Large Format B&W Film Legend Clyde Butcher Using a Digital Camera Now — This Makes Me Very Sad

clydeI recently learned that legendary large format black and white film photographer Clyde Butcher is now using a digital camera.  Note: the image on the left is via Clyde’s personal website at http://www.clydebutcher.com/the-artist.  Before I dive into the core of this article, if you are not familiar with Clyde Butcher then you are missing out on a wonderful human being that is a legend to many people for many different reasons. Clyde is a humanitarian, artist, and an all around “blue chip” gentlemen.  Please visit a gallery that exhibits his fine art darkroom prints to fully understand the scope and depth of his talents as an artist.

To fully understand the context of my forthcoming reaction and personal comments about Clyde’s use of a digital camera, please review the two paragraphs below first.

In this post on Clyde’s Blog he writes about his use of digital photography for the first time in history to the best of my knowledge.  I quote Clyde directly and choose not to fix the grammar or syntax errors in his post.  Clyde writes: “Well…I think I’m going to have to admit in a public forum that I’m actually growing old. At 72 years old it has become very difficult for me to carry my large format camera gear any distance. That 60 pound backpack hurts my back if I walk to far. Because of this problem, I’ve decided to try digital. It’s certainly a lot lighter to carry on my back! I love photography, and will NOT be giving up large format photography, it just means I may not be able to use the large format camera as often.  The photographs below are  taken with the Cambo Artus with a digital 36 megapixel Sony a 7R camera and RZ Mamiya lenses. I manipulate the image on my computer, then print the photographs on an Epson Sylus 4800 or 9800 printer. I use archival Ultrachrome K3 ink and print on archival Harman Hahnemuhle paper. The limited edition photograph is then mounted and matted to current archival standards. I sign and nuber each image. ”

I’ve also include this article posted in the Florida Sportsman Forum for two reasons.  First, there is more technical information disclosed about Clyde’s digital equipment and there is a favorable response to Clyde’s use of the new digital gear.  Please note that I left all of the grammar and syntax errors as is because I am quoting the source:  “Noted large format photographer Clyde Butcher is now a Sony user. If you don’t know his work go to his website. Below is a portion of a mass braodcast email from him: “Well…I think I’m going to have to admit in a public forum that I’m actually growing old. At 72 years old it has become very difficult for me to carry my large format camera gear any distance. That 60 pound backpack hurts my back if I walk to far. I love photography, and I won’t give up large format photography…it’s just not going to happen as often. I’ve decided to try digital. It’s certainly a lot lighter to carry on my back! I purchased a Sony A 7R that has 36 megabytes. I also purchased a Cannon 17 Tilt & Shift, Voitlander 12, 15, 21 mm.” The Sony 7R is a new mirrorless 35mm full frame that has been available just a few months. In any account, I am sure he will be showing us in no time that it is the vision and not the camera. I hope he continues to share his wonderful vision with us for many years to come.”

Clyde Butcher – A Hero & Legend to Many

Before sharing my reaction and personal comments about Clyde announcing his use of digital equipment, please proceed with the understanding the views I express are my initial reaction and I will likely have additional thoughts and comments in the future. Versus trying to piece together flowing paragraphs, I think I can best communicate my thoughts via bullet points because many of them are unrelated, but none the less important.  My reaction and thoughts at this time are not positive, nor do I support the path that Clyde has taken.  But, also understand that Clyde doesn’t need anyone’s approval, and certainly not mine to make any decision about his current or future work.  I am not judgmental about the decision he made, but I am genuinely sad and disappointed.

When Clyde arose from the swamps in Florida in 1986 after the horrific tragedy of his son’s death, Clyde relinquished his ties to color photography and he destroyed all of it and then vowed to only use black and white film.  I can’t imagine the depth of Clyde’s sorrow, but I can relate because I have lost my dad, and my brother and sister.  This type of loss forever changes a person and a feel connected to Clyde in this way.  When I first learned of Clyde’s ruthless dedication to large format black and white film I understood it instantly. When I experience a scene in nature I feel it through the choice of my film.  My internal thoughts and emotions are tied to the characteristics of my film and they literally become one as they dance together.  I know what my clouds will look like in my final print, I know the range of shadows that I will be crafting and the mood of my story is directly linked to my choice of film.  As a long time black and white film photographer, I understand all of the subtle nuances and downsides to the medium as well as the unique qualities that allow analog photographers working in the darkroom to express themselves via the medium.  Clyde has mastered the art and medium of large format black and white film and harnessed every last drop of its capabilities through the lens of the Big Cypress Swamps.  It is impossible to think about the Big Cypress Swamps and not think about Clyde Buther.  Not many people can make this claim and it be true.  If you have ever had the pleasure of viewing one of his large darkroom prints, you certainly understand my statement and his unique ability to communicate his vision via his art.  This gets at the heart of my sorrow about Clyde’s choice to publically use digital equipment and offer digital ink prints for sale.

