Large Format Photography Takes Time

All of my large format photographs require at least several days of work. Film, which consists of individual sheets, has to be manually loaded and unloaded from its holders in the dark. Steps for setting up the camera, choosing the film and lens planes, selecting the lens itself and calculating the exposure parameters take about an hour. After developing and drying the negatives, I start interpreting them in my darkroom using a photographic enlarger. The early versions are somewhat too direct and rarely appropriate. The more I feel the potential presented by the negative the more I engage emotionally with it. Almost every print requires a traditional, manual control of local contrast which I achieve with small bits of paper or my hands placed in the path of light projected from the enlarger onto a piece of light-sensitive silver halide paper. Each photographic print is different from the others and represents a certain moment in time. For me, each one is an individual photograph fully existing alone. Naturally, I can see such detail in all of my prints even if at a quick glance it may only amount to a subtle difference in the shade of white or a small highlight. Unfortunately, this also means that to achieve the desired result many processed, selenium-toned prints have to be discarded before I am left with one or two that are appropriate. This process takes a lot of time and it may require a dedication of several days of work and perhaps even several trips, as with Navajo Arch, to photograph it again.

I care about the permanence of my prints and I work hard to achieve this by applying archival techniques, using high quality conservation materials, fixing photographic paper twice, rinsing it, toning it, and gently drying it at its own pace. I dry-mount my prints by myself so that my viewer may enjoy a pleasantly flattened image without a risk to its permanence. Time and costs are significant. I have been developing film and making my prints for a long time. Nonetheless, I am always learning and I hope that one day I might further improve my practices.

Karolina Vyšata interviewed me in October 2010 for a photo book that accompanies the (Be)Longing exhibition, which she has curated. This was her original question, which I have answered above:

Large format photography requires exceptional technical preparation and the process of making prints takes a lot of work. Could you reveal a secret of your practice?

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