Photography has attracted me since I was quite young. I remember watching my father in his cobbled-up basement darkroom, working in that eerie, reddish light and trying to explain to me what was wrong and what was right about the prints I could barely see in the chemical trays, the contents of which I swear I can still smell ! He was following in his father's footsteps. Though I never knew my paternal grandfather, all accounts described a man who could and did perform his own overhauls of pneumatic shutters, who coated his own glass plates, and who passed down a love of everything photographic.
I later learned how powerfully expressive the fine black and white image could be, mostly by noticing images by Adams, Strand, Weston, and others that had begun to appear everywhere, it seemed. I had little idea at the time how much skill had gone into those fine prints. Enlightenment followed slowly and painfully, with each failed attempt to come even close to those images !
In the mid-70's, while lugging my gear into deep woods in southeastern Ohio, a fellow photographer emerged and muttered, "I sure hope you know the Zone System!" I not only didn't know it, I'd never heard of it. Thus began about a decade of reading, laborious testing, and some improvement in results. Though my average was getting better, the variation was remarkable. For every success, it seemed, there was an equal and opposite (and often spectacular) failure.
Quite by accident, browsing the bookshelf in a fine old photo shop (now defunct) in the mid-80's , I came across Beyond the Zone System, edition 1, by Phil Davis. On the back of an accompanying workbook was a template for a device called the WonderWheel (which contained a gray scale, slide, and dial that facilitated visualization and fast derivation of exposure and development.) The book promised a method for developing one's own WonderWheel based on personal test data, using the spot meter as a density-measuring device. Better, I had only to expose five sheets of film and five pieces of paper under enlarger light to learn all I needed to know.
I now own all four editions of Beyond the Zone System, have had the pleasure of participating in two of Phil's BTZS workshops, and use the full arsenal of BTZS tools and techniques, all of which benefited the work you see here immeasurably. I rarely use my spot meter these days; BTZS incident metering is simply too easy, fast, and reliable. Best of all, I am pleased to call Phil both mentor and friend.
I am hopeful that silver emulsion film and paper will remain available even as digital products advance. Both, I hope, will find a place. For me, I will always want to reconnect with those early memories by working in the amber light.
This little show's for you, Dad.
|© 2003 Bill Waldron