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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