Large Format Pictorialist Silver Gelatin Prints Are The New 21st Century Alt Method

September 12, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Tim Sr. and Tim Jr. at Hodgson Mill For Darkroom Underground Episode 1 08/28/2021Tim Sr. and Tim Jr. at Hodgson Mill For Darkroom Underground Episode 1 08/28/2021 If you have been around photography for very long, then you already know that making any type of analog prints in the darkroom are generally considered to be alternative photography in the midst of the digital generation.  

Later in this article, I am going to lay out a pathway for you to implement an end to end handmade artisan workflow that will give you total control over your creative vision unlike anything that is possible in the digital world. 

As you know, I am a long time advocate for all things analog photography and this isn't just based on my personal preference, although I deeply enjoy every part of the process. 

Tim Jr. and I make all sorts of prints, both analog and digital, and I am well positioned to see the pros and cons of each approach.  Even if all things were equal, the benefits afforded the photographer by being so personally connected to each step in the process is overwhelmingly a huge benefit in my opinion.  The level of personal joy and connectedness to a print that we make in the darkroom compared to a digital image that we edit in Photoshop and print on the Epson inkjet simply can't compare.  I believe there is a time and place for each type of print in the 21st century.  

Topaz Mill - 09/11/2021Topaz Mill - 09/11/2021 After a year long project of selling our cabins and darkroom building and then moving and building the new darkroom, we have finally just started working at full capacity in the new space.  I can't express to you how happy that makes us.  All the work, time, and money invested is being fully realized and we have never been more excited about creating new work.  

We recently launched the new Darkroom Underground analog photography community, where we take you behind the scenes with us and share every aspect of our fine art printmaking process.  After the tragic death of my youngest daughter Abby in April, I wasn't sure I could even finish the darkroom or even do photography again.  I continue to battle with the pain and suffering with her loss on a daily basis, but I discovered something in the middle of the darkest days of my life.  

The amount of fellow photographers from around the world that offered support, words of encouragement, and pure compassion was overwhelming to me.  I can't express in words how thankful and grateful I am to everyone that has helped me through this difficult time.

Join Tim Layton on YouTubeJoin Tim Layton on YouTube I discovered that my lifelong love of photography is a form of therapy for me.  Last year I thought I was going to retire and pursue longtime passion projects and continue to mentor Tim Jr.  With everything that has happened, I realized that my helping other photographers is not only part of my larger purpose, but it is also a form of therapy for me. 

I benefit greatly from sharing everything I know about analog photography and both Tim Jr. and I are fully committed to the Darkroom Underground community for the long haul. I still have a lot of good years left in me and with Tim Jr. in training along the way, he will be ready to take it forward when the day comes that I can't.   

Darkroom Underground Analog Photography Membership by Tim LaytonDarkroom Underground Analog Photography Membership by Tim Layton

The main reason that I wanted to write this article today was because I want to officially kick off a new art movement - The 21st Century Large Format Pictorialist Artist Movement.

We are embracing the groundbreaking work of the Pictorialist pioneers over the last 170 years, starting with Henry Peach Robinson in the 1850's, and then adding our own unique perspective and methods

Pictorialism is an approach to photography that emphasizes beauty of subject matter, tonality, and composition rather than the documentation of reality.  This has been so obvious to me in our super sharp over saturated digital world.  

Pictorialism is a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewer's realm of imagination. 

That description really strikes a chord with me because it essentially captures the essence of my creative intentions. Prior to the original Pictorialism movement, photographs were mostly seen in the realm of science and as a tool for documentation.  With the current state of surgically sharp digital images, I think we have entered another period of photography that has created a new hyper reality. 

Hodgson Mill 6-13-21 Eastman Dry Plate Camera Stigmatic No. 2 Series II F16 ASA1 Ordinary EmulsionHodgson Mill 6-13-21 Eastman Dry Plate Camera Stigmatic No. 2 Series II F16 ASA1 Ordinary EmulsionOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The founding father of Pictorialism, Henry Peach Robinson, realized something no one before him.  Based on his experience as a painter, he used his knowledge of composition and tonality (light against dark) to help elevate photography to a form of art versus being viewed as a tool for documenting reality.  In an example below, it will become obvious how brilliant Mr. Robinson truly was.

