Since landscape photography is a tradition more interested in detail than spontaneity, it has typically found its roots in the larger formats. To make photographs in the lineage of that tradition, not to mention serve justice to the inherent beauty of the subjects I photograph, I use and 8×10″ view camera that can also be converted to accommodate the 5×7″ format. The view camera portion of this combination provides an accurate representation of the architectural characteristics of the structures’ interiors; the negative’s size lends itself to the platinum/palladium printing process, where prints are made by pressing the negative and the paper together under glass, then exposing the paper as it lay immediately beneath the negative. Since the size of the print is the same as that of the negative, I use the largest practical format so viewers can glean a suitable amount of information from each image.
Technical considerations in the field are extensive, since situations run the gamut from the rare instances that call for relatively normal exposure and development to the more common, extreme scenes that might require exposure times of several hours or call for development compensation so severe as to reduce highlights by six or seven f/stops. The real fun begins when, in the middle of a typical 1-hour exposure, the light level changes. When this happens, the time is marked, the percentage of the exposure already achieved is calculated, and a new exposure time is determined, and multiplied by the remaining percent of the original exposure time. The reciprocity factor is then refigured so a new, final time can be determined, and the percentage of each exposure time’s reciprocity-based development adjustment is proportionately “averaged” so the appropriate changes can be made in development to deliver the anticipated negative.
A different set of challenges comes into play on my county fair project, which I shoot exclusively after dark. Since I don’t want the attention that would come with using studio lights in the field, I started by rating my 400 ISO Tri-x at an E.I. of 6400, then had to devise a method of “pushing” my development that would allow me to compensate, somewhat, for the severe underexposure while still delivering a negative with a relatively normal tonal scale.
Early on, I frequently called Kodak with theoretical questions and was told repeatedly by tech reps that what I was doing couldn’t work. Finally, I convinced Tom Weber and Pete Vimislik that I wasn’t completely daft and they began helping with the theoreticals. At length, I sent them a photo invitation to a show, and for the next ten years, until the company filed for Chapter 11 in 2012, Kodak would occasionally send me new films to be tested before being mass produced for the commercial market – the outcome of that wasn’t so much vindication as simply being pleased that your phone and internet friends know you’re sane!
After several seasons of live field tests under carnival lighting, and much advice from Tom and Pete, I arrived at the best combination of film, developer, dilution, time, temperature, and agitation: at which point, a year later, I was again on the test team when Kodak made some really sweet adjustments to Tri-x, for daylight use, that scuttled the entire process I’d spent more than a decade refining … Having just completed my original investigations, though, the approach was fresh in my mind—and notes!—and I was able to get back to “normal” within a few seasons by adapting to T-max film. In spite of my adaptations, though, it still wasn’t delivering what Tri-x had in the early 1990s. So in 2004 I began modifying the process in order to work in large format – doing so alleviated the shortcomings of the process in small format, allowed me the latitude of the larger negative, the freedom to print in platinum/palladium, and the verisimilitude to make extreme enlargements from my 8×10″ negatives, which are nearly 60 times larger than a 35mm image.
Now, that said, most of my contemporaries find this degree of technical application an extraneous exercise, but I find it essential in the process of making art. The accolades once betrothed to the silver saviors of modernism have long-since faded. Likewise, our passion for the pure, heady intellectualism of postmodernism is ebbing quickly. What comes next must be an amalgamation of these idealisms, a return to the craft of the past without abandoning the scholarly achievements of the recent 40 years, so we might thoughtfully illustrate that life below the snowline not only has meaning, but possesses beauty, as well.