Thursday, December 27, 2012

Inteview with Scott B Davis

Scott B Davis is a Director of Exhibitions and Design at SanDiego Museum Of Photographic Arts.  Along with doing a fabulous job at that post he is an accomplished photographic artist working in platinum prints and teaches that technique in private workshops.
Earlier today it was my great pleasure to visit his home and take a tour of the darkroom, which he built over this summer.  The work there is still continuing (show me an artist whose vision is done and finished and I’ll show you a dead artist) and you may see a few construction tools in some of the images here.  His platinum prints are among the finest that I have personally seen. His work and accomplishments can be found by visiting  You can aslo find contact information there in case you are interested in purchasing a print or taking a workshop.
Here is a transcription of our chat, which was conducted in a loose interview format:

(Scott B Davis in his darkroom)
Q.  What was your first darkroom experience and how did you become a photographer?
A.  Well, I took photography in high school in the ‘80s and I thought photography was purely for dorks and dweebs and I thought it was not for me.  Took a class, passed it and forgot about it.  Then I moved to California from D.C. area when I was 18 and I remember a moment when I was driving on the freeway and had an epiphany that I wanted to take black and white pictures.  There was no reason for it, but I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.  I got my fathers camera, took some pictures, went to community college to gain darkroom access and just kept going.  That was 1991 and by ’97 I sold every piece of darkroom equipment I gathered because I was printing solely in platinum by that time.

Q.  What equipment do you use to create your work?
A.  I use a Burke & James 8x10 and a 16x20in camera that I designed and built in 2002.  I use a 19in Dagor and a 30in Artar, but mostly I’m a wide-angle guy.  I used the 16x20 full time for 5 years, but after switching to 8x10 and starting to scan the negatives I found the experience to be a like working with a 35mm – it’s just that much easier.
 (16x20in camera custom made from cherry wood - folded)
 (Meticulous plans for the above camera)

My 16x20 prints are all direct contact from original negatives, while for larger 20x24 prints I scan the 8x10s and make a digital negative to print from.  I print the 16x20s in an edition of 10 prints and the big enlargements are editions of 5. 

I process my film by inspection method using a number 3 Kodak safe light.  It is very accurate – as soon as you see the highlights you know you have about 45 seconds more in the developer.  There is still work to be done in the darkroom like building the light baffle, print viewing rack for the 20x24 triptychs and lots more.

For a long time now I have used a UV exposure unit for printing - it's a lot more consistent than the sun and I can print at any time.

Print washer – 22x28in was also designed and built from scratch.  I use it mostly when I am making the larger prints and when I’m in full production mode, which means that at most I make three of four final prints a day.  Platinum printing is a very meticulous and time-consuming process.
Q.  What about your history with platinum printing?
A.  I got into platinum in 1996 when I bought the 8x10 from Nelson Photo here in San Diego.  I taught myself the process, but after a year or two of printing I took a workshop with Dick Arentz who wrote the book on platinum printing.  That workshop taught me two things.  One was how to make a platinum print – because there is ‘making a platinum prints’ and then there is ‘Making A Platinum Print’.  And also it taught a lot about using the right side of the brain and interpreting work and making more personally expressive prints rather than simply making prints by the numbers.

Q.  What makes you stick with platinum through all these years?
A.  Truly – I love the actual process of making physical prints.  It’s a process that, not unlike print making proper, requires a lot of knowledge and experience to master the technique.  I love the fat that it has a rich history and heritage.  I also like to exploit platinum for the things that most people don’t exploit it for – most printers are interested in the mid-tones and the glowing, singing whites, and I love to get a nice white as much as anybody but I love to get these juicy, mysterious, heavy dark tones.  I’ve had master digital printers tell me that they can make a print that looks “exactly” like this pint in front of us, but personally I don’t want my next print to look exactly like the last one – I want the next print to be a little different because they stopped making the paper, or I was having a bad day, or I was having a good day and it’s the best print I’ve ever made from that negative.  I love the fact that these prints are artifacts that are unique things onto themselves.  
  The other part of it is that, in essence, nobody can take these materials away from me.  Epson can stop making 7800 K3 inks tomorrow, or they make a new printer that doesn’t use those and they stop supporting your printer’s technology.  And, sure, miners in the Ural Mountains can stop mining platinum and I’d be out of business, but really, it's like making your own D-76 developer – the materials are there, in theory I must emphasize again, nobody can take them away and I can continue making prints that I love and work with a historic process that has a lot of character and integrity to it.
Q.  What subject matter inspires you most?
A.  I shoot at night primarily and LA is where I have done most of my night work.  There I make photographs that suggest a different story of a city that is loaded with iconography and are in opposition to people’s perceptions of what that city is.  LA as a city is very different from what "the industry" and Hollywood wants you to see.  For example this image of an alley and a ramshackle house behind a tattered fence – no wealthy people or stars live here, real Angelenos live here and that’s what my work is about. 
 (two 20x24in prints)
Q.  Who is your top influential photographer?
A.  That would have to be Mark Klett – I took a workshop from him once and that taught me more than three years in a university.  I really love what he has done – from the photographic survey project all the way to today.  He continually explored the medium, and fused it with history well.  He’s a really smart visual thinker.  What originally drew me to his images is his innovative approach to landscape.  For example he started including power lines in his landscapes because that’s the landscape of the world we live in today.  He painted the most accurate picture of the American West that I have seen – from petroglyphs to graffiti, cars on highways and power lines and all that is the definition of our culture today.

