Where are you from?
Born in Chicago, raised in Arlington Heights, IL
How long have you been doing photography?
For over 14 years
What are your first experiences with the medium?
I consider my first experiences to be my early days of learning to shoot manually and print in the darkroom.
My first experience with an SLR was when my father gave me his old Olympus OM2N, for my photography class. I was home for a break between semesters, so I loaded the first roll and headed to my friend Glenda’s with the camera. My very first test shots were of her, hanging out and doing various things in an indoor gazebo. I finished off the roll with test shots of my family and various things around the house. I remember being excited when I got the film back and some of the shots were in focus.
I got used to the camera pretty fast after that, but before long, I started noticing that something seemed off about it. The camera shops in Denver couldn’t find a problem, so I figured it was ok, and maybe I just wasn’t totally used to it yet. Months later, I figured out what was bugging me about the camera. The images I shot were in focus, but not sharp. It was infuriating, because at this point, I was shooting quality work, and I wanted it to be pristinely sharp. I was getting so frustrated that I almost thought it was something I was doing wrong, but then I borrowed a friend's camera and had the proof I needed. When l I went home to Chicago, for Thanksgiving break, I found a repair shop that specialized in older cameras (wish I could remember the name of it). It turned out that there was an issue with the focusing mechanism, which was hard to detect.
The first images I shot after the repair, as in immediately after exiting the building, were what led me to where I am today in my photography. That's when I stopped over-thinking it and just did what came naturally. I shot an entire body of work while I was in Chicago. My friend Nicki happened to be with me when I was shooting, so she ended up in some of the photos. After my critique, my photography Professor suggested that I think about submitting some of the images to a juried competition. One of those, "Stopping to Smell the City," was my very first to be selected for exhibition.
As far as printing, it was love at first smell, and it was so exciting to see those first images reveal themselves in the developer, but I do remember thinking that it was really hard at first. After the first critique, I started to understand what I needed to do. Putting it into practice took time, and a lot of work, but once I really learned to print, it was like I finally found myself. Of course, I was still learning and improving my technique, but I found it to be very freeing.
What originally attracted you to photography as a medium?
My attraction to photography may have been somewhat subconscious at first. I was always the one with the camera, but I never really thought about why in those days. When I had to choose an elective my senior year of high school, I decided to take photography. What they offered was barely an introduction to the medium. It was mostly reading, and shooting with automatic and pinhole cameras, made out of oatmeal boxes. I remember the teacher bringing us in the darkroom and showing us the enlargers, but we never got to use them. At the same time, I got enough insight into photography, to know that I wanted to learn more. I actually considered it as my first major, but my advisor talked me out of it, convinced me it wasn’t a valid career option.
It wasn't until 1999, when I transferred to Colorado State University, as a Philosophy major, that I happened to fall back into photography. Basically, I happened to be in the art building, leaving my required survey art class, when I noticed a sign for a job working as a photo assistant. I applied on a whim and got the job. After a month of being around the photographers, I realized that I didn't want to just be on the sidelines anymore; I wanted to learn how to do it professionally. However, the only way to get into a photo class at CSU was to become an art major, which wasn't a huge stretch from philosophy, but was more than a little daunting to me at the time. I had no art background and was not great at drawing. At the time, I really didn't see myself as an artist, so I asked my art Professor for advice. She was really supportive, and suggested that I do a photo project with my automatic camera for the final. So I did. I went shooting in the mountains for the first time, and it was exactly the push I needed to make my decision. It was an amazing experience, in spite of the equipment I was using. That was probably the first time I'd shot b&w film, and I was blown away by the results. Looking back, I see things in those early images that are still visible in my current work.
At any rate, by the time I got into my first in depth photo class (it was always full), I had completely fallen in love with art and was thrilled finally find something that I actually wanted to spend my life doing. By then, I knew that my work was naturally expressive and tended to leans towards the more, yet I was drawn to more realistic depictions. At that point, I was not great at anything overly linear (drawing with pencil was the worst for me), so anything I created in that manor would take me a really long time to do, and the process was not enjoyable.
With photography, I found that I could be both realistic and abstract at the same time, and once I had the techniques down, I enjoyed every step of the process. It was then that I realized what I had always been looking for had been right in front of me all along, and it was photography
How would you describe your photographic style?
My photographic style is purely Fine Art. I'm primarily a b&w land/seascape photographer, and I lean a lot towards the more abstract. At the same time, I shoot what I’m inspired by, and sometimes that’s subject matter other than landscapes.
My prints do have a unique style/tone that is hard to describe, and largely due to the expressive nature of my work. However, I’m told that it’s quite recognizable.
