I’ve been engaging in series of work in response to triggers from my environment – there was that moment of eureka that started the six year journey resulting in the Sinister Idyll series and the gallery show at Gallery O on H. Now, with the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve been trying to work on a series coping with being in a near-quarantine situation, and how do we respond to/deal with the stress and anxiety of walking around every day in a public space that could kill you. After barely leaving my house for the last four months, I noticed that certain things were turning into patterns, most specifically, delivery food. I was cooking at home more, but I was also getting delivery from places I hadn’t in the past, and due to “contactless” delivery those delivery items and their remnants looked different.
Since I’m not leaving the house, and now I had all this accumulated subject matter, I decided that my response would be in the form of still life images. I brought out my 8×10 view camera and set up a small studio on my patio where I could work.
These are just two preliminary images from the series. I’m continuing to work on ideas and presentation, but it’s a planted seed that will grow into something. Working on a series like this is very different from my documentary series Sinister Idyll because there, I had to go out and photograph my subjects in the places where I found them, in the circumstances they existed in (it might be rainy, or crowded, or the wrong time of day). Inspiration came from what I found when I found it, and I just had to interpret. Here, with doing still life, it’s a very different discipline because you’re creating something entirely de novo – yes, the delivery bags and food containers and beverage bottles are what they are, but I have to arrange them in a cohesive and aesthetic manner, I have to choose the juxtapositions, the backdrop, the lighting, the depth of field… everything. There’s nobody to blame for a shot not working but myself. I like the discipline of it, but it’s a big challenge.
As is customary for me, these are all going to be palladium prints. I love working in a hand-made medium, and the tactile nature of the photographs is so pleasing to me. The entire process of making them, from setting up the studio through using the large view camera, to developing the film and making the print, really, means that I put so much of my soul into the practice of making the photograph.
Here’s the little studio set up, if you want to see it. It serves as proof that you don’t need much to work with to make images- just a will to do something and a vision to make it happen.
Here are three recent additions to my optical glass arsenal. First is the perhaps most interesting of them – an R. Beard Daguerrian lens made by T. Slater, London, Ca. 1855. It’s the oldest lens I have, and probably the rarest, most exotic one. The back story is that when Daguerre announced his invention to the world in 1839, he got the French government to buy the license and pay him a lifetime pension. A similar offer was made to the English government but they refused, so Daguerre entered into negotiations with a private citizen in the UK to license the Daguerreotype. The first licensee sat on his rear about it, and in short order, a more enterprising individual, Mr. Beard, bought out his interests. Due to a quirk in English patent law, Beard was entitled to represent himself (as you can see in the inscription on the lens) as the sole patentee of the Daguerreotype (when in reality he held an exclusive license, and the right to sub-license to others). Beard insisted that anyone buying a license to the Daguerreotype process from him had to mark EVERYTHING with “R. Beard, Sole Patentee”, including things like frames and cases for images, and as we can see here on the lens, lenses and cameras too! This one is made by T. Slater, Optician. Mr. Slater was an optician in London, today better known for his telescopes than for his camera optics. This lens is probably a Petzval design, and from what I can tell, it just about illuminates a 5×7 inch plate. Useable coverage is probably quite a bit less than that.
This next piece is my Voigtlander Petzval. If you pay any attention to such things, you’ll probably have heard people geeking out about Petzval lenses, especially in wet plate collodion circles. Petzval lenses are named after their inventor, and are famous for providing a relatively fast lens (very important when working with wet plate where the approximate ISO hovers around 1). They’re also coveted today for their notable defect, a pronounced curvature of the plane of focus. This gives the “swirlies” that you see in many wet plate images today.
Voigtlander was an Austrian/German lens manufacturer and an early pioneer in photographic optics. This lens is from approximately 1864, and is an 11 inch f3.4. To give you an idea of the size of this thing, the front element is 80mm in diameter, the barrel is 6.5″ long, 8″ if you include the lens hood. It weighs in around 2kg (4.5 lbs). The funny looking tab sticking out the side is a Waterhouse stop – an early mechanism for aperture control that relied on flat slips of brass with varying diameter holes cut in the center.
