Why I Love Large Format Photography & Alternative Processes?
I am asked this question often, especially being 25 years old. People often don’t understand why I would enjoy techniques and cameras made well before my time. The ones who know me can tell you that I am in love with nature and everything connected with it. Besides that it relaxes me completely, learns me every day and makes me happy it also artistically inspires me. When I got my first camera at 16 which was a DSLR Pentax K-m I did not take portraits, I did not shoot street but I went straight into the woods behind my house and started exploring with a camera in front of my eyes. I hiked to the viewpoints, crawled behind animals and insects of all kinds as this was what I used to do from when I was a little boy.
What I would like to achieve with my photographs is to capture and show you the miracles of nature that inspire me in the best way I can. Rarely I walk into nature with a camera and a fixed idea of what I would like to shoot. Mostly the best shots are made when I just wander and 100% connect with everything that surrounds me. That is where you start seeing hidden harmonies or anomalies that I call small miracles of nature. It can be anything from an unforgettable sunrise to a beautiful rock formation somewhere high in the mountains. It’s hard to write everything down but briefly I would say that this is my purpose in life. If you find the thought process behind photographs interesting, let me know and I might write a separate blog where I go into more details.
Many shots and cameras later here I am still doing the same thing but a bit differently. Just before I wrote my degree from the Academy of Fine Arts a few years ago I became interested in so-called alternative photography. At that point I was completely satisfied with my Canon 6D buying new lenses and equipment but it was the lecture on History of photography that intrigued me and started pulling me in a different way. I have always taken myself as some sort of an old sole and sometimes thought of being born in a wrong era 😀 What caught my attention the most during that lecture was early color photography more specifically autochrome. When you hear the term – Early History of Photography most of the people think about everything being in black and white. Autochrome as some of you might now is the first commercial colour photography technique invented in 1903 by Lumiere brothers. It is known for its beautiful colours achieved thru colour screen and additive mixing. Release of modern Kodak colour films in the 1930s marked the end of the autochrome era and since then the technique was lost and forgotten.
Obviously I could just keep on writing about autochromes but lets save that for another blog and get back to that history lecture. I was intrigued by autochrome technique but for a person without any clue about large format photography, emulsion making and so on it seemed way too complicated not just to make but also to understand. I love learning new things and foremost I get highly motivated by the idea of reaching hard to some even impossible goals. As a result of this autochrome was on my radar from that point on. I started learning about large format photography and it didn’t take long before I bought an Intrepid 4×5 camera. At the beginning I was shooting with BW film spending hours in the darkroom learning about developing & printing. Then through time when I started to understand how everything works I slowly started to peel off the layers of autochrome mystery. I realised that I will have to learn how to make my own light sensitive materials and in a few weeks I already made my first working silver gelatine emulsion. I coated the glass to make a dry-plate, modified my film-holder and made my first shot from the second floor of the academy. And from here on the rest was history. A few years later I am just a few steps away from reviving the autochrome, making orthochromatic and panchromatic emulsions, experimenting with different techniques, making cameras and designing related equipment.
Analog photography is hard work and can not be simply learned just by watching a video or reading a blog. It takes a lot of determination and testing to get things right. So why am I still insisting and enjoying Alternative and Large Format Photography more than Digital? If I skip the talk about the quality and other technical advantages I would say I love it because it’s not something instant and intangible but it’s a craft. Not just while making but also while taking shots you need to be completely focused and devoted in order to succeed. You only have as many tries as you have film (plates) no more and there is almost no room for error. It encourages you to think, be precise and teaches you a lot about the very basis of photography which is light. After the exposure you are not stuck by the computer trying to save what you did wrong but you enter another type of mediation called darkroom. You are mixing, cutting, washing, developing, bleaching, fixing…until you get an image which is not just an approximation created by the printer but the actual imprint of the light.