You shoot exclusively on film, can you describe this motivation?
Film is an essential part of my process. Shooting is a very spiritual experience for me, and I appreciate the way that translates to my photographs. I find that it gets a little lost in translation when I shoot digitally.
Further, the darkroom is a special place for me. When it comes to printing, Zen is the word that comes to mind. From the moment I start to see the image on that first test strip, it's always had that affect on me. The darkroom is also where I learn what the images are really about. I don't actually know what the work will be about when I'm shooting. I’ll know what I want to shoot, but it's not until I've been working on a print awhile or several prints, that I really understand what the body of work is about. My work is about asking questions and seeking answers, it's largely about whatever is going on in my life, and I don't gain the same insights while editing on a computer. Of course, image quality is also an important factor.
Honestly, I do digital for commercial work, and that’s fine, but if I have a choice between editing on a computer and printing in the darkroom, the darkroom will always win.
What is about the "analog" film process that is most appealing to you?
Printing in the darkroom, although I really do love the entire process, well except for spotting...
Not many people shoot exclusively on film anymore, what challenges exist because of this? Where do you process your film and print?
Many challenges, I’ll give you the top 3.
Let’s start with paper. I printed exclusively on Forte Polywarmtone Plus from 2000 until 2009. They went out of business in 2007; I actually bought the rest of their stock from Austria. Sadly, it's long gone, as are many other beautiful papers. These days, there aren't a lot of options to choose from. Most of what's available doesn't come close to the tonality and quality of Forte, or anything of its caliper, and it's gotten really expensive. I have found one paper I like, it's not the same, but it's better tonally than anything else I've found. The catch is that I can only get it regularly from California, although sometimes they sell out and I have wait for the next batch to come in. B&H also carries it, but my size is never in stock, so ordering from them usually means waiting 3-6 weeks.
On top of that, the good photo stores that are still around don’t carry nearly as much as they used to. Darkroom sections have really dwindled, although I will say that I can still get most of my chemicals at B&H and sometimes Adorama. They usually just have to get it from the warehouse. That said, they keep very small quantities in stock, so they tend to run out a lot, which is really nerve racking when I have a deadline and can’t wait for mail order. I also no longer have a back-up option (or access to a photo store that is open on the Jewish Holidays), since Calumet went out of business. They also used to be the only company that would repair/replace the tubes in my Zone VI enlarger heads. They stopped doing repairs in 2009, and my spare enlarger head went in 2011, so I wasn’t able to print again until I was able to find a proper replacement enlarger.
Finding true infrared film has also become a challenge as of late. There is no longer a true infrared film on the market. I started out with Kodak, moved on to Maco, Konica, and then Efke. None of these films are available anymore, although Efke was available until 2012, when they had to stop coating film and paper, due to problems with their machinery. Luckily, I still have a few rolls of it in my fridge. Rollei makes something that's not true infrared, but supposedly very close, so that’s pretty much my only option right now. There are usually only one or two companies at most that make it at a given time, so I’m still holding out hope that I’ll have access to the real thing again soon.
I process my film and print at home. After years of balancing full-time work with commuting to and from a shared darkroom, printing/developing film, and at least a few hours of sleep, I bit the bullet and moved to a bigger place. I now live in a converted 2-bedroom apartment; the smaller room is a fully operational darkroom. It's not fancy, but it works.
So you are basically in the darkroom constantly, how long does it take from the time you process a roll to a finished print? Days? Weeks?
I wish, it varies, it could be days, weeks, months, I even have a some images from rolls I processed in 2011 and 2012 that I'm thinking of adding to my current body of work...
Ideally it would be a 3-4 day process, but I don't have the luxury of doing photo full-time, so it totally depends on my schedule. Since I travel to shoot, I usually develop all of my film at once, as soon as I'm back in town - or at least keep developing in my free time until it's all done. Then I do all of my contact sheets. After that, I usually give it a day for printing, washing, and waiting for dry down. The next day, I analyze the prints (I make at least a few final copies of each) and determine if they are ready to be toned, or if I should think about doing one more reprint or possibly some selective bleaching. If I do any bleaching, that would be another day, including wash and dry down. After toning, there's one last wash and dry down. Then, I determine which print is the best one and then start spotting (gradually paint in any dust spots with spot tone) it. If I'm not on a deadline and I have a lot of images to work with, I tend to focus on just printing, and hold off on everything else until I have several final images ready.