Last but certainly not least, is my Taylor, Taylor & Hobson Cooke Series II 10.5″ f4.5 lens. This one is not nearly so old as the other two, dating from approximately 1914-15. This one came to me in rather rough form, but it will live again to make more pictures after the thorough cleaning I gave it.
Lurking in the background behind the Cooke is my Hermagis Eidoscope #3 – it’s an 11 inch f5 lens, and most specifically a soft-focus lens. You control the soft focus effect by changing the aperture. The larger the aperture, the softer the effect, the smaller, the sharper. It’s actually a Rapid Rectilinear design, not a Petzval, which some people think that it is because they think that all brass lenses are Petzvals. The Cooke is neither a Petzval nor a Rapid Rectilinear, but rather an Anastigmat, but it too has a reputation as a soft-focus lens, the soft focus being controlled by the aperture, and also by adjusting the spacing on the front element. On the small Cooke lenses like mine, there is no official soft-focus mechanism, but on the bigger, longer portrait lenses, they had a ring that you could turn to adjust the soft-focus effect. Some enterprising individual took it upon themselves to engrave some marks around the front of the barrel to indicate where to turn the front element for soft focus effect. Once I have this lens mounted, I’ll give their markings a try and see what it does.
Hi all- sorry for the very long silence on here. Life has been tempest-tossed the last year or so, so I’ve been kinda out-of-action on the blogging front. Anyway, back at it. I was just interviewed on the Film Factor Podcast, talking about alternative processes, collecting daguerreotypes, and teaching photography in a pandemic. Film Factor Podcast is hosted by Franz Lopez, a devoted photography enthusiast in the Philippines. Getting everything synced up for the live show was a little interesting, given the vagaries of the global internet and the twelve-hour time difference. Here’s the link to the recording of the session:
My work from the Sinister Idyll series is appearing in the next issue of The Hand magazine, a monthly journal of reproduction-based art. This covers hand-made photography as well as most forms of traditional printing (woodcut, linocut, etching, collotype, and more).
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Issue 24 is in the distribution room. We are trying our hardest to get them in envelopes, stickered and bundled for the mail room!
We’re working hard to get your copy sent out early this week. After they are shipped, delivery can take up to 10 days, or longer outside the US. We hope you’re excited to get the magazine and we are confident it will be worth the wait!
This issue features an interview with Lyell Castonguay. Lyell is the director of the large-format woodblock press, BIG INK, and an accomplished artist in his own right. We also have an Artist’s Spotlight on Francesco Poiana. If you haven’t ordered yours yet, GET A COPY TODAY!
Below, you will see images by the artists we featured on our social media platforms over the past week. Please join us on Facebook and Instagram for more behind the scenes pics and fun stuff. We hope you will take the time to take a closer look at these wonderful artists. Please click on their links, go to their websites, and start a dialogue with them. Take care of yourself and each other.
Issue 24 contributor, Peter Ward (St. Albans Park, Victoria, Australia), “Lost Quilt”, Linocut on calico, quilted, 63″ x 63″ VISIT PETER’S WEBSITE
Issue 24 contributor, Molly Phalan (West Lafayette, Indiana, USA), “Decarlo”, Silver gelatin mordançage, 14″ x 11″ VISIT MOLLY’S WEBSITE
I am overjoyed to announce that I will be one of five artists participating in INDELIBLE: That Which Cannot Be Erased, at Gallery O on H, 1354 H Street NE, Washington DC, from February 22 to the end of May. I will have over 40 palladium prints in the show. I also want to give a huge round of applause to Mary Ellen Vehlow, the owner of Gallery O on H and curator of this show, for including my work in a very powerful exhibit.
INDELIBLE: that which cannot be erased. A multimedia two-floor installation curated by Gallery Director Dolly Vehlow of GalleryOonH and Busboys and Poets Arts Curator Carol Rhodes Dyson.
Opening Reception: February 22nd 6-10pm. On exhibit through May 2019. Daily Tuesday 5-7:30PM, Wed-Fri 12-5PM, Saturday 11-3PM.
