Essay 8 -  The Journey of Simplicity for a Large Format Analog Photographer is Sometimes Complicated

At the time of this essay, I am in the middle of building my off the grid cabin and darkroom.  I have been working on the project for about 5 months now, with another 4 to 6 weeks to get to a place where I can live and work there.  I have a second location in the mountains in Colorado where I plan to do a small scaled down version of this project next year.  I love the summers in the mountains in Colorado.  It is a magical place to explore and be free.  

Part of my reason for simplification is because I am literally forced to do so, but it is something that I have been thinking about for years.  I self-imposed the transition so that I would have more time to pursue the things that matter most to me.  

I consider myself an advocate for traditional analog photography.  I love it with all my soul and heart.  It is difficult to articulate via words--I just do.  I enjoy every single step in the process and I am able to combine this love with my love and appreciation for nature and the outdoors.  I can't imagine doing anything else.  

In regards to simplification within my photography, I am thinking through and designing the new darkroom based on simple processes like contact printing versus enlargements and using paper negatives versus film, and so on.  I often feel that I have too many creative options as a photographer in the 21st century and I think this is a detriment for me at times.  Just because I can do something, doesn't mean I should.  I plan to continue to ask myself where I can continue to simplify every aspect of my creative and personal life.  

I recently solved my first challenge by designing and building a simple light source for making large format contact prints. I have the added benefit of being able to do split-grade printing with this solution.  You can watch a video of me using the setup to make a large format contact print from a paper negative.  I wasn't satisfied with using aging incandescent bulbs, so I tested and verified that the new low-wattage LED lights work just fine too.   That is good news for me because I use a lot of 12V LED lights and I also use A/C LED lights in the new darkroom.  

On the horizon, I am working on increasing my knowledge and experience to create my own silver gelatin negative emulsions for paper and glass negatives and also printing papers.  I have already started the process of identifying and testing paper candidates that may work for paper negatives. I've been using commercial darkroom papers for years as negatives, poured many wet plates and even made many dry plates from commercial emulsions.  Since I am going back to the basics in just about every area of my life, this feels like the right time to dive in and make my own emulsions for a complete end-to-end set of processes that are representative of more simple times.  This is something that I will pursue next year, after I get settled into the new darkroom and I am consistently able to create high-quality prints from my existing negative sources.  

I want to pick a solution that I will be able to work with for the next 20 or more years so this will narrow my choices.  In the long term, I don't want to rely on a manufacturer of a substrate that may not be around in the future.

At this time, I suspect I will either pursue glass plates or paper with an ortho-based Chloro-Bromide (ClBr) emulsion.  The up side of glass plates is that there will always be glass plates!  The down side is the handling of them in the field and long term storage.  I will have to continue to work my way through this part of my creative journey and see where it leads me.

The truth is, even within narrow areas of photography we have a vast amount of choices today.  We are living and working in a time where all of the techncial details have been figured out by those that came before us.  I often think that I have too many options available and I think it has caused me to wonder and lose focus at times.   

I openly share my thoughts with you becuase it isn't easy to transition to a simple life from our modern, fast-paced, technology-driven world.  Once I started spending more time in my cabin during the building process, I realized how little my need really were.  By sharing my journey with you, I am hopeful I can help others and inspire them to slow down and focus on creating evocative and impactful photography.  

To do anything well, I believe it requires focus, dedication, and a consistent pursuit.  By working all of the time, it is very difficult to have enough free time to be creative.  I want my readers to know that there are options available if you want them bad enough.

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-Tim Layton

Tim Layton
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