I think it is different when Clyde explores digital gear to enable his ability to create new images for the pure love of the photography versus using it in a professional capacity.  It is clearly different in my mind when that exploration leads to a place where he offers digital ink prints for sale.  At this stage of Clyde’s life, I have to assume he is thinking about his legacy.  His entire brand and body of work that started after his vow to only use black and white film is hinged on this choice.  I believe Clyde found the needle in the haystack over the years as he ultimately figured out how to create one of a kind ultra-large darkroom prints.  I personally link Clyde’s tragic loss to his body of work that he has built since 1986.  No one in the world that I am aware of can do this like Clyde.  This body of work is, in fact, his legacy.  It makes him different from everyone else.  I see and feel the link between Clyde’s body of analog darkroom prints and the tragic loss of his son.  Clyde arose from the swamps where he found peace and found new purpose. This relationship between his personal tragedy, large format black and white film, and the Big Cypress Swaps are the legacy of Clyde Butcher in my mind.  To offer digital prints in parallel with his iconic analog darkroom prints just feels wrong to me.  It isn’t my intention to overstep my bounds with these statements and I hope that Clyde understands this.  It isn’t my intent to be disrespectful to Clyde with my views and opinion.  Clyde is a hero and a legend to me.

Clyde was my “go-to” example of why large format and film is not dead and in many cases, the best option to express your vision.  I will do my best provide more detail in the forthcoming paragraphs and bullet points.  But, first I want to share a few of the reasons why Clyde Butcher is a legend to me and many people:

  • Clyde Butcher is a legend and hero to me and to many other people to include large format photographers, darkroom enthusiasts, naturalists, and many more.
  • Clyde has been able to achieve things in the world of fine art that a very tiny percentage could ever hope to come close to achieving.  To know Clyde as a fine art photographer is to view his analog darkroom prints in person.  He simply has a gift and ability to communicate and evoke emotion about his passion for the swamps unlike any other human being that I am aware of.
  • Clyde has been able to link to a cause greater than himself and use his skills as a photographer to shine light on his passion in a way that is truly admirable.  I respect Clyde deeply for this and many other reasons to include his life-long journey that he continues to share with his wife Niki. According to Clyde’s personal website the two were married in 1963.
  • Clyde and I share a love and appreciation for Ansel Adams.  Clyde states “he saw an Ansel Adams Photography exhibit at Yosemite National Park, and was so impressed by Adams’ work that he began to photograph landscapes in black and white. Clyde left the architecture field in 1970 and began exhibiting his black and white photographs at art festivals.”  Clyde’s work is every bit as good as Ansel’s ever was and arguably even better in many cases.
  • Clyde’s decision to literally burn his color photographs and solely focus on black and white is something that I will never forget.  His ruthless prioritization and instinct to follow his gut continues to guide me today.  “In 1986, Clyde’s 17 year old son Ted was killed by a drunk driver. After which Clyde found solace in the wilderness of the Big Cypress National Preserve, where the mysterious, spiritual experience of being close to nature helped to restore his soul. Resolving to relinquish his ties to color photography, he destroyed his color work and vowed to use only black and white film. He purchased an 8″x10″ view camera and enlarger.”  (source: clydebutcher.com/the-artist)
  • And then there is Clyde’s “8×10 Beard”.  I call this the “8×10 Beard” because only 8×10 and bigger large format film photographers can and should be able to sport such an awesome display of manhood.  If Clyde continues on with digital then we may have to ask him to shave the beard.  I hope it doesn’t come to this!
  • The points above do not fully capture the scope of Clyde’s value as a person or photographer.

My Reaction to Clyde’s Announcement

As I noted above, I am deeply disappointed and sad that Clyde is using a digital camera.  Even though he clearly states in his blog post that he will continue to use his large format cameras, it saddens me.  I see a frequency of digital-based images on Clyde’s Facebook page that is very noticeable to me.  I suspect he may have written about his parallel use of digital and analog knowing he would receive some negative feedback from a percentage of his followers.  Why does this make me so sad?  Clyde has given all of us hope that we can continue to love and work in large format film photography and achieve things bigger than ourselves.  In the end, many can argue the medium isn’t important, but for long-time darkroom photographer’s it is very important.  I also believe his personal brand and allure of his work is directly tied to his unique ability to create huge and captivating analog darkroom prints.  The X-Factor that is part of Clyde’s fine art gallery prints are directly related to characteristics uniquely synonymous with optical darkroom printing.  No one in the world can do this like Clyde.  It is also important from a historical perspective.  All of us large format film and darkroom photographers are dwindling to a tiny percentage of the art being created today.  I suspect I am part of the last generation that will actively practice analog darkroom photography.  I have been an advocate for the last five years writing about darkroom photography on my black and white blog.  I have invested my personal time to write many of these articles so that others can learn the craft and art of analog photography.  I have received emails and financial support via my subscribers from all around the world because of this blog.  When I get an email from someone sharing how my information has helped or inspired them, it literally impacts me to my core and fuels me to keep writing.

Clyde stated in his blog post “Well…I think I’m going to have to admit in a public forum that I’m actually growing old. At 72 years old it has become very difficult for me to carry my large format camera gear any distance. That 60 pound backpack hurts my back if I walk to far. Because of this problem, I’ve decided to try digital.” I personally am not aligned to this thinking and offer Clyde a few other options that do not include the use of digital gear in his iconic art.

