6 minute read

Worth the Wait

Going back to his classical street photography roots with a lockdown-inspired project, Brandon Ruffin found GFX50S II perfectly complemented his patient and intentional documentary style...

At a downtown restaurant counter, a woman in a 1940s-style cloche hat stands waiting, her face framed in profile. Bright sunlight cuts through the scene, picking her out next to a stars and stripes flag – and the image’s warm, muted colors suggest the quality of a faded print. It could be a photo from 70 years ago, but look closer, and you see she’s wearing a mask. This is Covid-restricted LA in 2021.

“I always want my street work to feel clever like that,” admits photographer Brandon Ruffin. “I want it to be intentional and speak to the viewer in a way that surprises, or has them asking how or where it was made. The flag being there, the way that image was framed, and the lighting… none of it was an accident – and it took patience to make. In contrast,” he continues, “the world we live in today feels like it’s in a rush to create and share. People churn out content, because they think that’s what’s needed to stay relevant and not disappear. But street photography has to be something more.”

Best known for striking urban portraits, Brandon took on a fresh project when testing out GFX50S II and GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 R WR – returning to his street photography roots. “When I started out,” he explains, “I was keener on being at a distance and making more traditional street scenes. I would use a 135mm prime, or a 24-70mm zoom, which isn’t too far away from the new lens’s range. So, together with GFX50S II’s DSLR-type handling, and the subject matter, it felt nice to be back.”

Working on the streets of LA and Oakland, “I wanted to play heavily with light in these images”, Brandon says. “So much so, it became a structural, compositional element, cutting through the frame to unveil certain things and hide others. One of my biggest influences is the Chinese photographer Fan Ho. He made fine art street images with a perfect geometry of light and shade – I’ve always tried to emulate this in my own way. You have to bring together a lot of elements, so it takes patience and concentration.”

With light revealing the subjects, but shadows seeming to cut off and restrict them, there’s an obvious metaphor for lockdown in Brandon’s pictures with GFX50S II. The project includes empty barber’s chairs, deserted tables, anonymous figures, and children playing alone in the streets. “All the images are lonely by design, and that’s what I wanted to document,” he explains. “Today, a lot of those community spaces have been stripped down to nothing. On a Saturday morning, the barber shop would have been full of conversation and life, but people are just waiting their turn outside. Or, there’d be tons of kids playing at the mall, who are now in solitude. I want someone, years from now, to make those connections – because that’s what’s happening to us, in America and the rest of the world.”

In making his considered compositions, Brandon settled into a regime of waiting. “Sometimes things develop right in front of you,” he says. “And, despite being a larger format camera, I definitely noticed how GFX50S II has all the speed required to react fast when needed. But mostly, I was out searching for light, color, or framing. When I found it, I knew that if I waited long enough, the right person was going to walk through and make the picture.

FUJIFILM GFX50R camera and GF110mmF2 R LM WR lens on rusted metal ledge

Photo 2021 © Brandon Ruffin | FUJIFILM GFX50R camera and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/500 sec at F2, ISO 320

“It’s that patience you need to develop good street photography,” Brandon continues. “But that’s becoming more unusual, or even rare, in the rush to upload and create content. Don’t get me wrong,” he laughs, “social media can be a wonderful thing – and I’ve made many connections. But it becomes a problem when people are only concerned with adding content. I see so many photos online which could have been really beautiful, if the photographer had waited longer, or thought a little harder. I won’t settle for the first image, if waiting for a different subject fits my idea better.”

Top-down view of someone standing on street in dark shadow

Photo 2021 © Brandon Ruffin | FUJIFILM GFX50S II camera and GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR, 1/800 sec at F5.6, ISO 125

Another aspect of Brandon’s patient, deliberate approach is concerned with color. “Many of my influences were street photographers, who worked in color at a time when people thought it was a gimmick,” he says. “Or that fine art was still the preserve of the black & white medium. Photographers like Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog and Gordon Parks composed in ways that made color part of the narrative – that was always really beautiful to me.” Using GFX50S II’s Film Simulations, Brandon added his own tonal signature, with all the photos in this project being based on Classic Chrome mode. “From there, I made a few tweaks of my own,” he reveals. “Playing with the hue, saturation, and luminance values, and pushing the reds a little towards orange – making these images look like they were created with film that’s a little out of date. It all heightens the timeless look and adds to the story I’m telling.”

Young man in mask looking at his phone on dark street

Photo 2021 © Brandon Ruffin | FUJIFILM GFX50S II camera and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/160 sec at F2, ISO 2000

Brandon was also thankful for GFX50S II’s G Format sensor, and its exceptional dynamic range in making his contrast-laden images. “Its ability to produce an image so full of information is really amazing,” he says. “In my pictures, it would be natural to wonder if some of the highlights would blow out, or there’d be detail in the shadows as I was making them. But they had everything I wanted. I was able to do some RAW conversions in camera, but what I’d also say is that the JPEGs were high quality. So, even though there’s not a lot of adjustment required, anything you need to do can be done without being disruptive.”

Adding to his versatility, Brandon enjoyed pairing GFX50S II with the new GF35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR lens. “I’ll often stick to GF110mmF2 R LM WR for portraits on my GFX100S,” he says. “But for these more general street scenes, and details, the zoom was perfect. It’s compact and light, and if I wanted to get a little wider, there was plenty of coverage, while the long end gives close to a classic 50mm street photography view, with plenty of resolution, clarity and detail.

“My project with GFX50S II was a real breath of fresh air, in a lot of different ways,” Brandon concludes. “Before I started doing portraits, I was known for this type of street photography, and stepping out with this powerful, but portable, camera and versatile zoom made me feel very free. It put me back in touch with a more classical form of street photography. It was great to be out in the city, looking for scenes and working creatively. I’m very happy that GFX50S II was there to help me do it. When other photographers try, I know they will be, too.”

Back of FUJIFILM GFX50R camera on rusted metal ledge

Photo 2021 © Brandon Ruffin | FUJIFILM GFX50R camera and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/250 sec at F3.2, ISO 500

FUJIFILM GFX50S II and FUJINON 35-70mmF4.5-5.6 WR are coming soon to your nearest FUJIFILM Authorized Dealer.

Find out more about Brandon’s creative process and his experiences with the camera and lens in this exclusive behind-the-scenes video!