I Not Only Think Big - I Do Big, My New Journey Starting in 2021
As a large and ultra large format photographer, I think big and I do big.
What do I really mean by that?
I started in large format photography using a 4x5 large format field camera during a time when there was no Internet or social media. When I started in photography, if you wanted to learn something, you needed to read an actual book or connect with an experienced photographer and have them help you.
After I dabbled in the darkroom using roll film for a few years as a young boy, I was introduced to the work of Ansel Adams. It wasn't that Ansel used large format that moved me so deeply, it was his work and later the realization that he used large format motivated me to move in that direction. I thought to myself, if I ever want to be able to create prints like Ansel, then I need to learn large format. Many years after using large format and by all rights, an accomplished photographer, I discovered the work of Clyde Butcher. His large scale silver gelatin prints moved me deeply. I felt another surge of inspiration like I had earlier with Ansel and I continued to move forward.
Coming from 35mm and 120 roll film cameras, I remember how big my first 4x5 film camera seemed to me. Now, I view a 4x5 camera in the same way I viewed those small roll film cameras, small and oftentimes tiny. Perspective is a funny thing I suppose.
In this article, I share my thoughts about why I use large and ultra large format view cameras along with handmade emulsions and how this is going to help me realize my latest creative vision.
In 2015, I wrote a detailed article sharing many of the technical and underlying reasons why I use large format view cameras in modern digital times. This article isn't a repeat of that article from 2015.
For the vast majority of my career, I have been using large format cameras, commercial film, and manufacturer created paper to make my fine art prints.
I have created everything from a wide variety of contact prints to very large scale silver gelatin enlargements.
As my primary negative medium, I have been using films like Ilford HP5 and Kodak Tri-X in my large format cameras ranging from 4x5 to 11x14 and a wide variety of commercially produced silver gelatin and platinum papers.
For the last two decades, I have been focused on creating a body of work. Using commercial film and paper was simply what most analog photographers use and it certainly made sense for me during this period.
While I learned and taught workshops on a variety of historic processes, I never used them in my portfolio work. All of that is about to change in 2021.
In the summer of 2020, I made a bold decision to stop creating and put on the breaks so I could reflect and think about the future.
After months of hiking, travel, and thinking, I realized that I wanted to slow things down even more than the already slow process of working with film and making prints by hand in the darkroom. Even though by contemporary standards, I produced a low volume of work, I feel that it is still too much.
I have a deep desire to create less and work even slower so that I can create more impactful and meaning work that is fueled by emotion and is stood up by a greater purpose.
I don't actually know the full vision at this point because it can only be realized by taking one step at a time. The steps right now are leading me to make my own custom handmade silver gelatin negative emulsions so I can pour 8x10 and 11x14 dry plate glass negatives.
The process of making the emulsions from raw materials, cutting and preparing the glass, and pouring the plates by hand spans the course of many days in order to just have a negative medium suitable for exposure and development. This is in stark contrast to loading a sheet of commercial film taking only a few seconds.
But it isn't just about the ultra slow and contemplative workflow, it is about using a medium that helps me realize the vision that I have in my minds eye.
Being able to control the spectral sensitivity of the emulsion along with direct control over my developing formula, I have a new level of control that wasn't available to me when using commercial panchromatic films and developers.
But it doesn't stop here. I don't plan on using my typical lenses that are known for their incredible detail, resolution, and contrast. I will be exploring a variety of vintage lenses that will help me fully realize my vision.
At this point, I honestly don't know the combination of mediums, methods, and gear that I want to use for my latest work and portfolio, but I am going to push forward and see where the path takes me.
If you have been following me in the last few years, then you already know that I have been following and photographing wild horses.
These majestic symbols of American freedom have completely captured my creative spirit and soul. No subject in my entire career has ever moved me so deeply.
I have a problem. I want to ultimately create handmade fine art of the wild horses using large and ultra large format dry plates and vintage lenses, but on a technical level, it is effectively impossible to capture wild horses using this medium and gear.
I am evaluating my options, and I think one path that I will explore is to continue capturing on 35mm roll film because I need the mobility, speed, and agility that 35mm and long glass affords me.
All of this is a step in the right direction and will help me explore my vision, but there is one important piece missing. Based on my vision, I feel that I want to use vintage glass to create more of an ethereal and emotional image. The ultra sharp and detailed images that I capture with my Nikon F6 and modern glass doesn't represent what I feel or see in my mind when I think about the wild horses.
One way that I can explore this vision is to use my large and ultra large format cameras loaded with my handmade dry plates and vintage glass to create a copy negative from an interpositive. By using my 8x10 or 11x14 camera and vintage glass to create the copy negative, I may be able to achieve the feeling and emotion that I am pursuing.
I won't know the answer to these questions until I get into the process and explore my options. All I know at this point is that I will need to capture the original image using 35mm film because of the speed and agility of the wild horses and I need to somehow transform that image into something that aligns with my vision.
In my mind, I didn't think that 11x14 was that much bigger than 8x10, but when I saw and felt the difference, everything changed. I have been exploring the possibility of getting a 14x17 camera, but I haven't made that decision just yet, so I continue to use my 11x14 for now.
The presence and overall feeling of the 11x14 contact print mounted on 17x24 or 20x24 versus an 8x10 mounted on 11x14 can only be understood by experiencing it in person with images that have meaning to you.
Keywords: analog photography, black and white, darkroom, Emulsion, fine art, Silver Gelatin, Wild Horses
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