Typically, I only have nights and weekends available for photo, and I’m always on some sort of deadline, so I tell people to think of me as having 2 full time jobs, since that's the schedule I'm usually on. I use a cold head enlarger, so my exposures are usually 2-5 minutes long, and that’s before I do any work on the highlights. Sometimes I'll find that I'm a print or two away from a final, when I have to stop in order to have time for a print wash and enough sleep to be functional by morning. So, I'll have to wait until the next free evening to finish it... I do pull all-nighters when my schedule allows, especially if I have a big deadline coming up.
You shoot primarily infrared black and white, why this vs. traditional b&w or color?
I love the way infrared appears to turn the world inside out, as well as its ability to expose what is not visible to the naked eye. I'm a stickler for contrast, I like my highlights (the light areas) to really pop, and infrared does that well. I do shoot some traditional b&w, for images that are a little more low-key or if the lighting is just right, or if it's getting dark and I'm short on time. I use it more for non-landscape work though.
I really never enjoyed color, but I shoot it once in awhile. I feel that b&w is much more expressive/emotive and since my work is already naturally expressive, it just gives it that extra something. B&w has a way of revealing things that color just doesn't for me.
Your subject matter seems to be generally focused on the natural world. Has this always been the case? Where do you see your work going in the future? Are there other subject matters that you see yourself going towards? Or that you would like to cover?
I think I will probably continue on with this body of work for a while. I see my work as a series of progressions, and I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of where this body of work is going to lead me.
No, landscape was another happy accident. I actually started out in street photography, dabbled in landscape here and there, and my thesis was actually a motion study with a model. It wasn't until I discovered the work of Minor White that I really started to see landscape photography in a different way, a way I was really drawn to. I didn’t actually start concentrating on landscapes until I got my Hasselblad, an early graduation gift, and started shooting infrared landscapes at night. That’s really what did it for me.
I do miss shooting at night, especially with infrared. I do see myself returning to that in the future, probably still concentrating on the natural world, but a different side of it. I'd also love to do another cloud study, when I'm in a location that has the kind of clouds I have in mind (very thick, fluffy), that's actually something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. And I haven't ruled out the idea of revisiting street or motion down the road.
What photographers have inspired you or continue to inspire you?
Edward Weston and Minor White are huge influences on my work. Studying their images made me the photographer I am today. However, many other photographers have inspired me along the way, including Wynn Bullock, Robert Adams, Michael Kenna, Imogen Cunningham, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Ruth Bernhard, Paul Strand, William Garnett, Jerry Uelsmann, Robert Frank, Francesca Woodman, and many more.
Only a few of them are still living, but their images will always inspire me.
What venues would you like to see your work in? Magazines? Galleries?
Ideally, I’d like to see my work everywhere... I’d like the primary venues to be galleries and museums, and the like. It’s actually a dream of mine to have work exhibited at AIPAD.
I’d also like to see my work in offices, maybe schools, definitely more homes, as well as in books (hopefully in monograph form someday), magazines, certain online galleries/websites/blogs, etc.
What advice would you give to younger artists on the same path?
Oh yes, it's definitely not the same New York that I moved to in 2002... The art scene has changed here, and not for the better, although I will say that over the past several months I've been noticing a definite improvement. For some time, there were very few galleries even showing my style of photography or anything in that realm. The only exceptions were shows of vintage work or near vintage work of extremely established photographers. It was mostly about what’s trendy, not necessarily what’s good, which was extremely frustrating.
Equally frustrating was going to photo events and meeting tons of people, but very few with any interest in traditional photography, much less fine art photography. If it was big and trendy, they’d get it, but quality images made in the tradition of the masters, they did not. Don’t get me wrong, I did meet people here that appreciate fine art photography and traditional methods, they just happened to be in the minority. Luckily, that started to change this year, and it’s been really refreshing! I’ve actually been meeting a lot of photographers/photo enthusiasts lately that either shoot film themselves or have a great appreciation for people who do.
I would warn them that it takes an extreme amount of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice to keep it up long-term. If they really want to follow this path, especially in New York, they’ll have to get used to functioning on less sleep, having little to no time for social events (outside of things related to art), and pretty much everything that isn’t absolutely essential, and sometimes even a little of that. It’s not an easy road. Balancing what you love to do with what you have to do is extremely challenging, especially when both are full-time commitments. They’ll just have to decide if art is important enough to them for them to make the sacrifices. It’s not for everyone,
I’d also suggest that they make as much art as possible now, while they have the time, and probably advise that they either go to grad school or get a second major in field that’s stable, if at all possible. Just finding a steady job that pays the bills isn’t a given anymore, and the cost of living here has gotten crazy expensive.
How can people get in contact with you for collaborations or commissions?
They can email me directly or via my website, or send me a private message on Facebook or Twitter, below are links to all.
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