Through The Viewfinder

Jimmy Nesbitt, Wayne Coyne and Anne Widdecombe appear in fearless photographer John Baucher's innovative exhibition. Click Play Video for a sneak preview with commentary

Photographer John Baucher first picked up a camera 14 years ago, but these days he carries one in each hand.

Walking the streets of Belfast using the 'through the viewfinder' technique, he has taken more than 100 portraits -- including labourers and celebrities, workers and artists -- that combine the efficiency of digital photography with the aesthetics of analogue.

Colin Bateman, Captain Ahab as photographed by John Baucher Pictures of famous faces like Colin Bateman and Willie Doherty are mixed with snaps of citizens young and old, from Baucher's own son to youths in vibrant clothes and elderly couples. All pictures are assembled in an exhibition in Belfast's Black Box, as part of Through The Viewfinder - Old Meets New.

'I can use two cameras at the same time, it's counter-intuitive and the square format is an interesting exercise for me,' says Baucher. 'You get the aberrations and the slight blur on the edge and it adds a lovely aesthetic. These are digital images, but there's also a film quality to them.'

The TTV technique has reinvigorated Baucher's practise, and he considers the exhibition a small comment on the idea that anybody who picks up a digital camera immediately becomes a photographer. There's a body of knowledge that develops over time, and photographers who have moved from analogue to digital possess an understanding that allows a combination of both formats.

Using a 1940s Ensign Ful-Vue in tandem with a modern digital SLR, Baucher explains the basic idea as using the digital camera to take a picture of what is seen through the viewfinder of the analogue one.

Danny, Eamonn McCann as photographed by John Baucher However minimum focal distances mean that the new camera must be at least a certain length from the older one, and light must be prevented from affecting the space in between.

The solution is to construct a TTV rig or 'contraption', as Baucher simply calls it, which is a long rectangular tube covered in black gaffa tape.

 The 'trap maintains the distance between the two cameras, but in the age of palm-sized digital technology, looks mildly eccentric and vaguely comical.

In practise the photographer appears to be using a cardboard tube to look at their toes. Baucher used artist's mounting board to make his.

'I've seen people using Glenlivet boxes, Pringles tubes,' he says. 'The important part is getting the minimum focusing point for the camera.'

Where the standard oppositional thinking says it's digital versus analogue and old versus new, the fun and inventiveness of TTV allows a mixture of both, creating unique results.

Mutya Buena, Anne and Dennnis as photographed by John BaucherThe strangeness also brings about an easiness in the subject, so amused are they at the unlikeliness of the equipment. Through The Viewfinder - Old Meets New features portraits of smiling politicians, performers and Orangemen.

Not everybody Baucher has encountered has been happy to have him snapping them, even with the contraption in hand. With permission and covering a public parade in June, Baucher was menaced by a suspicious objector.

'There's a defensiveness about the parades,' he says. 'Not so much the Orangemen, they're the good God-fearing Christians and that's where they're coming from but with the bandsmen there are different elements who are a lot more defensive. It's probably down to the fact - this is maybe a bit of a generalisation - but you could say that some would be involved at some level with the paramilitaries.

John, Susan as photographed by John Baucher 'I was there for about 15 minutes, snapping away, doing my TTV, and this guy appeared beside me. "What are you doing?" Taking photographs. "Make that your last one." I said no, actually, I won't. I'm not doing anything wrong. "We don't want you taking photos." Well, you can't stop me taking photographs.

'I had to come out with a whole spiel, "I'm one of you, I'm on your side, I'm not press, does this look hi-tech..." but he said, "Make that your last one." I said I'm not going to, and I stood my ground.

'I see my role as documenting the present for the future. Men coming along like that and saying you can't take photographs, that's like a red rag to a bull. I can take photographs; I have as much right to walk the Queen's Highway, as they would have it.

'It's interesting, with the TTV I can get right down for photos of the footprint going down, between the legs, the bandsmen behind, there's an interesting perspective and a new way of showing.

'This man walked away and had a conversation with three or four other lads who were all looking over. I stood my ground for another ten minutes before moving further up, to then get scratched by some drunken woman who fell over and scratched my arm as she fell.'  

Kiran Acharya

John Baucher’s Through The Viewfinder – Old Meets New exhibition is at the Black Box, Hill Street, Belfast, until September 16.