It’s a process using the 8×10 Deardorff. From loading the gigantic film holders, to hauling two cases of gear around and a heavy tripod just to take the photo. Setting up takes planning and time. First you hoist the 13 pound camera onto the tripod. The camera unfolds, you have to straighten the back, the front, lock all of the moments down. You have to compose the image on a ground glass which is upside down; and when you move the camera one way the image moves in the other direction, all of this is done under a dark cloth. Once the focus is done, your subject cannot move, at all. You have to then close the shutter, cock the shutter, put the film holder in, pull the darkslide, then wait for a moment with your subject. “Relax, take a deep breath, turn your head just a little to the left…” And then at F/8 or 11, take a single exposure that, if you are shooting paper negs like me, with an ISO of 6, your exposure time is anywhere from 1/2 a second up to 6 seconds. All the while the subject must remain still, and not move. Because of course if they move, you have to put the darkslide back into the film holder, pull out the film holder, open the shutter, refocus, then repeat steps 1-9, again. But the tones, and look, when it works, creamy and cool. Makes you think before snapping that photo. Because after you do, then it’s a trip to the darkroom, where…well that’s a whole other story.
Here are two images from a recent shoot with Blake Schlosser, near Nanton, Alberta. When, I pulled out the Deardorff, Blake goes to me, “Oh one of those old large format cameras. A few years back we had a photographer from National Geographic here and he shot me with one of those.” “Really,” I said, “who was that?” Schlosser couldn’t remember, said he pulled his whole darkroom behind him in his truck. “Rob Kendrick!,” I said. “Yeah that’s the guy.” Rob and I are in the same photo agency, Aurora Photos, and first met as young photographers at the National Geographic seminar in the early 90’s. A soft spoken Texan, Rob is a wonderful photographer who has photographed cowboys all over North America using the Tin Type method of creating negatives. I love Rob’s work, check it out his site and cowboy photos at Robb Kendrick.com