  • The knowledge and talent that Clyde has earned and gained over the decades is extremely valuable.  I hope that Clyde will consider adopting me and allowing a 30 year student of analog photography to work with him and learn from him so that his knowledge and work can live on through me and the people that I touch after he is unable to work.  I have a fully functional mobile darkroom and living quarters in my XL Sprinter van.  As soon as Clyde calls me, I can head to Florida to begin our work together.
  • Clyde states that his 60 lb. 8×10 rig is to heavy for him to carry for any distance now.  There are more than one option to address this physical limitation.  Clyde, I genuinely offer to carry your 60 lb. pound equipment to any place in the world that you need in exchange for working with you.  This isn’t a silly joke, but a genuine offer.  It is amazing that you have been able to do the things that you have in your 70’s.  Let us help you.
  • Another option to address the physical limitation is to use a lighter 8×10 camera.  For example, I use a custom made Ritter 8×10 that weighs in less than 6 lbs. and my Chamonix is less than 8 lbs.  I only use two lenses and they weigh ounces, not pounds.  Add a couple film holders loaded with sheet film and a meter and loupe and I have a fully functioning large format 8×10 setup that likely weighs less than most modern DSLR systems.  Clyde’s digital setup (Sony A7R, Cambo ACTUS, and lenses such as the Canon TS-E 17mm and any of the medium format RZ glass) surely weighs more than my 8×10 kits.
  • Another option is to use a smaller 4×5 field camera.  This would not hinder Clyde’s ability to continue to create very large analog darkroom prints.  I can create 60 inch (5 foot) darkroom prints in my personal darkroom from 4×5 negatives.  I could actually print larger, but based on my development system and working alone, this is as big as I can go at this time.  My 4×5 field camera weighs less than 3.5 lbs.
  • Clyde could follow in the footprints of Ansel.  Use a medium format film camera and start a new chapter with the unique variables offered via this format.
  • Yet another option is to simply focus on printing his lifetime of negatives and bring to life a catalog of work that has to be substantial.

If you are one of the very few that have stuck with this article this far, you have almost made it to the end.  Congratulations and know that you are a rare breed in modern times because you didn’t just skim the first two sentences.  In case anyone decides to comment about the differences or superiority of digital vs. film, just don’t, it isn’t relevant and I will simply ignore it.  Any of the arguments that are pro digital such as “it’s better” or “it’s faster and time is money” simply don’t apply to Clyde because he is a proven commodity in the art world and he doesn’t need to work faster.  For those that want to go down the path of “better”, just visit a gallery and look at any of Clyde’s optical darkroom prints in person.  I think this would suffice to keep you from making such foolish comments like this in the future.

In summary, I hope Clyde reads this article and considers my comments and suggestions. If you are listening Clyde, email me at tim@timlaytonfineart.com or call me at 314-972-4900 so that I can help you continue working in the same way you have for many decades. You are my hero and a legend to many.  I will be waiting for your call.

Please send me your comments and thoughts about this article.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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The Title Fine Art Photographer is Now Meaningless to Me

It has been a while since I have written a new article.  I have been very busy on a number of fronts, but I have continued to think about some important areas.  I am going to think openly about the descriptor “Fine Art Photographer”.

It recently occurred to me that the descriptor, Fine Art Photographer, no longer suits me. I arrived at this realization because of the overuse and likely abuse of the title by photographers, some of which have no business referring to themselves in this manner.  I have written about fine art before, so I won’t go down that path in this article.  However, my view could be summarized as follows: fine art really means something, it means that the artist has total command over their craft and the ability to achieve their creative vision in a repeatable manner.  There is no luck involved, although we always take advantage of those little surprises when the happen from time to time. Fine art photographer has lost its meaning for me and I will no longer be referring to myself in this way.

How will I refer to myself in the future?  At this time, I am still thinking through that.  I do know that I create unique pieces of art based on my interpretation and emotional response to nature.  I use film, plates, paper and chemicals to create my art, much like a painter uses canvas, brushes, and paints to create their art.  Some painters take a snapshot of a scene with their camera before creating their painting.  I feel like I do the same thing in my work.  The exposure that I capture of my scene on the film is merely a rough outline of the subject and a starting point.  My intent is to create something new, based on my view of the world as opposed to documenting something.  The latent image that I expose on my film or glass plate is like a raw pallet of paint that I ultimately mix together to recreate the emotions and feelings that I had when I was experiencing nature.  I have a deep sense of joy and happiness when I am outdoors.  It is impossible for me to express via words how wonderful and alive I feel when I am outside experiencing nature.  I lose track of time, just as I do when I am working in the darkroom. Nothing else matters to me when I am fully immersed in my work.  My prints are the closest that I can come to try and communicate my thoughts and feelings.  To know me is to experience my prints first hand in person.

The latent image that I expose on my film or glass plate is like a raw pallet of paint that I ultimately mix together to recreate the emotions and feelings that I had when I was experiencing nature.  I have a deep sense of joy and happiness when I am outdoors.  It is impossible for me to express via words how wonderful and alive I feel when I am outside experiencing nature.  I lose track of time, just as I do when I am working in the darkroom. Nothing else matters to me when I am fully immersed in my work.  My prints are the closest that I can come to try and communicate my thoughts and feelings.  To know me is to experience my prints first hand in person.