Q.  Do you think there is a benefit to new aspiring photographers in learning to use film?
A.  I do, I definitely do.  That benefit is actually in understanding how to use Photoshop on a much deeper level.  It’s a slow road to learn, as you know.  There’s not a lot of people today who have the patience to learn what the film curve is, how to manipulate it by development and do all the testing.  However that knowledge the toe and shoulder of a film curve can give people a huge leg-up in understanding what a natural curve looks like in Photoshop.  A sensitive eye of someone who went through the process of learning film, ‘practicing the scales’ is what I call it, will have an understanding of the proper relationship of zone 4 to zone 5 as an example

Q.  Do you think film will survive in 25 years?
A.  I doubt it.  I like to think so, because I like the materials I use and I like the process, but we have already seen it decline to a point that there are very few good films now being made.  Even the companies that have their heart in it 100% will come to a point when they will only fire up the coating machine three or four times a year and at that point the quality control will drop drastically, the chemistry will not be fresh and there’s not going to be that consistency.   It’s like making scrambled eggs – if you make them only a few times a year they are probably going to be mediocre, but if you make them every morning you’re going to have a good technique down.  So that’s what I see – there’s probably going to be film around, but is it going to be any good?  That’s anybody’s guess.  I do think there is a chance of digital resulting in a greater appreciation of a physical print, but whether even that is true I don’t know – very few people appreciate newspapers any more…

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Minor Update: Darkroom, Planning + Kenneth

  The past few days have been filled with darkroom time.  I am printing up a storm of images from Japan, Guatemala and Nepal - those where the most popular images during my first journey and I'm making more to sell on the road during the second run.  I recently found a little stash of Luminos Pastel Red RC paper at a local store and was thrilled when the 11x14 pack was still good and printed well.  The pack of 20x24 is definitely fogged from age and will have to be printed using lith developer - I do wonder how that's going to work with red base.  If it turns out well I will place one of the images in Gilli's window.  Here is a shot of one of the 11x14 prints. Architecture and other non-organic subjects seem to work best with this paper.

  This little bundle of joy finally came in handy as well. A bottle of Kodak Anti-fog No.1 that I found in my San Diego darkroom with the lot of chemistry included in the purchase of the space.  Containing benzotriazole as the active ingredient this addition to developing agents knocks back the age-fog pretty well.  I used it on the old pack of Oriental paper and was able to clear up the whites.

  Planning of the second trip is moving ahead as well.  I am in contact with a few photographers that I would like to visit and interview.  Some of them work in wet-plate processes and, along with interviewing them, I would love to learn as much from them as possible during the visit.  I'm waiting on a lot of replies as well - I think folks might be too busy with Holiday Season...  

  There is still plenty of time to support the interview project and the second journey in general, so jump in if you have not already done so.  I am extremely thankful to the first 10 people who have contributed so far - Major Kudos To You!

• • •

  At this point I would like to touch on a much sadder note - on Wednesday 12/12/12 a good friend of mine Kenneth Julio Moilean died in a single car accident in Northern California town of Arcata.  Most of my readers have not had a pleasure of knowing him, but I feel this very much deserves an entry in this journal-style blog because I am deeply touched by this event.
  Ken was a true friend and tomorrow a group of people who were part of his circle of friends will attend a memorial in Balboa Park here in San Diego.  At the same time there will be a similar gathering up in Arcata.  I know Ken touched a lot of lives with his upbeat and kind personality and a lot of people are currently grieving his passing.  He was an adventurous soul, a true dreamer and one of the most sincere people I had known in my life.  He had a strong interest in space exploration and an even stronger one in making this world a better, kinder place.  His smile was contagious and the light in his eyes shone brightly for all who took a moment to see it.  Rest in peace dear brother - may the stars open up to you like you have always wanted them to.