When you look at the images created by the Pictorialist from the mid 19th century up through the end of the movement in the early 20th century, it is easy to see that we just don't create such artful images any more.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Take digital captures and Photoshop off the table and after looking at these emotional and moving Pictorial photographs, could you make something like this today with your current gear and workflow?  

A simple google images search for "Pictorialism" will further help us realize the departure from modern day images.  

Here is an example from Henry Peach Robinson:  

Dawn and Sunset by Henry Peach RobinsonDawn and Sunset by Henry Peach Robinson "Dawn and Sunset" was created by British painter and photographer Henry Peach Robinson in 1885.  Robinson was a master of emotion and in this special image, he illustrates the passage of time in a subtle and impactful way using Pictorialist methods.

Henry Peach Robinson was the original pioneer of the Pictorialist movement.  Robinson literally paved the way for photography being recognized as art.

Robinson was a painter before he became a photographer and this training and experience helped him realize the rules and guidelines associated with painting could be applied to photographs as well. 

In "Dawn and Sunset" he borrowed compositional formulas from his training as a painter and he used tonality (light against dark tones) to achieve things no one before him had been able to do. 

Robinson carefully composed an emotional tale of the flowering and fading of life, a child, at the beginning of life, rests in its mother's arms bathed in sunlight, while the grandfather, at the other end of life, rests in the shadows, lit only faintly by the waning light.  The softer aesthetic along with the emotional use of light and dark tones creates an emotional experience for the viewer that is timeless.  

Waterloo PlaceWaterloo Place Here is a different example from Leonard Misonne, called Waterloo Place which is a form of urban Pictorialism that was created in 1899. 

I share this example because the idea and methodology behind Pictorialism can apply to any genre and style of photography. 

The Pictorialist's during this time were literally fighting to elevate photography to a recognized form of art.

While George Eastman and Kodak was telling the world to just click the shutter and they will do the rest, the Pictorialist's were taking photography to new levels.

During the original Pictorialist era, photographers typically made their own emulsions, hand coated their paper negatives or glass plates, and made their own contact printing paper. 

They explored and created methods and techniques to create the types of images that are now associated with Pictorialism.  These pioneers took photography from a way to document reality to a respected visual art that would forever change the world.

In the Darkroom Underground, I am exploring the methods, techniques, and pure analog workflows to include teaching you how to make your own handmade silver gelatin emulsions to coat paper negative, films, and dry plates as well as making emulsions to hand coat contact printing papers and even enlargement speed papers too.  

Then we go on a journey together to figure out ways to create handmade emotionally evocative artwork that is unlike anything being actively created today in digital photography. 

And the best part is, you only need your creative mind and some basic analog photography gear to explore all of this.  No computers, Photoshop, or digital printers are required. 

I am excited to explore all of this with you and I look forward to connecting with you inside the Darkroom Underground.

What Are Members Saying About The Darkroom Underground?

There is no shortage of people providing information on photography on YouTube and the internet.   Some  are even aimed at the analog photographer, but what Tim has done with the Darkroom Underground (DU) is nothing short of pure brilliance.  DU is not only for the analog photographer it is also for the Large Format &  Ultra Large Format Photographer.  I don’t know of anyone else who is covering ULF.

He has simplified learning with wonderful videos that are supplemented with show notes so you have all the information for you to do this on your own. But unlike anything else out there you have Tim as a resource, too. He has always been easily available for questions or clarification and he welcomes suggestions for future shows.

If you are serious about learning all aspects of analog and LF/ULF this is the place to be. -Michael Wellman


"Tim Layton is providing very useful information for all those who are interested in analog photography and large format cameras. He covers in a very detailed and entertaining way the different aspects of this field. He always takes the time to explain the details and share all his know-how. Nothing is hidden or secret. Everything is on the table. 

The videos and blogs are shot and edited in a very professional way. Tim is always ready to receive and share the suggestions and ideas coming from other people. He is a very good community manager. 

I would like also to underline the growing role of his son, Tim Junior who contributes also greatly to the quality of the videos, text and explanation. Last but not least, Tim is always welcoming suggestions and questions and ready to interact. I recommend warmly the work of Tim Layton. -Stéfane France

Join us on Facebook and get the latest updates on the Darkroom Underground Page and connect with analog photographers from around the world in the Darkroom Underground Group.


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