Observations on Using an 8 x 10

This is an e-mail by Chip Simone of Atlanta. He has been in the field for 50 years and wrote this letter to another photographer who forwarded it to me.
It has been edited somewhat and is published with Mr. Simone's permission.

I did 8 x 10 exclusively for ten years. It is a remarkable and seductive format. It's easy to see why it remains the standard by which photo-quality is assessed. It is capable of amazing things, including taking over your life and dominating and dictating your vision. All too often, photography became an exercise in justifying the use of this slow, cumbersome, 19th century ritual, finding static images that would wait for me to get my standards squared (ah, the thrill of the grid!) And, of course, I only contact printed, on AZO (when you could find AZO), in Amidol. God, I miss Amidol. The blackest blacks....but I digress.

See, there's nothing wrong with lovin' photo-process, it's just not what photography is about. You're absolutely right; photography is about pictures. While I was a Callahan student (me, Linda Connor, Emmit Gowin, Bill Burke, Jim Dow, John McWilliams, others), Minor White was 40 miles up the road at MIT teaching his version of the zone system. MIT photo students' pix were pretty different from ours, so I asked Harry about Minor and MIT. In his own non-verbal fashion he replied, "I don't think you should try to make photography into religion." So much for the zone system.

The allure of photography is, all too often for too many, the toys and distractions. But photography is an empirical process, being present in the world, looking at real life. Seeing it your own way: perhaps the most important commandment of all. I suspect that you know this and that I am preaching to the choir, so please don't be offended. But herein lies the rub. Many...most who do camera work don't get it and never will. Being able to type doesn't make you a poet. Being able to do photo-process, no matter how skilled or refined or informed, no matter how large a format you master, simply doesn't make you an artist. It's about so much more. Who can deny the versatility of photography, it's ongoing evolution? The power of the camera-generated image has less and less to do with either format or process, and the 21st century is about to discard even more old saws.

It is the images, the powerful images, that this optical media generates, that always have and always will define the significance of photography. By the way, I've got an 8 x 10 and three lenses for sale.....

Chip Simone (1/13/98)