Grandmothers and Aperture

by Steve Simon

You never know where this site is going to take you. After blogging about my trip to Africa, I received an email from Inside Aperture viewer Brendon McClean, who read that I was taking this big trip to Mozambique and South Africa, and offered me help and assistance if I was heading his way.

As it happened, I got his email the day before my flight to Cape Town and I was happy to meet up with an Aperture user and see a friendly face in a city I had never traveled to.

Brendon and another photographer friend met me for drinks and gave me leads and ideas and a history of the region—the kind of information you won’t get in guide books and I’m very grateful to him and the legion of bloggers out there willing to help others with similar interests.

I’m visiting Cape Town to meet with a group of Grandmothers for a new project I’m starting. Grandmothers Against Poverty and Aids (GAPA) was formed as a support group for Grandmothers in Khayelitsha, Cape Towns largest Township. Many of the Grandmother here have lost their own children to HIV/AIDS and are now raising Grandchildren, even Great-grandchildren.

Photographed indoors with the Mamiya ZD and flash. Copyright Steve Simon

In my last book Heroines and Heroes, Hope, HIV and Africa, I dedicated the book to The Grandmothers, who inspired me, so here I am meeting more amazing women. When I see these Grandmothers in their own environments and the hard work each day brings them, my admiration for the Grannies grows stronger.

I decided that for this project, I wanted to make the prints really big, to shine a spotlight on the Grandmothers with a resolution my 12 megapixel Nikon just couldn’t provide. So I got a Mamiya ZD Digital back with the 645AF Camera and a 75-150f4.5 lens, specifically for this work.

I realized early on that the speed of which I work with my Nikon D2X would not happen with this camera and ended up using both. The Mamiya is a beautiful combination, but the write speeds for the 22megapixel medium format are quite slow compared to my Nikon, so I needed to slow things down and work a bit differently.

Also, originally I thought that tight traditional portraits would be the way to go, but I decided that capturing these amazing women in their own environments interested me more. I don’t have the fast wide glass you need to work inside many of the homes so I’m using both cameras, the Mamiya when the light is bright and I have the space and the Nikon for interior portraits.

Nikon D2X and 17-55mm Zoom. Copyright Steve Simon

The Mamiya back is new to the market, so there is still no support for these RAW files. Therefore, I shoot RAW plus JPEGS and import the JPEGS to edit in Aperture and end up using Photoshop to play with the RAW. After giving myself over to Aperture, I can see the tremendous difference Aperture has made in the way I post-process. I really don’t want to be in Photoshop, it is slower, less intuitive and just not as much fun.

The experience made me realize just how little I end up leaving Aperture and makes me wonder what the next update might bring.