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.