Making photographs is my work. It is work I love, work that is at times frustrating, hard and seemingly impossible and at other times the source of some of my greatest joy. I can explain the “where’s” and “how’s” of my photographs with minimal effort but asked to explain the “why’s” reduces me to a tongue-tied teen. Perhaps looking at the world through a lens upside down and backwards prevents the brain from developing a wordsmith’s ability. More likely it is the result of being so thoroughly absorbed in the process that thoughts of “why” simply don’t break through the experience. Maybe telling you “how” I work will bring us closer to the “why” of these images.
I’m not a conceptual photographer, but rather a reactionary one. That is, I react to what I see the light doing. I often photograph in and around buildings, not for the architectural information per se, but for how the corners, windows, and doors work to bend and shape the light. Some of the time I work with the light as I find it. Other times I have to return to a place over and over again before the light is right. Every once in awhile I will be in the right place at the right time, camera and film ready when a moment of perfect light illuminates a spot in front of me.
My photographs are always about the elusive qualities of light. Regardless of the subject – stone, tree, building, machine, or object – it is the light that I am really trying to capture. I can be fascinated by an object and photograph it, but if the light is not right, the image doesn’t work. Each object has it’s own threshold for light and a diffuse, overcast light which illuminates without creating dramatic shadows is my most favorite light to photograph under. This soft light still presents with a sense of direction but more importantly it wraps around the subject, blending with its very skin and bringing something new to a previously ordinary object.
I photograph with view cameras, from 5 x 7 to 11 x 14 in size, and more recently with a digital camera. What draws me to the view cameras is that they require me to work slowly, one sheet of film at a time. I have to take time to set the camera up, knowing that I have to compose with care to get everything right. I have to choose the “right” lens for both the format and the effect I want, check light readings and think about how I want tonal values to appear later in the print. Seeing the image inverted on the ground glass abstracts it for me and allows me to see the design and composition without worrying about what the object is. Working with these cameras is almost a method of meditation, of relaxing deeply, of seeing and working within myself. The multitude of physical and mental steps required to make an image requires that setting up the camera becomes a ritual. This physical ritual frees up my mind to focus on what caught my attention in the first place. It allows me to stop over-analyzing the subject and simply compose the image on the ground glass.
Of late, the challenges and costs of getting the view camera gear to a distant location began to exceed budget and experiential needs. As a result I began to experiment with a digital camera package. Coming from my 35 mm days as a photojournalist the smaller camera is familiar and the digital capture makes larger negatives possible. The challenge, for me, is to slow down when working with this smaller format so that I can see what I came looking for.
I print my negatives solely in platinum and palladium these days (refer to Platinum Printing explanation). I like the color and the longer tonal range I can achieve with this hand-mixed emulsion. I enjoy the slower tempo of working one contact print at a time. For me, there is a painterly feel the process in that makes each print essentially a monoprint, exhibiting slight differences from one another, even though made from the same negative.
In today’s world of digital photography my methodology is often viewed as that of the “old school” meaning “like back in the days of the dinosaurs”. In reality, the world of photography has made enormous leaps and bounds since the first documented permanent photographic image was made in 1839 and each artist gets to choose how they want to work with the medium. There is no “right or wrong” to these choices, they are simply preferences. For my process, as long as the materials are available – film, platinum and palladium – I will continue to focus my work in the more slow, completely hands-on way that I have chosen because it works for me to do so. However, where necessary I will adapt my process to the equipment at hand.