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

December 08, 2015  •  6 Comments

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As I continue to build out my off the grid cabin and darkroom, I challenge myself to find ways to simplify.  Part of the reason for simplification is because I am literally forced to do so.  I heat my cabin and darkroom with a wood-burning stove and I create my own electricity from solar panels and a wind turbine.  I don't have running water so I have to haul it in and engineer solutions to increase my comfort factor to a point that makes me happy.  I have four seasons where I am located, so I will have to solve the heat challenge in the summer.  No time for that right now, but I am already thinking about it!

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 journey 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.  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.  Since the original post, I have since completed the build of my off-grid darkroom.  I have running water, hot and cold, on command via a solar pumping system that I designed and built and I have enough power to literally do anything I could do in my old darkroom when I was connected to public utilities. 

Even though I have the same capabilities, my heart continues to long for simplicity in my fine art photography.  I make the distinction between "my fine art photography" and the video courses and workshops that I develop to make a living. I have covered a lot of ground technically and artistically over the last 35 years in the darkroom and I am grateful for all of this knowledge and experience.  It enables me to help others reach their creative potential.  

I recently solved my first challenge by designing and building a simple light source for making large contact prints. I have the added benefit of being able to do split-grade printing with this solution.  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 also A/C LED lights at the homestead.  Now that my darkroom is fully in production, I can confirm that I use LED lights for everything to include my safelights, working light, and contact printing. 


On the horizon, I am working on increasing my knowledge and experience to create my own silver gelatin negative emulsions for glass negatives and potentially contact printing papers.  I did a lot of testing on how to create paper negatives from my own silver gelatin emulsion, but I have set that aside for now.  The primary reason for this decision is because of the plentiful supply of suitable darkroom enlarging papers that I can use as my negative medium and I can use this energy to perfect making dry plates and making my own film on a celluloid emulsion.  

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 and artisan approach.  

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.  I don't want to rely on a manufacturer of a substrate that may not be around in the future or the medium changes. 

Now that I am settled into my new off-grid darkroom, I am thinking about starting the process of creating ortho-based Chloro-Bromide (ClBr) emulsions for dry plates.  The upside of glass plates is that there will always be glass!  The downside is the handling of them in the field and long term storage is a little more difficult and also takes more space, which I am short on these days.  

Based on other experiences with emulsion making, I feel like it will be easier to work with glass and perfect the emulsion making process than to try and work with celluloid and making sheet film.  Independent of the substrate, I am clear that I prefer a class ortho-style emulsion.  It suits my creative style and I just like it.  

I am clear that I could simply use Kodak Ektascan B/RA X-Ray film in my large format view cameras and be very happy with the resulting prints.  I mostly create platinum or other alternative style prints and the high-contrast nature of X-ray film is well-suited for these processes.  I could adjust the development process to make these negatives suitable for classic silver gelatin prints too.  The cost is very attractive and the process for development is very easy and highly controllable.  My best guess is that X-Ray film should be around as long as I am alive simply because of the medical application of the X-ray film.  

​Even within the process of trying to simplify, I feel that I have too many options.  I almost envy the photographers in the late 19th century and early 20th century because they had fewer options and fewer distractions.  I make this connection because of my lifestyle change of building and living in a tiny house off the grid.  I will write more once I have more experience and time to reflect. 

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Lee Pannell(non-registered)
Tim, I kind of like your idea of stocking up on paper. Glass may not be around forever as more advanced polymers are developed, although I like dry glass plates.
I'm quite jealous of your off the grid efforts and wish you the best!
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Taylor, John and Robert. Thanks very much for commenting. I personally think the days of over-working, being over busy, and chasing jobs to pay for things we don't need is starting to come to light for a lot of us. This same concept resonates with me in my photography too. Stay in touch!
Hi Tim,
This is very exciting! Like you I am looking to simplify both my life and my photography. I am not as learned as you but hope to catch up, or at least get closer with more knowledge. I have begun to focus more on analog photography- getting back to my roots as it were. It is so great to actually 'create' an image and see it develop in the liquid. Like you, I love it. The digital era passed me by but I don't feel left behind. I look forward to more of your postings and wish you the best in your endeavors.
Robert James Elliott(non-registered)
a man of my own heart, this is awesome, I too love dry glass plate, will watch with interest.
Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Taylor, thanks for commenting. Keep me posted on your progress so that I can share in your journey as well. Take care and stay in touch.
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