The argument that photography is an art has already been argued successfully by our forefathers. Stieglitz, in particular, is a man that invested much of his life and fortune making this happen for us today. I define art as the bringing into existence the imagined.

I struggle with the pros and cons of our new virtual world that we have created via the Internet.  There are so many advantages, but also disadvantages as well.  In particular, viewing a piece of art via a computer screen is often deceptive and frequently unable to convey the intent of the artist.  I have visited art in person that looked better on my computer screen.  I have also viewed and experienced art from the greats (i.e., Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Julie Margaret-Cameron, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, and others) that literally took my breath away in person.  I have frequently left the viewing of art in a state of euphoria that is very difficult to explain.  These same images that literally touched my soul when viewed and experienced in person had little impact on me when viewed online via my computer.  I will never forget the first time I viewed prints by Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, and Julia Margaret-Cameron.  I was stunned, speechless, and inspired.

Photography in my view of the world is meant to be printed and viewed in person at the proper viewing distance and under the right lighting to achieve the goals of the photographer/artist.  This has fast become the oddity versus the norm and that quite frankly makes me very sad because art is to be experienced, not glanced at for a few seconds via a 72 dpi jpeg on a smartphone screen before moving on to check e-mail.  The need for any artist to promote themselves via social media and online galleries is inescapable at this stage.  However, I believe the smart artist will create and find ways to get people in front of his/her artwork so they can experience the magical moment that we work so hard to create. When I get the scenario figured out, I will let you know and I look forward to meeting you.  Creating analog darkroom fine art prints is probably the dumbest business decision a person could make in this day and age.  Even with that knowledge, I must find a way to move forward and follow my dreams and the voice inside me.

My life is forever changed because of my lifelong love affair with photography and nature. I am hopeful that one day I will find the balance that allows me to focus my efforts on a daily basis in these areas because I think total immersion is required to fully explore and create to the level that I know I am capable of.  I hope to continue my love affair with nature and analog darkroom photography for many more decades.  At this time, I am thinking about moving from Fine Art Photographer to Darkroom Alchemist. Darkroom Alchemist literally describes who I am and what I do.

Wiki Definition of Art – An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts, and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers (less often for actors). “Artiste” (the French for artist) is a variant used in English only in this context. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is certainly valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.

I like Emerson’s perspective: “Art is the application of knowledge for certain ends. But art is raised to Fine Art when man so applies this knowledge that he effects the emotions through the senses, and so produces aesthetic pleasure in us; and the man so raising the art into a fine art is an artist.” -Peter Henry Emerson

Thanks for reading my article and I look forward to your comments and thoughts.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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I am Featured in a New Article by the Missouri Arts Council on Black and White Photography

A Passion for Black and WhiteI am very honored to be featured in a new article “A Passion for Photos in Black and White” by the Missouri Arts Council on black and white photography.

A Passion for Photos in Black and White was created in November 2014 for the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency and division of the Department of Economic Development. The Missouri Arts Council provides grants to nonprofit organizations that meet our strategic goals of increasing participation in the arts in Missouri, growing Missouri’s economy using the arts, and strengthening Missouri education through the arts. For information, contact moarts@ded.mo.gov.

If you find the information I create and publish on this website helpful or valuable, please consider subscribing via the button below or making a one time donation securely via PayPal. Be sure to also visit my analog darkroom photography gallery where I share my field adventures and offer my hand made darkroom fine art prints for sale.  My website and blogs are free from any intentional advertising or corporate sponsors while maintaining a high level of content quality.  If you appreciate my efforts, or the information that I work hard to create for you is useful, please consider making a donation or being a regular supporter via one of my subscriptions.

I freely offer all of my content and information, so a subscription or donation is not required. I am hopeful that you will find my efforts valuable and consider some level of support so I can continue to create and share, as opposed to just creating.  It takes less than 2 minutes to subscribe or make a donation.  I will continue publishing and creating no matter what, however, your kindness and generosity makes it easier to continue sharing and publishing.   

If you are local or travel to the St. Louis area, I regularly host free workshops that you can attend.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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A Morning of Analog Film Photography on the Prairie at Shaw Nature Reserve

8x10 large format view cameraI got up two hours before sunrise and loaded up my 8×10 view camera gear that I packed the night before.  I put the gear and 2 film holders loaded with Fuji Provia in my Sprinter and headed for Shaw Nature Reserve.  We are very fortunate to have Shaw in the St. Louis area.  It is 2,400 acres of Ozark-border landscape, surrounded with wildflowers, 3 miles of Meramec River frontage and a diversity of plant and animal habitats second to none anywhere in the world.

I love the early morning drive before sunrise in the dark.  I think about all of the people that I pass rushing to their jobs and remember the days when I was one of them.  It immediately puts me in a place of gratitude and being thankful that I have the opportunity to spend my mornings on the prairie and in nature.