Indelible: that which cannot be erased is a confrontation of an unjust and repetitive history. The works in this exhibition seek to highlight a narrative often overlooked by mainstream art history to illustrate a continuum of injustice in our nation, featuring artists working in its capital city. Inspired by Black History Month, the show seeks to focus on the cyclical nature of unresolved issues–from the legacy of slavery to modern day police overreach and violence. The works included are a visual embodiment of current events, linked to a sinister history of oppression. Indelible puts local artists to the forefront, selected to underline the long history of racial inequality within our collective past and contemporary society. Artists featured include Milton Bowens, Billy Colbert, Scott Davis, Nehemiah Dixon, Justyne Fischer and Rodney “BUCK!” Herring.
My artists statement about the work:
Roland Barthes wrote of how a photograph contains a “punctum”, an element that strikes the viewer to the spiritual core, something that provokes a visceral emotional reaction in them. I believe life has moments of punctum – the origins of this project, for me, was an experience that ran through me like a lightning bolt. I was taking a Civil War history tour through the Smithsonian one late summer afternoon. I was standing on the lawn of L’Hermitage, a farm just outside Frederick, Maryland. I was looking around at the gently rolling hills, trees full of green leaves, puffy white clouds dotting the sky, corn in the adjacent field taller than my head, and listening to the guide talking about the history of the place.
The farm was founded by a family of French emigres from Haiti who had fled the slave uprisings in the 1790s. They re-settled in Frederick, Maryland, and proceeded to attempt to reestablish Haitian-style slavery replete with the same degree of brutality they had practiced before. These people were so brutal with their slaves that their neighbors, slave-owners themselves, called the sheriff on them multiple times. In 1810, the importation of new slaves into the United States was made illegal. After that time, if you wanted more slaves, you had to buy them from someone else, or you could breed them. This family ran a stud service with their slaves, treating human beings as breeding stock.
Hearing this, I was struck by the horrific irony of the pastoral idyll of the scene I was viewing being literally soaked in the blood of other human beings who had lived, worked, and died there quite possibly never able to look at that scenery with the innocence I had looked at it until the moment before that revelation. I felt compelled to respond to that epiphany artistically, because I knew from my own experience that all the academic reading in the world does not adequately convey that emotional truth I had experienced.
I grew up with a very specific version of the history of this country – it was built by great men of lofty ideals, who imbued it with a progressive spirit intended to raise up the dignity of all humans. As a child, and into my adulthood, I went to the houses of these great men to see the way they lived and the places that inspired them to deliver the great nation of the United States into being. We went to Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier in Virginia, the Paca house in Annapolis, Maryland, the Carroll estates in Baltimore, and dozens of other colonial-era grand homes – their grandness was signaled as direct proof of their virtue and wisdom.
It was never discussed that they had the wealth and leisure to develop these lofty ideas because they owned in some cases hundreds of their fellow human beings who labored for them to produce that wealth and leisure. Nor was it discussed that these men who wrote so eloquently about the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness saw fit to administer corporal punishment to the people they owned when those people decided that they too were deserving of the same life, liberty and happiness their owners wrote about.
I still go to see those great houses because I am fascinated by the styles and architecture of bygone eras, but now I think about how they were paid for (and often built) with slave labor. It is a metaphoric and literal foundation to this country that we must acknowledge and recognize if we are ever going to make forward progress.
I chose to produce these images the way I have for two reasons. I made them as compact contact prints 2 ¼ by 4 ¼ inches in size to force the viewer to engage very personally with the images, so they cannot hold themselves at arm’s length from the subject. I printed them in an historic photographic process, palladium, because using a noble metal to make jewel-like images that can only be made with extensive manual labor was a metaphorical way of repaying some of the debt to the people who without compensation or recognition built and shaped the landscapes I photographed. I hope that these images will in this way produce moments of punctum for the viewers the way they have for me.
We are doing something really amazing to support our community of photographers and collectors and friends – with each ticket, while supplies last, we are giving away a box of 10+1 photographs by Photoworks faculty and community members to EACH PERSON who buys a ticket. So you’re guaranteed not only to have some wine, look at some art, learn something interesting, and support a great cause, but you’ll also leave with a boxed set of prints by some of the DC area’s best photographers! Win-Win!
This will be a fun evening of photography – we will have film screenings, a talk by Sarah Gordon, Independent Curator and Lecturer, wine and nibbly things, and lots of photography on display! There’s a great show up on the walls, Places We Find by Sandy Sugawara and Catiana Garcia Kilroy, that you can check out while you’re there. Donated items for the silent auction range from photographs by faculty members, a home-cooked Italian dinner for four, a vacation cottage on Squam Lake, New Hampshire for a week for up to ten people, one-on-one tutorials, to autographed books and college application portfolio reviews. There are items in every price range, with items starting as low as $25, so you don’t have to be a millionaire to bid.
