The Next Chapter - Choosing Mobility over Flexibility - My Personal Journey

September 02, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

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My first love has always been working with black and white film, the zone system, and making prints in the darkroom.  This is where I started over 35 years ago and it is a part of my soul.  I have used E-6 slide film or C-41 color negatives when the subject or season was appropriate, but then I would always go back to black and white printmaking.  

I have built an extensive darkroom where I can create prints up to 5 feet x 4 feet using my customized 4x5 and 8x10 enlargers.  I love every aspect of the process of creating black and white fine art prints and so as I began to realize that mobility and personal freedom was increasingly important to me, my heart began to feel a sense of loss and pain.  I knew deep down, that if I wanted to pursue being more mobile that there were going to be changes.  

The time has come to let that pain go.  I have to take the first steps of thinking about mobility as my main mode of operation, versus returning to the darkroom to create my prints.  What does this mean?  At this point, I think it means I will be creating more large format E-6 slides and more positive black and white prints.  In my modified mobile darkroom that I discuss below, it is fairly easy to also create large format contact prints too from traditional black and white negatives, paper negatives, x-ray film, and even glass plates.  

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The thought of being able to create the finished product (print or slide) while out on the road is a fantasy that has moved to reality finally.  

In my traditional darkroom, I can print in both black and white and color using the RA-4 process ranging in size from 8x10 to 50x40.  From my Sprinter Van, I will be working out of a 4 foot by 2 foot portable darkroom that I built out of a wardrobe box as you can see in the photo at the top of this article.  This limits my final product to 11x14 as the largest size, and that is pushing the envelope.  I recently converted the dark box to also be a light source for making contact prints too.  

I will be developing my E-6 and B/W negative films in my Jobo on the road in my Sprinter van. I have a solar powered system that I run my Jobo from, so that is a lot of fun and versatility for me.  I will be developing my paper negatives in trays in the dark box and the same applies for wet plate collodion.   

In order to modify my original dark box to allow for printing, I made a simple modification.  I purchased a utility light and removed the silver reflector ring.  I cut a small hole in the top of the dark box and mounted and secured the lamp.  I will be using a low watt bulb on a cord that has a dimmer and on/off switch.  The lamp runs on A/C power that I convert from my solar charged 12V deep cycle battery that I have right next to the dark box.  I use 8x10 and 11x14 contact printing frames for my contact prints.  The dark box with the low watt bulb will be light source for exposing my papers.  I can develop the prints in trays inside the dark box, or I can load them into print drums in the Jobo. For my Harman positive black and white prints, I develop those in Diafine, and my other prints I develop in Dektol.  

As this continues to unfold over time, I will continue to write about each phase of my journey as I march towards the goal of being a nomad photographer that still uses film in spite of all the modern conveniences of digital cameras.  When I am an old man, God willing, I want to be able to hold those large format chromes up to window light and laugh my ass off because I don't need a stupid computer to view and enjoy my photos.  I want to be buried with at least one large format camera and as many negatives and slides as they can fit in the casket.  I can't stand the thought of some jackass coming to my estate sale and buying my lifetime of work for $5 and then selling them on e-Bay.  


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-Tim Layton

Tim Layton | Darkroom Photographer
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