Unreal Colour! Lucy Wainwright curates this week’s photostream
In February of 2018, Simon Riddell and I met for the first time in real life, in the Scottish Highlands (where Simon lives). And, we immediately bonded over a mutual love of photography and insane adventures. As soon as I arrived, Simon mentioned an old WWII bunker, in the sea, inaccessible due to a fallen bridge. He and his dad (from whom he learned his joy of film photography) always talked of making it over to the bunker together. Sadly, Simon’s dad had died unexpectedly about a year before my visit. But we did our best to honor him by making it over to that bunker (using a drone as a grappling hook—what?!). And, of course, we took plenty of film photos.
At the end of that first trip, Simon was able to get in touch with the key holder for the Inchindown WWII oil storage facility. The underground facility was the world’s largest man-made structure when it was built, comprising 6 tanks (capable of holding 32 million gallons of fuel) and two access tunnels. We got a private tour my last day in Scotland, only having time to take one photo while in one of the tanks.
Simon, several months later, couldn’t sleep due to a massive cold. The next morning, I woke to a slew of voicemail messages. Basically, he had the brilliant Idea that we should go back to the tanks, take another photo, and print it on location. As a darkroom printer, was immediately hooked. Also, as a masochist, I insisted that we should, again, limit ourselves to only one shot.
In the months that followed, we discussed all the logistics to make it happen. We also decided that we wanted to print on 127cm fiber paper in the tunnels. If you are unaware, fiber paper can be rather finicky and requires a lot of water to process. And, of course, the tunnels have no running water to speak of. But, if you know me and Simon, you know we love challenges; so, we were determined to make it work… I should also mention neither of us had ever printed larger than 50x60cm before. So, yeah, we were stacking the deck against ourselves.
We also wanted to go from shot to print without leaving the facility. So, it was decided that we would sleep overnight in the (extremely eerie) tunnels. To help, we lined up someone to not only act as camera operator but serve as an extra set of hands. But, as fate would have it, he bailed on us two days before we were scheduled to enter the tanks.
We took only one negative of one of the six tanks, using an Intrepid 4x5 mkIII (both of us are predominantly large format photographers). We then made what might very well be the world’s largest darkroom in one of the access tunnels. We used inflatable pools to process the print—not only for their size, but because weight was a major issue in getting gear to the tunnel entrance.
Simon learned darkroom printing, his sense of adventure, and his ability to face challenges from his father. We decided that we should film the entire project and dedicate it to his dad. And that’s exactly what we did—we made a documentary out of it, replete with a full tour of the underground facility. Because we had to not only do the actual project, but also film ourselves, the whole ordeal took about three times longer than expected. We were incredibly tired. Everything (EVERYTHING) was covered in oil residue. So. Much. Oil. I mean, all my camera gear still has brown stains all over it. But, we did it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And, I think Simon’s dad would be proud.
You can watch the trailer and learn more about the project at https://inchindown.com
Film photographer David Allen is based in France. See more of his work on his website, and connect with him on Instagram. Film photographer Simon Riddell is based in Scotland. See more of his work on his website and connect with him on Instagram. You can watch the trailer to Simon & David’s documentary here. And be sure to follow the project on Instagram!
How I managed to nearly get bitten by a bush snake, hiked 14km with Elijah carrying a pelican case full of 4x5 gear with 300ml of water. Only to be saved by an Australian version of Keanu Reeves having his lunch.
To really captivate how we got ourselves in the whole situation, I will have to partly blame my poor memory of the travel distance of this beautiful salt marsh just outskirt of town. We parked near a beach and started walking around 8 am in the morning. There is a special character about this salt plain, it has a dynamic feeling of a deserted place, but it also has the full view of the city at the same time. The plain also doubles as an illegal junkyard where people sink cars with unknown background stories in the soggy mud during the wet season. Being a student, my choice to carry anything and everything is a backpack. However, on the day Elijah rocked up with a Pelican case for his 4x5 gear. At the time it didn’t seem like such a bad idea since you never want to take any chances with your gear.
As it turns out, it was a bad idea. On the day I had severely underestimated the distance from where we parked the car to the plains. The hike was already off to an atrocious start, the sun has fully risen, and the North Queensland heat was slowly creeping upon us. Since this story takes place in Australia, I am glad to inform you I nearly got bitten by a bush snake by almost stamping on it, but Elijah gave me a heads up like any good bloke.
The rest of the hike was like those moments in life where you can live with it but will preferably never live through it again nor think about it again. We started taking turns on carrying the Pelican Case since it was becoming quite the burden to carry for one person after the first hour and a half. When our morale truly hit the rock bottom around 11:30, we reached the gate of the salt plains. Well, it turns out you can drive there to a carpark near the gate as informed by Elijah upon arrival. I genuinely thought to reach those gates were an achievement, but it was really a slap in the face when realistically we have been bamboozled.
Regardless, we reached our destinated in the least effective way possible by walking. The hype and excitement that we felt in the morning for this photo adventure had already faded away so far in our memory that it no longer affiliated with our current mood. We got set up, started the shoot, and here are some of the photographs of the day:
Like all good things, the shoot came to an end, and the bitter reality that we had to face was the inevitable walk back to the car. Elijah at the time suggested a short cut that might lead us to a quick way out of the plains. After going the ‘short cut’ way for about an hour we checked our current course, and there was some good news and bad news:
The bad news: We were going completely opposite way of the car and we ran out of water.
The Good news: We were on a vehicle track. (Not really good news, but life’s about being optimistic.)
After the realization of our poor decision making, we sat down under a shady tree and decided to tap out and call for help. It was a very inconvenient time for most people since it was right after lunch on a weekday. After a moment of rethinking our life decision of the day we decided to at least get to the main road, we drove here from. After an extra bit of walking, we bumped into a cyclist who didn’t seem to be local. We immediately asked for directions, for a way out only to be told that we were heading to Townsville, which was not much help considering we were IN Townsville. Anyway, he gave us about 21ml of water and rode off to the unknows. There’s another FSC member (2 actually) in our Town so Elijah decided to give Greg a call only to end up in his voicemail (Later on he posted an Instagram story about the new hat he had gotten.)
But in life, unexpecting things happen, such as when a semi-suspicious Ute pulled up randomly by the vehicle track. I instantly started waving my hands above my head like a man stranded on an island. It caught the man’s attention and he kindly offered us a lift back to the car.
The man has the very look of what I would imagine if Keanu Reeves was Australian. Upon dropping us off, we photographed our savior of the day and to finish the story on a high and Australian note, we grab a pint of beer and called it a day.