Paper Negative Portraits

The Process

These images are from a project using a Deardorff 8×10 large-format view camera and light-sensitive paper for the negative. The roots of this process date back to Talbot's Salt Print of 1835, where light-sensitive paper was used to make a negative then contact printed to make a positive print. Photographing with a large format camera is quite slow. Not only does the setup for the portrait and the recording of the images take time, but the sensitized paper is about 1/16 as sensitive as the 100 iso setting on modern cameras. The extra time I gain with my subject creates a space for us, photographer and subject, to make images with a different depth than when using modern equipment. The process also reveals the impact of the unseen "third actor," the camera, in the portrait-making process and its effect on the final image.

The Big Boy

This 8x10 Deardorff view camera was manufactured  here in Chicago back in the late 60's.  I came to this camera while helping to take apart a very old commercial photo studio that was located in a building just to the north of the Merchandise Mart. The studio was an absolute museum complete with an 11x14 horizontal wooden copy camera and a darkroom that had an 8x10 enlarger that looked like Robby the Robot.  This camera was the last of the usable cameras in the studio and I used it many time for work before the digital revolution took hold. The kit came with two lenses,  12 and 14 inch Kodak Commercial, which i still use today.  The shutters have long since stopped working.  So I use my home made "Armstrong Shutter" to make the exposures, a velvet covered ping pong paddle to block the front of the lens when the dark slide is removed.

I was so fortunate to have been introduced to Jack Deardorff, the last member of the camera making family.   Jack refurbished this camera for me in the late 90s and gave my big baby new bellows.  It was a fantastic experience to walk with him through his storerooms while he told me fascinating stories about each of the items we encountered.  He had a lot of neat stuff and I wished we had more time.


Using Format