For a detailed explanation of this process and its history, I refer those interested to Stephen Johnson’s work with scanning cameras, which has moved digital photography into an exciting new frontier. One can view his work and videos of his experiences with this new technology on his Web site, www.sjphoto.com, and find abundant technical information in his book On Digital Photography. He weds the scanning camera with a computer and software programs to produce his stunning landscapes. Life magazine commented on the results of his process, “Stephen Johnson’s filmless large-format photography rides on the ‘bleeding edge’ of photography’s transition to a digital media. His photographs look almost ‘unphotographic’ in their clarity and purity of color. He shows us a world we know, but rarely see on paper.”
Johnson uses a digital “scanning back” camera. An ordinary digital camera records an image all at once, registering red, green and blue light in alternate pixels. Scanning-back cameras scan across an image line by line, capturing the colors separately and then combining all three in each pixel. The result is extraordinarily powerful resolution and realistic color.
My system is a modest replication of Johnson’s equipment well suited to my love of creating tableaux in the studio. Rather than bring my camera into the world, I bring the world to my lens. I currently use an Epson GT15000 flatbed scanning lens coupled with an iMac computer. This process produces large image files (200 – 500 megabytes), approximating a 200 megapixel camera. The result is a level of detail equal to that of a macro lens, but here applied across the entire image, without distortion at the periphery.
I then work with the elements of exposure, image quality and size, color saturation, exposure compensations, contrast and brightness. I attend these elements and the process of composition until I have a felt sense from both the individual subjects and the collective assembly of the persistent, vital beauty unfolding from ordinary life.
With rare exception, I have composed all the works “live,” which is to say that I do not import objects into the image later. Once I have captured the tableau digitally, a professional printmaker transfers my digital files to watercolor paper or canvas, using a large-format printer, which produces images of archival quality with a life of more than 100 years. A UV and water-resistant protective coating is added, negating the need for a protective layer of glass to cover the image for display. The lack of glass in the presentation provides more immediacy and intimacy with the work. Because of the large amount of digital data provided by the scanner, most of the works can be printed as large as 8 feet by 12 feet without losing detail.
The majority of my works are exhibited in large format, showing the subjects larger than life. The macro dimension brings to the viewer detail that we literally cannot see on our own – our eyes cannot focus on objects held within two inches of them. (A curious fact, that we cannot see clearly what I think of as “the first two inches of everything” without magnification – yet it brings such delight!) By combining the rich detail we cannot ordinarily see with a large format and a composition that enhances the order and beauty inherent in what is before us, I invite the viewer into that sense of emergent beauty which mirrors my experience of the world of form.