One of the things that I love about view cameras and large format film photography is the simplicity, but also technical skill required to create fine art images.  I link simplicity to nature and the complexities of large format photography to the challenges within nature. Based on my desired outcome I choose from one of three options when creating nature-based fine art images: slide film for positive transparencies, black and white negative film for classic darkroom prints, and color negative film for color darkroom prints.  All of the aforementioned mediums have their unique and compelling qualities that I instinctively match with my natural subjects.

8x10 view camera at Shaw Nature Reserve PrairieI have a personal affinity for slide film (chromes).  There really is nothing comparable to viewing a large format slide on a light table.  There are no digital equivalents and even if one uses a hybrid process to scan and print on modern ink-based printers, they are still unparalleled in that realm in my mind.  The technical skill and experience required to create a luminous and vivid slide is something one earns over time.  I often say that my slides are my retirement plan.  They are what I plan on holding up to the natural light in my nursing home or retirement community if I am fortunate enough to get old and cranky. No computers, zero technology required, just natural light and each slide will anchor me back to the day I created it in the blink of the eye.

For this outing I choose 8×10 large format with a 300mm lens for two reasons.  First, I simply wanted that big chrome to view and hold in my hands.  Second, I love the 300mm lens on the 8×10 view camera because it provides a field of view that is close to the human eye and what I experienced in the field.

Upon arriving to Shaw I knew the spot where I wanted to wait for the sun to rise.  Bill’s Meadow, named after Bill Davit, is a beautiful place, any time of day, but in the morning and late afternoon right before sunset, it is magical for me.  Bill Davit planted this prairie many decades ago and I hope he has some idea of the profound joy and impact his work and vision has on me and anyone that visits this area.

My connection to Bill is two-fold.  We are both naturalist and his daughter Carol is the executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation, where I am on the board of directors.  Carol is a wonderful person and advocate for Missouri’s tallgrass prairie.  Her thought leadership, work ethic, and passion for the prairie is both inspiring and invigorating.  If you are not familiar with the history and status of the Missouri tallgrass prairie, then visit the Missouri Prairie Foundation website for more information and get involved today.

8x10 View CameraAs I loaded my big 8×10 view camera on top of my Sprinter van in the dark I paused for a moment and soaked in the goodness.  I was so thankful to be there at that given moment, I paused on my way up the ladder and looked out over the prairie and savanna landscape taking a deep breath.  I released my breath slowly and felt a sense of peace.  While only a few seconds had passed, it restored me and brought joy to me.   I continued my routine and ultimately got everything setup and in position before the morning light came over the horizon.  I always bring a folding lawn chair with me so that I can be still and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of nature that are all around me.  It was very cool before sunrise and I had to wear a light hat and gloves to stay warm.

About 10 minutes before the official sunrise, I watched the sky begin to change and I noticed the activities of the birds and other inhabitants of the prairie begin to change. Based on the weather conditions I expected a colorful sunrise, however that did not happen.  Never disappointed, I continued to be still and watch the morning light caress the prairie like a beautiful smile that is exchanged between a child and grandparent.  The light was warm, both in color and temperature, and delivered a feeling of life and abundance. The tips of the 8 foot tall prairie grass lit up like candles in the morning light.  The shadows and highlights of the landscape danced like lovers and within a 15 minute period of time, completely transformed the entire landscape right before my eyes.

After creating two exposures, I packed up my gear and moved to a new location where the morning light was cutting across the tallgrass prairie from the left side making it look and feel like a sea of warm light.  I ended my morning by 8 AM with two more exposures before heading out for the day and back to the studio and office.

If you find the information I create and publish on this website helpful or valuable, please consider subscribing via the button below or making a one time donation securely via PayPal. Be sure to also visit my analog darkroom photography gallery where I share my field adventures and offer my hand made darkroom fine art prints for sale.  My website and blogs are free from any intentional advertising or corporate sponsors while maintaining a high level of content quality.  If you appreciate my efforts, or the information that I work hard to create for you is useful, please consider making a donation or being a regular supporter via one of my subscriptions.

I freely offer all of my content and information, so a subscription or donation is not required. I am hopeful that you will find my efforts valuable and consider some level of support so I can continue to create and share, as opposed to just creating.  It takes less than 2 minutes to subscribe or make a donation.  I will continue publishing and creating no matter what, however, your kindness and generosity makes it easier to continue sharing and publishing.   

If you are local or travel to the St. Louis area, I regularly host free workshops that you can attend.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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Printing Black and White with a Dual Dichro Color Head in the Darkroom

2014-10-11 15.16.58As part of the preparations for my trip to the Pacific Northwest, I need to slim down and bring as few things as possible.  My goal is to be able to print while on my trip, so I knew I couldn’t bring my large format cold light enlarger.  I also plan on using color negative film on the trip and print RA-4 color darkroom prints as well.  My Beseler 23CII XL with the dual dichro color head started to look very appealing to me.

I’ve always printed with my cold light head for black and white, and color prints with a traditional color head.  I really never had any reason to try and print both black and white as well as color on the same enlarger (until now).  In addition to preparing for the trip, I was mentoring my friend Frank on all things analog photography and darkroom printing.  It was a lot of fun because I really had no idea of what to expect and I think Frank enjoyed that I didn’t know too!

