Thursday, March 31, 2011

Keith Pitman: Working in Large Formats

A Man and his Camera
  In these days of digital darkrooms and armchair image editors, it's a pleasant surprise to find an online example of a "traditional" wet darkroom, complete with -- capable of printing negatives from 35mm to 8x10. High in the Rockies to the west of Denver, Colorado, photographer Keith Pitman makes his home with his wife, Barbara and their cat, Tristan.
  After forty years in the business world Pitman has moved on to his true passion, black and white photography. Using 4x5 and 4x10 large format cameras, he pursues his art in every available moment.
   Shooting in 4x10 format requires an entirely different setup from that required by a 4x5 "shooter." So Pitman  has put together two complete outfits to prevent, as nearly as possible, forgetting a crucial piece of equipment when changing formats. His light meter is one of the few things he doesn't feel he needs to duplicate, perhaps because it's always around his neck!
  Pitman explains he also carries a small "survival" kit in his pack consisting of headlight, space blanket, compass, and matches. He recalls with some irony,  “I once got caught out at nightfall and spent the night in the woods.  I did not have a kit like this and it was a long and chilly night.”  To simplify life he "steps" all his lenses to 67 mm, avoiding the inevitable moment when he might otherwise be unable to match a filter to a lens face.
Keith Pitman's current darkroom

Keith’s present darkroom, (his fifth,) is equipped with two enlargers, a Saunders LPL Dichroic 4x5 enlarger and a Zone VI with 5x7 and 8x10 heads. He uses the Zone VI for 4x10 and 5x7 negatives, and the Saunders/LPL for 4x5 and smaller negatives.
  The darkroom is built around them, using a salvaged stainless steel sink on the "wet" side to develop prints which he processes and mounts to archival standards
  Keith enjoys finding the unexpected and doesn't appear to mind the inconvenience of cold weather or difficult shooting conditions. Most of his work is the tradition of rust, ramshackle, rot and ruin, the formula Gordon Hutchings uses with great success in his work.
"Chimayo Windows"
  Pitman is willing to go out on a cold winter's day if it means he can capture the beauty of a waterfall shimmering in a long exposure, as twin ribbons wind their way down a frozen embankment. His eye for beauty takes in more than the "lay of the land," as he watches for and captures  landscapes strong in bold contrasts, yet delicate in detail. His photograph of “Chimayo Windows," taken on a shooting tour with other photographers, captures the mystery of the small chapel in Chimayo, New Mexico where even the dirt is thought to have miraculous qualities. Long shadows cast by roof beams known as “vigas,” lend drama to a simple composition of an adobe wall caught in the light of a dying day.

  His Chamonix 410 camera  allows Pitman to capture wide angle shots that might otherwise require significant cropping using a conventional 4x5 setup.
  There’s a flash of humor in his 4x10 “Take Out” shot of an ancient stake-bed truck hooked to a small trailer diner, and perhaps a bit of tongue in cheek with his photograph of the “ATF” store somewhere in the mountains of Colorado. Not all landscapes require a wide angle or a grand sweep of the skyline.
"In the Dunes"
  On a trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park near Mosca, Colorado, Pitman stumbled on a small but intimate landscape of a lone bush in the middle of the dunes.
  In 2004 the Great Sand Dunes, previously a National Monument, became a national park by an act of Congress. Apart from preserving the natural beauty of a highly unusual setting, the national park protects an unusual aspect of the dunes, a large water reserve just below the sand. According to park literature, dig down a few inches almost anywhere in the park and you  will find wet sand.
  Pitman and his wife, Barbara, visit the area every few years. They enjoy the wide open space in and around the dunes, and the bonus of Kodak moments in almost any direction they turn.
"Prairie House"
  Pitman’s 4x10 caught “Prairie House with almost the touch of a watercolor’s delicate brushstrokes. High clouds appear to drift slowly overhead, as the lone building prepares to gather against approaching weather.
  His two images of Hanging Lake, in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, one taken in perhaps late fall, the other in freezing winter, demonstrate the difference a day can make in a photograph. Both are dramatic in their bold contrast and shimmering detail, yet draw much different responses from the viewer.
"Hanging Lake"
"Hanging Lake in Winter"

  Keith visited Hanging Lake the first time at the behest of John Sexton’s wife, Anne Larson. Though he had driven through Glenwood Canyon many times, and seen the sign for Hanging Lake, it wasn’t until Pitman had seen Sexton’s photograph that he knew he had
 to see for himself. He describes it as “A small but spectacular site.”

"Café de France"
   The only photograph on Pitman’s website to include people is titled, “Café de France,” and was one of the high points of a two week photographic trip to southern France. Pitman recalls his 4x5 camera was set up on the tripod and he was getting ready to make an exposure when he heard a voice behind him speaking in French.
  Keith turned to a much older gentleman and explained he did not speak French; the man immediately switched to English. The old man told Pitman, “I, too, photographed the Café de France.  I am Willy Ronis.” Pitman didn’t know who Willy Ronis was at the time, but had a friendly conversation with him about Pitman’s view camera. Ronis wanted to know if it was old. (It wasn’t.)
  Later that day Pitman bought a book of Ronis’ images of life in post WWII Paris and Provence and discovered Ronis was a street photographer well known in France and published worldwide.
Ronis, born in 1910, lived to the ripe age of 99, breathing his last in 2009. Though as a child he hoped to become a composer of music, Ronis’ career was turned to photography by his father, a portrait photographer.
  Perhaps Ronis' best known image is titled “Provençal Nude," taken in 1949. It shows Ronis’ wife, Anne-Marie, washing herself beside a window looking out over a garden, and exemplifies the free and easy atmosphere of Provence. Ronis was surprised by its popularity and once commented, "The destiny of this image, published constantly around the world, still astonishes me."
  Visit Keith Pitman’s website gallery here. . . . for a delightful and expansive tour of Colorado and the southwestern United States.