• <3 •

Friday, December 7, 2012

Indiegogo Funding Campaign Launched

Well folks I did it.  The new funding campaign has been launched and is currently on the way!

This time I'm using the indiegogo platform because the funding from them is not dependent on the funds reaching 100% of the goal.  This does NOT mean that it's not important for you to donate what you can and to share it with as wide of an audience as possible.  In fact I will do anything to convince you to do so - just ask.

Here is the link: 

When you take a look at it you may notice that this time I have no fancy video and the description is shorter and more concise.  I think the fact that I actually completed the first construction faze and did the incredible journey this summer is going to carry some weight in place of a video.  If you don't think that the journey was incredible indeed - try driving a school bus for 9.300 miles with no budget and get back to me with your thoughts.

I do think that the interview project that I am embarking upon is going to be great fun and will make an impact in this digital age by exposing the passion that film-users have toward this artistic craft.  Yes - you read it correctly!  I am proud of the fact that analog photography is a blend of art and craft - anything produced by hand with dedication of countless hours that are needed in order to perfect ones printing skills is a craft.  It is the vision that is carried through and implemented via that craft by the individual photographer that makes this an art-form.  I hope you share this view with me.

Aside from providing start-up funds for the second cross-country journey the success of this campaign will enable The Photo Palace Bus to gain a very important component of the original vision - namely the fold-out studio.  I simply do not have personal savings any more to spend on it and am counting on the communal support.  Of course a community is made up of individuals, hence You have to plug in and do something to help.  That something could be a contribution of any amount that you feel comfortable with.  Our individual places in society vary and while some scrounge about to get the next roll of film, others upgrade their Leica cameras whenever the newest model comes out.  Think about it and do what you can.  It would also help out tremendously if after you make that contribution you would share the link to this campaign with your friends and help it to go viral

The fact is that the $10K that I am hoping to hit there will not carry Gilli and me too far - the studio will cost at least $4K, diesel is not back to $1.20/gal like it was in the 90s (and that's a real shame), spending even one night a week for 9 months at RV sites (which is where I large developing and printing sessions must take place) will add up to $2.500, the promised books and prints are going up in price as well...  Oh yeah, unfortunately I need to eat too - hopefully I won't forget about that. 

I will do my best to supplement the budget while traveling by selling my prints once again at rock-bottom prices and by offering workshops to the interested public.  That is really how I hope to stay on the road until Fall 2013.  I the campaign goes viral and the $10K goal that would truly be fantastic!  Even if it doesn't - you know I'm good on my promises (after all Photo Palace was built after an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign from which I got very little funding in the end - I'm devoted and committed 100% to this as you may have gathered by mow).  Every perk described there will be fulfilled.

Right now I feel like this Japanese lady - just waiting on the train to come.  Unlike this lonely lady I can not count on the train to come - Japanese trains are notorious for keeping the schedule down to a minute and this campaign is a wild shot in the dark... For those of you interested in the details - this image was taken during my stay in Japan using a Rolleiflex camera and Verichrome film 

Thank You,

New Project Announcement and First Interview

Well folks this is it, I know you've been waiting very patiently and here it is:


Film Interviews Project

I am embarking on a series of interviews some of which I will conduct in person while traveling in Gilli and some of which will have to be conducted via e-mail because Gilli can't fly and there are people across the world that I would like to get involved.

The interviews will be aimed at elucidating a few things about the state of traditional photography today.  I will seek out artists working with analog means (both new and established ones), photo gallery and museum staff, educators, producers of photographic materials, processing labs, and pretty much anyone else I can think of who had anything to do with film photography.  The interviews will at first be published here on this blog and later in a book form (providing the success of the new funding campaign that I am about to launch - more on that in the next post).

With these interviews I hope to provide the public with a few bits of information such as where they can get buy and process their film, why some artists are still working with analog (and why new ones are starting to work with it all the time), which companies are manufacturing what products and what do we have to look forward to, what do photo galleries and museums have to offer in terms of their dedication to traditional prints and what do teachers of various institutions feel about the darkroom craft.

