought a 45mm Konura lens with the proceeds of the Rollei Sale, hours before the plane took off. The housing would take a 50mm wide-angle, but I didn't realise the 45mm was a fraction longer. I only discovered this on the first dive when I went to focus on a close-up subject in shallow water and pushed the front part off the housing!'

'I was a fanatic undeterred by these major setbacks. Peter Scoones than announced his latest Bronica S2A housing was for sale - more versatile, extension tubes, wider angle lenses. I couln't wait to get my hands an it'.

'It was with this camera that I really started. The optics were very good. A supportive friend, and I seem to have been blessed with many generous friends who have helped me, offered to make a glass dome for the 40mm wide-angle lens. The combination was very good indeed, results and consistency were beginning to improve. Around this time, Warren Williams introduced me to Steve Birchall at a BSoUP meeting.'

'Being mega-keen I booked a week on a hard boat from Salcombe and advertised at BSoUP. Half a dozen people contacted me and it went on from there, The best way to improve is to work with others, see what they do. Help them, they help you and your results will progressively improve,'

'From then on I started to dive with much more purpose and Steve Birchall and I began to form the foundations for a duo. Its most important to have someone to work with. You can bounce ideas off each other, keep each other going and pose for each others cameras.'

'Without such a regular buddy I know I wouldn't have produced the amount of material which has now accumulated. The struggle with format was now about to get completely out of hand as Pete Scoones discovered the Mamiya RB67, and as you may have guessed by now, what Pete has today I try to get tomorrow. This time it was a bit different as I decided to produce a housing to Pete's design for the RB67. The result was what I believe to be the finest example of a large format housing ever made, combining style with ease of use and good optics.'

'However, the limitations of large format were always there. Very limited depth of field made a lot of shots unsharp. Very heavy, expensive to run and all the associated back up gear, enlargers, projectors. But when you got it right, the quality of the results was impressive, Being connected with equipment supply, I'm fortunate to be spoilt for choice and started to use a 35 mm camera in a housing and a Nikonos.'

'The Nikonos was used mainly for 1 : 1 close ups and for wide-angle shots. The housed 35 mm camera was used for 16mm full frame fish eye and 50mm macro shots. At one time I was using an RB67, 35 mm housed and a Nik! Too much gear meant too little concentration, so eventually the RB67 faded away and was eventually sold. That was not an easy decision to make, but I feel much happier with the 35 mm cameras. My time with large format taught me the value of each frame and made me concentrate. Too much film means too little concentration.'

'With 35 mm I have developed consistency without too many limitations. The results with 35 mm were helped by making sone one-off lenses such as a 16mm full frame fish eye and a special set of probes for 1 : I use. These were major improvements for the non-reflex Nikonos. The improvements showed in the results. I thought in individual shots rather than linking shots to add up to a story.'

'Shooting for audio-visuals requires consistent effort and you never finish until many rolls of film have been shot. You have to try all the time. Gradually the audio-visuals and techniques bit, and now I consider my underwater photography is solely aimed at producing audio visual images. If I get an individual shot, then that's a bonus.'

'Audio-visuals have stopped me becoming bored with underwater photography. They give me a purpose after exhausting basic natural history shots. I'm not a creative photographer in terms of 'surreal' images and was becoming bored with marine identification shots.'

'Audio-visual work has led me back to the darkroom where I love manipulation of plain images and use lith film a lot, not only for titles but also special effects.'

'However, too much of a good thing numbs the brain and I decided to rest last year and was fortunate that the weather was lousy. This meant that BSoUP meetings weren't full of new and exciting images, which never fail to get me going. I enjoy looking at other photographer's work more than my own and this helps me to be more objective about my own results. Competitions, magazines and BSoUP provide a regular supply of underwater images to admire.'

'Having said this, and at the risk of being boring, I feel that underwater photography needs a new lift, Natural history shots, Red Sea scenery and modern emulsions have led to an excellent general level, but we need to open the barriers to allow underwater photography to blossom. We shouldn't limit ourselves to underwater photography. Use it as a medium, but don't stop when you surface.'

'I'm now thinking of and starting to produce combination images aimed at blending land and underwater. The scope is refreshingly wide and for me spells a new chapter, which I hope will result in fresh images based on consistent effort,'

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