About

A Washington, DC based large format photographer specializing in the DC streetscape, portraiture and the human figure, working in antique and historic processes. I offer classes in large format photography, platinum/palladium printing, gum bichromate printing, portraiture, studio lighting and photographing the human figure.

I got my start in photography like most people, with the gift of a point-n-shoot camera as a teenager, to take happy-snaps when on vacation and at parties and things. After graduating from college, I found myself unemployed and with lots of time on my hands while I sent out applications for jobs. I wanted to get back into painting and drawing, which I had done a fair bit of in high school. I thought “I’ll learn just enough about photography to take pictures to use as subject matter”, so I got a manual camera and a very basic darkroom setup and a book, “An Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Techniques of Photography” by John Schaefer. I taught myself to develop film and the basics of printing black-and-white. Well, any notion of just using photography as a means to another end went out the window the first time I saw an image form on the paper floating in the print developer. I was hooked. It’s been all downhill since. I went from a cheap, crude Chinese-made Seagull rangefinder camera to a beat-up Hasselblad. The Hassy was my main camera for a very long time. I’ve moved on from there, and now primarily shoot large and ultra-large format cameras.

I got into the big cameras early on, dabbling with a 4×5, but quickly realized that my desires were being cramped by my income stream, so I offloaded the outfit and concentrated on the smaller roll-film formats. Then came a shift in fortunes and I got back into large format with a cute Shen-Hao 4×5 field camera. Along came 2003 and the big Ilford scare, as well as the announcement shortly thereafter that Kodak would be terminating their silver-gelatin paper production. I decided that if I was going to continue with the pastime I loved so dearly, I would need to step up and learn alternative processes that were no longer dependent on a mass-produced assembly-line product from a single vendor. As paper was the first product to go, and it would be easier to replicate, I thought I’d give platinum printing a try. I had seen some platinum prints at the View Camera Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts and loved the tonality and image color.

Virtually all of the “alternative processes” (with the exception of Bromoil) are contact-printing processes. They require a negative the size of the finished image you want to make. Very quickly, you realize that 4×5 may seem like a huge piece of film when you’re used to 35mm, and a 4×5 camera may seem like a cantankerous beast next to your Hasselblad or Mamiya, but it’s really quite dinky and dainty when it comes to contact printing. Thus down the rabbit hole we go, into bigger and bigger formats. 5×7 is a lovely format, and it makes a reasonable, if small-ish, contact print. From 5×7 came the addition of a 5×12 for shooting panoramics. An 8×10 joined in, but fell by the wayside due to the bulk of the camera and the requisite film holders. 6 1/2 by 8 1/2, also known as whole plate, has become a favorite size not only because of the pleasing proportions but the excellent compromise between square inches and portability (the image is ALMOST as big as 8×10, and the camera is ALMOST as small as 5×7). If I want to get REALLY big, there’s the 14×17. It’s truly a monster, and at $12 an exposure just for the film, not something you load up and shoot casually.

I’ve dabbled in other alternative processes – I also print gum bichromate on a regular basis, and I’ve learned wet-plate collodion and daguerreotypy. Wet plate is a beautiful process, fraught with pitfalls and variables enough to make your head spin. It also gives platinum a run for the money in the cost department. I ended up leaving it behind because I didn’t relish the idea of dripping silver nitrate across my floors carrying the sensitized plates back and forth from the darkroom, and my darkroom does not have good enough ventilation for proper safety. Ditto daguerreotypes – there’s no way I would do them at home without a lab-grade fume hood.

31 thoughts on “About”

  1. Mr. Davis,

    Hi. My name is Thomas Kenny and I have a Century Master Studio Camera with the Graflex stand. I was researching them on the internet and came across your blog. It belongs to my father-in-law. I am not sure it works. It is in my storage unit and secure. It is in good shape and I was wondering if you were interested in seeing it and perhaps you could tell me about it. I have learned a bit on the internet. But, I am not a photogrpaher enthusiast like yourself. Anyway, I am leaving my email. My storage unit is in Burke, VA

    Regards,

    Thomas Kenny

  2. I just bought an orange Rolleicord V Schneider Xenar. Do you teach people how to use large format cameras??

    1. Yes I do. I will be offering an introduction to large format course at Photoworks Glen Echo in the fall. But I wouldn’t consider a Rolleicord to be large format- it uses 120 roll film, so it would be medium format. What do you want to know about your Rolleicord?

  3. Thanks to getting back to me. I would love someone to show me how to use it since I am clueless. I have always been a digital girl (Canon), but want to challenge myself. I feel like learning how to use film can only make me better when I use my SLR.

    1. Careful – you may become addicted to your Rolleicord and your Canon may start feeling unloved.

      First tip I’d offer is to go watch some videos on YouTube on how to load film in your Rollei. It’s not hard, but it will be a little different than what you may be used to.

  4. Dear Mr. Scott; the Bogardus “plump lady” on your site is Lydia Von Finklestein, lecturer in matters of the Holy Land. I have several pictures of her, including one’s taken at the same time as the one you have. She is google-able. Cheers!

