Essay 2 - Why I use 19th Century Style Large Format View Cameras in the Modern 21st Century

I am often asked about why I would go to all the trouble of lugging around "that huge camera" when digital has taken over the world and it is so much easier?  My response: "Really?  I wasn't aware of that takeover and I didn't know that easy had anything to do with creating emotionally evocative and impactful photography." 

In my mind, large format photography is as relevant today as it was in the 19th century.  There is a wide range of reasons why I continue to use large format view cameras to create my images and I will list them in no particular order in the section below.  

Core Reasons Why I Use Large Format Photography in the 21st Century

  • The slower and contemplative workflow is perfect for my style and approach to photography. 
  • I work with intent and I am able to remain engaged and focused for longer periods of time.  
  • My goal is to create emotionally evocative images and I feel that large format view cameras are the best tool for me to be able to accomplish this.  
  • For me, large format is photography in its simplest and purest form.  
  • I prefer an approach that keeps me creatively engaged throughout the entire process.  While one could make that argument with a digital-based workflow, I find the traditional hands-on paper, chemicals, films, etc. to suit me better.
  • Film produces an image that simply looks different than one created with a digital sensor.  One of the core reasons I think film resonates with me is because it emanates emotion and it isn't always perfect.  I have created my share of black and white digital images over the years and they leave me with the feeling that I wish I had used film.  
  • For black and white photography, there is no equal to large format in my mind from a creative control perspective or quality.  
  • A lot of what I like to photograph involves high contrast scenes.  Color negative and black and white film handles these types of scenes with ease and in my opinion produces superior results.
  • Looking at a landscape or subject on the ground glass of a large format camera is a wonderful way to experience the scene and create a photograph.
  • A large format contact print is extremely special in my mind.  They have that special x-factor that I have not been able to duplicate any other way.   
  • The process of pre-visualization using a hand-cut mat board matching my film size is something that I enjoy and connects me to my subjects.  I don't need to carry or use a camera during this phase.  I attribute this to my workflow for large format. 
  • The movements available on large format cameras make the creation of images very easy and with high-quality results not possible on small format systems.
  • I like the mystery of waiting to develop my films.  This also helps keep me engaged and present in my environment when creating. Some of my biggest mistakes have lead to my biggest breakthroughs.  
  • I enjoy the technical knowledge and skill required to work with large format systems and processes.  After one has mastered the technical aspects, a lifetime of pursuing the artistic aspects is a wonderful journey.
  • The final product possibilities with large format are literally endless.  By final product, I mean darkroom prints, wet plate collodion, salt print, van dykes, albumen, platinum, carbon, palladium, and so on.   
  • I believe my ability to communicate the special nature and aspects of a scene and/or subject is best accomplished with large format photography.
  • I deeply enjoy working in my custom designed and built darkroom creating prints that are made with the raw materials of photography (paper, chemicals, and light).
  • Once you acquire the bits and pieces needed for large format photography, they last a lifetime, and no upgrades are required.
  • The ability to work with one sheet of film at a time is a huge benefit to me technically and also mentally.  It allows me to focus all of my energy into each exposure.
  • Film, large format, and the darkroom will forever hold a special place in my heart.  It is deeply in my soul.  I am not sure how it got there, it just is.  

I posted the essay on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin and I have included some of the comments from fellow photographers.

  • Rick Olson - "... and you get to meet all kinds of new friends That are interested in the wonderful craft and share ideas. Great read, Tim!"
  • Steve Vodhanel - "If nothing else...and I mean nothing else...it's great exercise, great fun, the images are really fun to look at on the large ground glass, and it usually commands that you get off your ass and go somewhere! Nothing wrong with that!" 
  • Paul Wainwright - "when you look at the image on the ground glass it is upside down. This helps me to separate myself from the object in front of the camera. I begin to see it as lines, shapes, forms, texture, positive and negative space etc. -- all the things they teach in Art 101. And there is no "delete" button (yeah, I guess that's a second addition to the list)."

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-Tim Layton

Tim Layton
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