I use Ilford darkroom papers and also use Ilford variable contrast filters on my normal enlarger, so I began my search with them.  I quickly found a technical paper “Contrast Control” dated 2001.  I found my enlarger in the paper and located the recommended filter settings for dual color settings.

As a test before I hit the open road, I needed to put the recommend equivalent filters settings to test.  I loaded my black and white negative into the enlarger and dialed in the color filters for yellow and magenta.  I should note that I purposely selected a 35mm negative that was developed with Diafine.  In alignment with keeping my trip simple and easy, I plan on using Diafine to develop my Tri-X and T-Max while on the road.

Beseler 23CII-XLOne of the downsides to wet printing a Tri-X negative developed with Diafine is they are typically very thin. As you will see by my results below, the ISO 1250 Diafine Tri-X negative was indeed thin.  I needed to validate this with the dual dichro color head so I knew what to expect on the road.  For those interested, I plan on making thicker negatives with Diafine which are more suited to darkroom printing versus scanning (thin negatives). To accomplish this, an effective ISO of 600 and the use of a yellow or orange filter to bump the contrast usually does the trick.  I also do minimal agitation, with an initial inversion of only two cycles and again at 1 1/2 minutes. Diafine is a two-part developer, so I follow this technique for both A and B parts. I want to be able to print my small format Diafine negatives with my standard #2 contrast filter and have the proper proofs be spot on.  My goal is to produce the highest quality negative that I am capable of which results in an easier and more creative experience during the printing process.

Darkroom Print by Tim LaytonI started with a #2 filter setting as I normally do with my negatives.  After making a test print at 3 second increments at F5.6 I found my highlights to look best at about 10 seconds.  I wanted to extend the time, so I changed the aperture to F8 for a time of 20 seconds.  I typically target for a base time somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds.  I like the longer time to make finer adjustments for dodging and burning.  I made a full test print at F8 for 20 seconds and evaluated my highlights.  I decided to reduce my exposure time by about 10%, so reduced the time to 18 seconds.  Now it was time to move on and pay attention to the shadows.  My shadows were too dark, so I knew I needed a lower filter (indicating my thin negative).  Normally I would have went down a half step, but since I had never used this setup before, I was looking for bigger adjustments to hopefully identify that I was going in the right direction.  So, I made a test print at 18 seconds at F8 with a modification of the yellow and magenta filters equivalent to a #1 variable contrast filter.  The shadows were definitely much more open, and to my eye, weak and washed out.  I adjusted the yellow and magenta filters equivalent to a #1 1/2 variable contrast filter and made the print.  It was almost perfect.  I dodged the barn for 5 seconds and the print was done!  This was Frank’s first time in the darkroom making a print from scratch, so I sent him home with all of the prints to enjoy.  Frank (a.k.a. grasshopper is a very fast learner and will be making his own prints very soon).

Conclusion

I found the Ilford contrast filter recommendations to be literally spot on with my tests. This solves a big concern for me and now I can move onto thinking through the rest of my open issues before the trip.  I plan on using Tri-X in my Nikon F camera while doing hand-held photography and printing my best images as described above.  I will be using both Tri-X and T-Max in my Mamiya 7 and Fuji 690GSWIII when I want to create black and white prints of the epic Pacific Northwest landscapes.  Two of the places I plan on visiting first are Mt. Rainer and the Olympic National Forest.  I suspect I will also consume a lot of Fuji Provia and Velvia in my Fuji 690 in those lush green landscapes.  I will continue to share my experiences during this journey in hopes the information helps other analog darkroom photographers.

If you find the information I create and publish on this website helpful or valuable, please consider subscribing via the button below or making a one time donation securely via PayPal. Be sure to also visit my analog darkroom photography gallery where I share my field adventures and offer my hand made darkroom fine art prints for sale.  My website and blogs are free from any intentional advertising or corporate sponsors while maintaining a high level of content quality.  If you appreciate my efforts, or the information that I work hard to create for you is useful, please consider making a donation or being a regular supporter via one of my subscriptions.

I freely offer all of my content and information, so a subscription or donation is not required. I am hopeful that you will find my efforts valuable and consider some level of support so I can continue to create and share, as opposed to just creating.  It takes less than 2 minutes to subscribe or make a donation.  I will continue publishing and creating no matter what, however, your kindness and generosity makes it easier to continue sharing and publishing.   

If you are local or travel to the St. Louis area, I regularly host free workshops that you can attend.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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Testing Fuji Provia and Velvia Slide Films for the Cloudy Pacific Northwest

Fuji-690One of the things I like about film the most is the effort you have to put into it in order to get quality results.  I have had a darkroom since the late 70’s, but I am still learning and growing, both technically and creatively. I am getting ready to travel to the Pacific Northwest and the weather, light, and environment there is a lot different than the Midwest.

I am going to a lot of effort and expense to travel to some of America’s most epic landscapes (Mt. Rainer, Olymic National Forest, etc.) and I want to maximize the opportunity and create the best possible slides and negatives I can.  Based on the differences in lighting, I need to test and be as prepared as possible before I am on site.  I will be using my Fuji 690GSWIII medium format film camera for my landscapes and slide film.  I use Provia and Velvia in my local environment, so I wanted to find out which film will give me the results I am looking for in this new environment based on my own experience, and not the opinion of someone via a newsgroup.