I have donated a print of the featured image on this blog post, “Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso”, an 8×16 inch palladium print hand made by me, edition #1 of 10, as part of the silent auction that will be held both onsite and online.
I am also donating two one-on-one workshops in advanced darkroom printing and platinum/palladium printing, so this is your chance to get personal instruction while supporting a worthy cause!
Items for the silent auction are available for online bidding in advance.
I’ve got a class coming up soon – Thursday evenings starting September 27, co-taught with Mac Cosgrove-Davies. It’s an alternative process survey course, covering platinum/palladium, gum bichromate and cyanotype. We will be starting out by going through the process of making digital negatives for the platinum/palladium process, and then printing using platinum/palladium. I will be walking students through the process of how to create your own correction curve so that they will have the tools handy for making appropriate correction curves for their own personal environments and for whatever process(es) they want to work in. We will cover basic techniques, preferred materials and digital hardware.
In subsequent weeks, Mac Cosgrove-Davies will be teaching working with cyanotype and gum bichromate. Mac has been working with alternative processes, most specifically gum bichromate and cyanotype, for over 40 years.
This will be my first time co-teaching with Mac, who is an outstanding instructor as well as a meticulous artist and technician with historic photo processes.
You can register at the link below. Course meets for five sessions on Thursdays from 7-9:30 PM, starting September 27, and runs through October 25. Tuition is $350.
Photography has been my passion for more than 50 years, first with silver printing, and for the last 40 years with the historic processes.I still delight in the hand-crafted uniqueness of gum bichromate, cyanotype, carbon, and oil printing, all printed from in-camera negatives (i.e. film).I also enjoy making the equipment, and sometimes the cameras, that I use.Working with large cameras feeds the more contemplative side of me, especiallyin the solitary space under the dark cloth where the bright image is my entire perception of the world.A successful photograph conveys the artist’s emotional, aesthetic statement in an engaging manner.For me this turns out to be in images small by today’s standards.I prefer to think of them as an intimate discussion with the viewer.It pleases me to pull a 5×5 inch portfolio box from my pocket to respond to the frequently asked question of what I do for fun.
Artist Statement – Scott Davis
Scott Davis is a large format photographer working with antique and historic photographic processes. His work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally. He is a published author on platinum/palladium printing, and teaches classes in platinum/palladium. His personal work includes the DC cityscape, the human figure, and wherever he happens to be with a camera. He is currently developing an exhibition plan for Sinister Idyll: Historical Slavery in the Modern Landscape, his documentary series about how the landscape of Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC have been marked by the impact of African slavery and its echoes that reverberate today.
Examples of past student work from digitally enlarged negatives:
This is all about using selective focus to emphasize a subject, and use of exaggerated perspective to draw the eye into and through the image. This is one of the things I like extreme wide-angles for – the exaggerated foreground-background relationships that happen when you put them very close to something give you a new non-eye-like point of view on your subject that really forces you to consider it formally, abstractly and within its context.
I happened to look down, and then saw this admonition to “Look Right ->”. I found it mildly amusing that traffic flow was considered so confusing that it was necessary to tell people which direction to look before crossing the street. And I love the crunchy texture of the pavement and sidewalk. This is at the corner of Finsbury Square where it abuts City Road in central London.
This is another image from the Lomo LC-A 120. The only real reason I ever mention the cameras I use nowadays is to prove a point about there being little to no correlation between the “quality” of camera you use and the quality of the images you make. I have very little control over the LC-A beyond what I point it at, when I choose to trip the shutter, the film I load in it, and the rough guesstimate of the distance between me and the subject. Everything else is really out of my control. But the decisions that are most important are the ones I do have control over – what to point it at and when to trip the shutter.
Knowing my camera and how it records images is also helpful to getting what I want out of the image, of course. But this image above would have not been any more successful if I shot it with a Hasselblad Superwide, a Rolleiflex TLR, or my Fuji XT-1, each of which offer far more control and precision than the LC-A.