  5. Dear Mr. Scott,
    Do you have any information about these photography studios…

    “G.W Davis 925 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington DC & 827 Broad Street, Richmond, Va”
    or
    “The New Photography art Company, 905 Penn Ave Washington DC”

    My mother in law has several family members pictures on cabinet card photos (with their info on the back).
    I’ve been assigned to search for info on the photographers, and came across your blog. (VERY enjoyable by the way!).
    Any info you can share would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Dale Mc

    1. I don’t have any further information about these two photographers. I’d love to know more about them myself. I found the Confederate symbolism on the back of the Davis card fascinating. It speaks volumes about the world in the post-Reconstruction south. I’m glad you enjoy the blog- I like writing it and I’m always glad to hear from folks who find a personal connection to the images I post.

    1. It is entirely possible that Mr. Berger never set up his own studio and only worked for Brady and others, although I have seen several photos with back marks that include such phrases as “late of Brady’s studio” or “successor to (insert name of well-known studio here)”. I don’t recall seeing Mr. Berger’s name on any images in my collection, but I’ll take a wander through the Washington DC studios that I’ve collected and see if he shows up on any.

  6. Your piece on back marks of CDV’s is interesting, but I believe your use of the term “blind stamp” is incorrect. A blind stamp is an “inkless” stamp created by pressing the surface of the paper into itself to make in indention– i.e the opposite process from embossing.

    1. You may well be correct – I’ve just been using the term as I’ve seen it used by others in describing the back marks on CDVs. The popular usage of a term doesn’t always mean it is correct. Thank you for the comment!

  7. Fantastic blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any forums that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get suggestions from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me know.
    Many thanks!

    1. I don’t have more than the name and address at this point. I know there are resources out there that have biographical details about most of these 19th century studios- there was a book being compiled by an older gentleman of the known Daguerrian studios, but he passed away before I could obtain a copy.

  8. Hey there, enjoy checking out your blog/tins, Questions for you, I own 20 ferrotypes of the same family, a few of the (tins) have been dated 1890s because of their dress. CDV’s were more popular at that time frame, Why or what would be the purpose of a family to have an itinerant photographer come to them instead of going to a studio ? wouldn’t that have been more expensive back in the day? also photos are in reverse, I thought by the 1890’s they had the means to reverse photos? if you have time to check out some cool tins (photofromthepast.com) Thanks Dave

  9. I notice from one of your posts that you have a number of CDV’s from the studios of RA Lewis. I am the 2g-gson of Henry John Lewis, the brother of RA Lewis. I have extensive information on the LEWIS family, going back to England and Wales and down to the present. I am willing to share any and all information if you are interested.

    I am especially interested in photographs of members of the LEWIS family, having only a few before my grandmother’s time. I have had contact with a number of family members but would like to locate and contact more.

    I am especially interested in what happened to the 400,000 negatives that RA Lewis had in his studios when he died.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I’m always tickled when I meet someone through the blog who has some connection to the photos I’ve collected. As to what happened to all those negatives, sadly there’s a good chance the glass they were made on was recycled for repairing windows and the like, or dumped into a landfill wholesale unless they were given to a museum or historical society.

  10. Hello,

    I have enjoyed your photographical site, in particular the architectural work.

    Could you please give a piece of advice on the Tele Rolleiflex. I’m a Rolleiflex 75/3,5 and 4×5 user and would like to have longer focal length in medium format as well. How does the tele Rolleiflex compare to your Hassy experience ?

    Best Regards,
    Svend

    1. Hi Svend;

      Thanks for writing! I’m enjoying the Tele-Rollei. I like it better than the 120 Makro-Planar I had with my Hasselblad outfit, except for the not-so-close focusing. It has a minimum focus of something on the order of 2.5 meters, which can be a challenge when using it out on the street. You can of course add the Rolleinar close-focus adapters, which do work well, but the dedicated ones designed for the Tele-Rollei are very expensive, and the ones for the 2.8 Rolleiflex models are in two pieces, so they’re not fast to change on and off. The Tele-Rollei has a very pleasing look to out-of-focus areas, and when employed properly, has a very nice mild telephoto effect – more than the Hasselblad Makro-Planar, but not as much as the 150 or 180 Sonnar lenses of course. It is also much more compact than the Hasselblad lenses, and lighter weight too, although it does have a very substantial feel to it.

  11. Hello,

    Great site! I’m currently located in DC and have become interested in alternative photo processes, particularly tin type photography. Do you know of anyone who teaches this process in the area?

    Best,
    Stefanie

  12. Hello Mr. Davis,

    Enjoy your blog and your beautiful photography.

    I am a photographer from Yemen and am very interested in alternative photography. I am currently visiting DC for most of August and I was wondering if you were teaching any alternative photography courses or workshops? I look forward to hearing that you are.

    Warm Regards,
    Boushra Almutawakel

    1. I am not teaching anything this month, alas. I would be happy to meet you some time and show you my portfolio, and perhaps do a museum walk or go out shooting for an afternoon, weather permitting.

  13. Hi! My husband is a decendant of Seth Kinman and I appreciate the photos you posted and the information about the chairs presented to the Presidents. What an interesting, colorful man! It would be great to know if you ever found out anything about the disposition of the chairs? Would you be able to privately email me regarding what you found, if anything? Thank you so much!

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Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

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