The Fuji 690GSWIII

First, I should provide a little background on why I elected to take the Fuji 690GSWIII as my landscape camera on this trip.  At my very core I am a large format film guy, through and through.  In a perfect world where time was a commodity, I would take my 8×10 view camera and use Fuji Velvia 50.  I don’t have the time to invest to take my 8×10, or even my 4×5 systems.  I want to be nimble and part of my environment, and not be worried about gear.  The Fuji 690 is a good trade-off for me.  It creates nice big 6×9 frames and so it is plenty big enough to enjoy with or without a loupe.  The convenience and cost benefit of 120 medium format roll film over sheet film is also a bonus.

I have no intention of “digitizing” any of my exposures, so my final output is the slide film. The pure simplicity of the Fuji 690 is a benefit for me.  It only has one fixed lens (65mm), manual controls for aperture and shutter and that is about it.  No batteries to worry about running out.  Just a mechanical Rangefinder that just works and creates incredibly beautiful exposures.  I will be nimble, able to hike and climb at will and experience some of America’s most beautiful landscapes–all the while leveraging 6×9 medium format film.

Testing Fuji Films for Cloudy/Overcast Light

Velvia100-TestingMany things have been written over the years about Velvia slide films, so there is no shortage of commentaries online.  Provia is a newer film, so it has less history.  I was very clear about my objectives before starting the testing process.  I wanted to be able to control the emotional aspect of my scene ranging from light and happy to a darker more moody feel.  Under cloudy, overcast, and raining conditions the rules change when it comes to slide films.

I tested Provia 100F and Velvia 100 for this first round.  I created exposures with no filters, polarizer only, polarizer with 81A, polarizer with 81B, 81A only, and 81B only.

My observations were a little surprising to me, so I was very glad that I invested the time to do the testing ahead of time.  I will summarize my personal findings below for review and comment.  I developed the films in my Jobo CPP-2 processor using Tetenal chemicals.

Provia 100F Observations

I really like the look of Provia 100F. It looks very clean, natural and bright. With the simple addition of the polarizer, it made the film really sing. The warming filters on Provia 100F introduced a slight yellow effect which was noticeable in the greens immediately. This was very surprising to me.  This is not desirable for a predominately green forest scene, but could be very useful for yellow fall colors such as Maples trees.  By adding the warming filters with the polarizer I didn’t expect the slightly washed out look that I was getting.  Even on the frames that were intentionally under exposed, they simply were not appealing to my eye.

If I were leaving today and wanted a very natural look that could get a little extra punch by use of a polarizer, Provia 100F would be an easy choice to make.

Velvia 100F Observations

Veliva is much more complex than Provia to work with.  Exposures and filters have a much larger effect on the final output, but with that creative freedom comes the price of complexity.  I found that the warming filters had much more of an impact on Velvia 100 then they did on the Provia.  I found them to render very appealing results when used alone or in combination with a polarizer.  The “look” of Velvia 100 is definitely different than Provia.  One is not better than the other–simply different.  The reds and browns were much richer and deeper and the greens as you may expect were as well.  It isn’t as “clean” as Provia, but for the right scene, could be a wonderful tool to leverage.

Summary

My intention is to be as nimble and carefree as possible during my travels so I can absorb the beauty of the landscape and nature.  I don’t want to think or be fiddling around with gear or technology.  My final output is the slide film, so I must do everything I can to “get it right” in the camera.  This is no Photoshop for slides!

I will be carrying both films with me, and with an improved understanding of their characteristics in cloudy and overcast conditions, I will be able to make an informed decision about my choice of film for each scene.  If I had to pick only one slide film based on what I know right now before the trip, I would use Provia with a polarizer.  I also plan on creating some black and white prints by hand in the darkroom and I will be using T-Max black and white film for this.

I look forward to your input and feedback.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

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In a World that Knows Everything – We Know Very Little

Robert DemachyThis is a reflective and emotional time for me.  I recently went to visit my dad’s gravesite because it is his birthday.  It stirs a lot of emotion in me, some which is painful, and some that is joyful.  I also think of my brother and sister that I have lost as well.  These life experiences directly impact my work as a fine art photographer and also how I navigate throughout my remaining days.  I also believe my lost family members inspire me to enjoy the gift of today and also value the things in humanity that are truly valuable.

My work has always been rooted in nature.  I am more amazed today when I experience wildflowers or an old tree that seems to be timeless.  These are the things that bring me joy and peace – the simple treasures.  I can’t imagine life or fine art work without including nature.

On the drive home, I was thinking about how advanced the world is and how much we seem to know today.  I then thought “many of us are lost and don’t know as much as we should”.  When I grew up, there wasn’t the “world wide web”.  I read books and sought the knowledge of those that I admired and respected.  I still read real books and enjoy many of the classics that I have owned for decades.  My Mamiya RZ67 and Pentax 645N that I bought new in the 1990’s continue to produce the highest quality images anyone could ask for. My 8×10 Kodak large format camera that I bought from the original owner was made in 1929.  It works as good as the day it was made.  If fact, one of my most popular fine art prints was created with this setup.  Technically I could use it for the rest of my life and pass it on to the next person for a lifetime of work for them.

