Well, it’s been a month since I last posted here and it feels like it’s time to start writing again. I took a vacation with my family, driving through Arizona from bottom to top and back again, visiting the Grand Canyon via Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona and Flagstaff. We spent a large part of our time in Tucson, an incredibly beautiful desertscape, staying at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home, which faces the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Tucson is also home to the Center for Creative Photography, located on the campus of the University of Arizona. The Center is home to an incredibly huge and rich archive of photographs from well-known past and present photographers. Any member of the public can make an appointment to set up a private viewing of several portfolios of their choice. Imagine being able to sit down for an hour with an original portfolio of silver gelatin prints by Ansel Adams or Edward Weston!
On the day I visited, the in-house exhibition featured the photographs of Linda Connor. I have a Connor book in my collection and to be able to see the photographs in that book and close to one hundred more was a really special treat. Linda has always worked with an 8x10 view camera (that’s one of those big old-time looking cameras with an expandable bellows). Each sheet of film is 8x10 inches in size. After developing each sheet, she contact prints the negatives in the sun on printing-out paper. In cloudy Rochester, NY and in San Francisco, where she’s lived many years of her life, it has sometimes taken her 3 or 4 days to make an exposure! POP paper, which unfortunately is not available any more, will reveal an image directly without developing after exposure. She then tones her prints with a solution of gold-chloride, which gives them a beautiful luminosity and a slightly brown-purple color. My brother-in-law and I were captivated for the afternoon. Not only were the prints and the images (two separate things for me!) wonderful, but we were amazed at the fortitude and determination of this woman who lugged this large camera with her to extreme faraway places…valleys in rural India, mosques in Turkey, monasteries in Tibet and Egypt. Every photograph displays a magical light that reveals minute details or adds another layer to the shrouds of mystery in the frame.
In today’s age of digital photography and Photoshop, it’s sometimes hard to remember that photography was always an alchemic art; a combination of eye, tool, material, chemical. Film and its attendant processes, in this case a very alternative process, possesses a magic that is still unsurpassed by more modern technologies, however that magic is only available to those who are willing to work extremely hard to master these processes and in our workaday modern world there are few who can afford this luxury. I’m thankful we have people like Linda Connor to remind us and show the way.