With that I hope to inspire more people to pick up a film camera of any format and go out and gain some confidence and experience by shooting film.  
• • •
Here is the first interview - if you have any suggestions for questions to labs for future interviews feel free to contact me via email
~ ~ ~
Gaslamp Photo Interview
The following interview was conducted with Dan Novice – owner of the last commercial lab in San Diego area that still deals with film.  The mane of the lab is Gaslamp Photo and it’s information can be found at 
Q.  When did you open this lab and why?
A.  I started it in 1990 just because I was so passionate about images and the process of making great images and I still love it to this day.
Q.  What services does your lab offer?
A.  We do black and whit and C-41 film processing and digital printing up to 24x36in.
Q.  How did the advent of digital photography affect your business?
A.  We had to buy a lot of new equipment and learn the new tools to make digital imaging part of the business.  It’s been a good thing for us.
Q.  In what way has it been good?
A.  We’ve been able to add more cervices and become more automated. The amount of work that I can accomplish now is much greater than what we’ve been able to do in the darkroom days, the workflow is much more efficient these days.
Q.  What advice would you give to an aspiring film shooter today?
A.  To concentrate on composition.  I think digital shooters shoot like a machine gun and I think film is great because it allows people to slow down and look at the content of their images.  I think it’s a great tool for people to start with.
Q.  What is your favorite technique in analog photography and why?
A.  I like the traditional rough border – the filed out carrier.  To see the whole frame is just great.
Q.  Do you currently shoot your own images?
A.  I don’t print my own images because I don’t have a darkroom for printing.
Q.  Where do you see film photography in 25 years?
A.  You know, I’d like to say that it will survive.  I see things being discontinued and it’s kind of discouraging, but I see other companies coming in and picking up where Kodak has dropped off and there are other companies out there that are thriving.  I still see a lot of enthusiasts who are very excited about it.  We have students come in who have never seen a roll of film and don’t even know what it is and at the end of the semester they keep shooting and they keep coming in, so that’s encouraging.
Q.  Anything else you would like to add?
A.  I just still love film and I love seeing it come out of the machine, I love to print it – it’s an enjoyable process.  Being in the darkroom I think is therapeutic and very relaxing and I think a lot of these younger kids who have not shot (film) before, they have been all digital, and now they get in the darkroom and a lot of them love it, they really enjoy it.  Time goes by fast you know, but it’s relaxing and I like it.
Notes from Anton:
I still remember when there were about a dozen labs in San Diego where one could bring a roll of Tri-X and have it processed on site.  Now Dan is holding down the fort on his own.  About 4-5 years they had to move out of the heavily gentrified Gaslamp district of San Diego and now he is located in Mission Valley.  Dan was very accommodating in inviting me back to see today’s set-up and even offered to process my roll of film that I shot around his lab – I politely declined only because I get an enormous sense of satisfaction out of processing my own black and white.  I got some great images using my Rolleiflex, for now here are some digital images of the place:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Short Summer Summary & Some Solid Shots

Hello dear friends and readers! 

  I have been back in San Diego for 3 months now and all this time I've been silent as a cricketless night.  Not a lot has happened during this period of time.  I have been spending a lot of time in my North Park darkroom working on printing the images collected over the summer and planning the next Photo Palace journey. I have also been working a fair bit on repairs to those systems aboard The Bus that have failed during the initial journey due to the builders' lack of construction experience and practical knowledge.  I am happy to report that all systems are back in operation and Gilli is road-ready once again.

  Now that a good chunk of time is separating me from the whirl-wind experience of this summer I feel that I can be more objective in summarizing it in a post and here it goes.

  Few words can describe the excitement felt by me during the construction of The Photo Palace Bus in the spring.  Working for 14-hours per day and with help from Ryan and his father I was able to complete the first stage of remodeling of an ordinary school bus into a mobile darkroom in a record time of 3.5 months.  I must note here that because of the unique nature of this venture I don't have any other previous projects to compare this timeline to, so I say 'record' based on the bewilderment of those who have seen Gilli and asked how long did it take to get her all built up and on the fact that that time was much shorter than I have anticipated.

  In retrospect the amount of naivete that was present at the point of departure in June of this year was simply tremendous.  Not making a solid plan of action seemed like a gran poetic notion befitting of the general feeling that art is best made in empirical manner.