Fast forward 25 years and a grade school child has the knowledge of the world at their fingertips, and knows how to access the information.  But, is this really an improvement? When I go to my local mall and literally watch adults and children appear to be zombies while staring down at their smartphones while trying to walk to their cars in the parking lot or walk inside the mall, I realize how little we really know.  I think “why are they here?”. Surely someone has to realize this is ridiculous?  People rarely “talk” any more, is this improvement?.  Not to mention the invasive nature of having an electronic noose (mobile phone) is having on every aspect of our lives.  Is this really advancement?  It certainly isn’t in my mind.  Google, the NSA, and just about anyone that has the skills, track our every move now, be it for marketing data or for other reasons.  Is this improvement?

My thoughts continued and I started asking myself questions.  Are we really better off with all this knowledge?  What do I really value?  What will be most valuable to me if I am lucky enough to be old?  As I have thought many times before, the advances and materially-focused world that many of us navigate on a daily basis, won’t likely have much meaning to anyone when they come to the end of their life.  Things are just things.  People and relationships matter.

I think deeply about my fine art work and what I am trying to communicate and share with my viewers.  To view my fine art darkroom prints on a mobile phone screen is actually a pitiful experience.  The unique qualities that only film and printing by hand in the darkroom offers is lost in the digital translation.  It never was intended, nor does it need to be digitized.  I have no idea how art galleries are still surviving in this mass gluttony of the “tech area”, but I hope they fine their way because we need them.  My fine art prints are created to be viewed and experienced in person.  Anything less is worthless in my opinion.

I suspect my disposition to analog darkroom photography is deeply rooted in the way I see the world.  I often say “some things in life just don’t need to be further improved because perfect is good enough”.  For me, I see film and analog photography through this lens. Working with large format is an advantage in my opinion.  Even with medium format roll film, I still have to wait to get back to the darkroom and develop the films before making contact prints to see if I have a baseline on which to build a fine print.  I see this as a distinct advantage over the fast paced digital “shooting”.  Yes, I do exactly mean shooting. Ever hear a typical digital photographer describe their day of photography?  “I went to the nature reserve today and “shot” wildflowers”.  “I went to the botanical garden and “shot” people as they enjoyed nature”.  Do they have any idea how stupendously ridiculous this is? After being on this soapbox for years, I no longer offer the advice of suggesting they “create” vs. “shooting”, because I think they have it right – they are in fact “shooting” things.

The creation of fine art prints begins with my experience and ultimately I am telling a story.  I first visit the place that I want to enjoy and experience.  I find a subject that resonates with me and uplifts my spirits.  Then I select a format (medium format roll film, large format sheet film) and select a film that helps me create a fine print based on my experience.  I print in both color and black and white in the darkroom, so I first decide if the subject is suited for color or best in black and white.  Then I develop the film based off of years of experience and with creative intent.  I then create contact proofs and ultimately begin the process of printing.  All of my fine art prints are created on archival fiber paper and processed to the highest standards required my galleries and museums.  At some point, a day or two, or maybe a couple weeks, I end up with a fine art print that meets my expectation and I feel is worth of being shared.

The use of analog film and printing by hand in the darkroom keeps me deeply connected to my subject, thinking deeply about my experience, and the messages I am trying to communicate.  These seemingly negative side effects as thought of from a digital photographer are the very things that allow me to breath and create art.

Even though I leverage the advances of many modern advancements in photography, my heart always remains connected to the soulful and deeply meaningful process of creating images and art with my hands using film, chemicals, and paper.  Some things just don’t need further improvement.  Have you recently experienced a large darkroom gallery print in person? Race to your local museum and ask if they have a program to allow for private showings.

Every time I walk away from a private viewing of any of the greats (Ansel Adams, Irving Penn, Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Elliot Erwitt, Edward Steichen,  Wynn Bullock, Minor White, and many others) I am never the same.  Even when I view the same prints over and over, I leave the viewing inspired and in awe of their masterful talent and their ability to impact people.  They were able to communicate emotion and a connection to humanity with simple tools and by today’s standards, a flawed medium.  If you are not familiar with these people, then you should be.  Don’t google them, go view their work in person.  Edward Weston printed with a lightbulb hanging from a wire by making 8×10 contact prints of his large format negatives.  I think we know how his story and contribution to photography and the visual arts turned out.  We can learn from him.  The simplicity of his process allowed him to free himself from all the jargon and create some of the most impactful and meaningful art of the 20th century.

What do you know for sure?  What do you truly value?  How are your responses to these questions driving and impacting your work as a photographer?  Are you a creator or a “shooter”?

If you are local or travel to the St. Louis area, I regularly host free workshops that you can attend.

This article first appeared on my analog film photography blog at www.blackandwhitefineart.net – © Tim Layton – All Rights Reserved

Tim Layton

  • Gallery: www.timlaytonfineart.com
  • Subscribe: help keep analog darkroom photography alive