Friday, July 9, 2010

Traveling the USA on a Photo Trip by John Dersham

Last week I spent the entire week on a photo excursion through seven states. Over the last forty years I have taken trips like this nationwide. In doing so, I have gotten a very intimate look at our wonderful country from coast to coast. I usually travel the back roads using interstates only to pass through sections I was not planning to photograph on the current trip. Most of my images are subjects I find as I travel. I shoot the “Americana” landscape and town views and not so much of the well known attractions or destinations. The work I like to do is spontaneous to the moment, determined much by the look of the moment. The quality of light plays a big role in whether I will shoot a particular scene. Some scenes I really like but the lighting is not suitable at the time. In those cases I make a note of the location, the time of day the light will be better and hope to return one day to take the picture. The photography I pursue requires quite a bit of preparation. I shoot large format sheets of film in a camera that requires a tripod for use. The sheets of film have to be loaded in a darkroom. When I travel I have to stay in motels/hotels where I can make the bathroom totally dark to reload. The camera takes a film holder which holds two sheets of film. I carry twenty-five film holders. This gives me fifty pictures before I have to re-load the holders. It takes about 10 minutes to set up the camera, adjust the movements of the camera for correction of distortion, figure exposure and focus. This type of camera is totally manual. The sheets of film I use are 4x5 inches. Because of the size of the negative and the high resolution of the lenses, my images equate to 400 million megapixels in digital terms. I process the film and print the film in my darkroom. Once the film is scanned on a high resolution scanner then my image is digital and I can do anything with it just as if I started with a digital camera. The reason for using large format film to begin with is the unbelievable difference in quality from the standpoint of resolution, tonality, and contrast. Film contains subtle differences in color, contrast and overall tonality not possible in digital. Film contains 32,000 variations of tone, contrast and color where digital is capped at 1,000. This is why most movies are still shot on film and then scanned to digital. The subtle nuances are important to the film maker and to fine art photographers, such as me.
On this trip I visited Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. I took two lane roads through the mountains and small towns. Everywhere I went I met friendly people whom stop to see what I am doing. Not many people these days see someone along the road with their head under a black focusing cloth looking like its still the Civil War era. Most people think my equipment must be antique but actually my equipment is still currently available gear. There are many photographers using the same kind of equipment professionally or for their art. To see my work visit