  After Ryan and I decided to go our separate ways I was left on my own in Tennessee with less than half the budget necessary to complete the round-trip adventure I found myself in a state of relative despair, which is quite possibly self-evident upon reading the posts on this blog made in early and mid July.  The decision to press on toward Maine was a tough one, but I am very glad it was made nonetheless. 

  Progressing farther eastward I reached the capital of US.  I am very grateful for the kindness exhibited by my Rainbow friend Alan Berger in hosting me at his Washington D.C. residence for the much needed period of clarification of thoughts.  It was a pleasant stay and allowed me to make some connections relating to further travels.  From there on my spirits were once again on an elevated level and I found myself finding good contacts along the way.  I made my way around the country making decent guerrilla-style art sales and exposing the intrigued public about the importance of and value behind hand-made photographic prints and the historic path of traditional photography at every stop along the way.

  Looking back on the reactions I got in various parts of the country that I visited I can honestly say that New England area was by far the most receptive.  People there seemed most engaged and intelligent and were most impressed with the magnitude of the project.  I look forward to visiting that part of the country as soon as the weather and funding permit.

  I'm glad I had time to visit some of my dear friends in NY and MN - next journey, planning for which is currently on the way, will surely include a lot more stop-overs like that.  I am also happy to have had the opportunity to continue my research into the collection of magic lantern slides by Rev. John Rahill purchased by me in 2011.  I visited YMCA archives in Minneapolis MN and dug about in the records of Topeka KS where Mr. Rahill was active shortly after returning from Russia in 1918.  Though records from that era are spotty and hard to come by I was rewarded with some intriguing findings, but I believe there is more to find out on that topic so I plan to visit the Minneapolis archives again.

  It was a tough decision not to go on westward after Minnesota, but I believe it was the most sensible one.  The mountain passes of Montana and those that would have awaited me on the path from Washington state down to California could have brought all sorts of unexpected turns of events and with no crew and near-zero budget I played it safe.  After all - I did reach Maine thereby completing the initial agenda of crossing this vast country diagonally on the very first Photo Palace adventure.

  Admittedly nothing can compare with the feeling of the open road and all the potential it holds, so upon my return to California I felt drained and lacking inspiration.  It took a while to get into the swing of things here, but now I am determined to continue traveling and have came up with a project that I think is worthy of a cause and may interest of the greater film-shooting community.  You, my dear reader, will not have to wait much longer for the next update revealing that project.

  For now - here are some of my favorite images that were made during the summer.  I must point out that the amount of shooting time was limited by the fact that I had to do everything from raising funds to driving and planning by myself, so unfortunately I returned home with only slightly over 60 rolls of film to work from.  That is a relatively low number for me - I have been known to shoot that many rolls in less than half of the time I spent on the road, but then again I didn't have a large school bus to take care of...
Note - I spent two days writing wonderful descriptions to all these messages and arranging them in chronological order.  I swear I was hitting the 'save' button religiously every 30 minutes.  When I went to publish this post ALL the information below this lone was GONE and none of the images were even in the cache.  I reserve the right to come back and add descriptions later, but right now I'm so mad that I will simply put them up with no information and see how I feel a few days from now and if I feel like adding descriptions.  Sorry folks - that's 'the brave new world of digital.
Stick with analog my friends!

I decided to come back and add a little edit to these images as they did feel a little bare with no captions... I will the comments to a minimum though and let them speak.

Hug, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Kid Village Fire, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Meadow Moment, Rolleiwide

Rain Dance, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Joe and Security, Minox IIIa (do not try to do stand development with Minox or you will get that fall-off that you see at te bottom of the frames)

Dancer  III II I, Polaroid 690 with expired Polaroid 600 film

Drummer, Stereo Realist (stereoscopic card)

4th of July Prayer, Rolleiflex Tele

It's Just a Plant, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

DC Bodega, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar (this is the only negative scan seen here, I'll do my best to print it and replace the image)

Mary on the Wall, Rolleiflex Tele

ME Rainbow Singers, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Moon Tracker, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Waving Flag, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Freeway and Gilli, Minox IIIa (Lith print)

Heads, Minox IIIa

Chimney in NY, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Bus Ruins, Tachihara 4x5 with Polaroid 55PN

Kodak Wall, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Kodak Wall, Polaroid 680 with expired 600 film

Portland Couple, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar, print toned in Polytoner

Propped Wall, Leica M3

Square Scene, Leica M3

Rhode Island Stretch, Leica M3

Gilli and Train, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

AZ Hotel, Robot II

Man on Bench, Robot II