Recently, I was alerted to a new call for submissions to a show in Spain. The theme was intriguing but outside the bounds of what I normally do. Wishing to participate but not having a clear vision of how I might respond, I ventured into our garden armed with nothing but my cellphone's camera. My intent was to take quick snapshots of various things as a meditation of sorts, hoping that a direction would reveal itself. Slowly but surely, one did. I assembled a few items and took another snapshot, this time to check composition in a square format so that I could later take a 'real' picture with my Bronica S2. But, something unexpected happened. I liked the picture that I'd taken with my phone so much that I began to wonder if I could use it for my submission. That began a very interesting journey which I am still on today.
Once I verified that the organizers of the show would accept for consideration anything under the heading of Mixed Process, I set about thinking how I could begin with a picture taken on a cellphone and end up with a silver gelatin print. This led me to purchase a small box of transparency sheets with which to answer a question, that being what would happen if I printed a cell phone picture onto transparency and then took the result into the darkroom? Two things influenced my approach: I did not wish to take on the task of creating a digital negative, as the process to make an optimal one is complex and making a 'quick and dirty' one would likely result in a substandard copy. Also, my love of paper negatives encouraged me to use them as part of this new approach.
I quickly found that making a successful and appealing silver gelatin print from a cell phone photo was indeed possible. The transparency can be contrasty, but that can be mitigated via the use of contrast filters in the enlarger. By the way, I am not enlarging the image on the transparency, I'm simply contact printing it. But I am using the enlarger's light head and filters to achieve my results. I'm also employing split filter printing for both the paper negatives and the silver gelatin positive, which allows me to zero in on both shadows and highlights to extract maximum detail.
After much trial and error, I arrived at a very worthwhile silver gelatin print, which I was able to submit to the call for entry. Regardless of the outcome of that submission, I had stumbled upon a way to expand my horizons and my creativity.
There is even more potential here, as this process provides me with a way to enlarge my 5x7 contact prints without the need for a large format enlarger. I already scan my best contact prints, and printing them to transparency couldn't be simpler. Traditionally, the bigger the negative you wish to work with, the bigger the enlarger you need. They can quickly become both heavy and quite large, and I don't currently have the space for such a beast. The above process provides a way to produce paper negatives (and then positives) in whatever size transparency you've got on hand, which in my case began with 8.5x11". I have marveled at creating a negative of that size without the aid of an 8x10 camera, regardless of the image's origin. For the final versions in my new body of work, I plan on moving up to 13x19" transparencies and printing them on 16x20" fiber.
During my early work on this process, I was introduced to the work of Josephine Sacabo, an artist in New Orleans who works in polymer photogravure. The magic and mystery of her work captivated me, and in no small part that was due to her work with double exposures. That got me to thinking, now that you have a new way of working with both digital and film/alt process images in the darkroom, why not combine both on the same print? That idea has pushed me further down the road I'm on and opened my eyes to nearly endless possibilities.
While early tests with initial image selections were not encouraging, a second round of testing with a new image combination yielded immediate results. I was struck by the near iconic nature of the image I'd quickly created as a simple proof of concept. Others I showed the image to had similar strong reactions. I knew then that I was on to something important. I went on to create further prints of it, refining it along the way. It is comprised of a background image shot on a cell phone and a foreground image taken with my 5x7 large format view camera. We live in a time of hybrids, and that concept has invaded my darkroom!
Here then are the beginnings of my new body of work, presently titled Land and Sky, Converted. I have about two months to produce the final images, which will probably number around ten to twelve. I'm very excited to see this work come to fruition, and I'm looking forward to sharing more of it with you.
By the way, the image which began this odyssey was accepted by the judge's panel and will be part of the Revela-T exhibition in Spain this coming Summer. I'm very grateful for the opportunity.
[originally posted February 22, 2019 on my old site]