About the Artist
“Photography is inside me, part of me, I can’t turn it off.”
Jason Ritchie is a North Carolina native, who became interested in photography at a very early age. It all began with a 110 film camera his parents gave him when he was 11. He would take the camera on trips and vacations taking photos of anything that caught his attention. In the eight grade he was fortunate enough to have a teacher by the name of Robert Teat who ran the school photography department and had a darkroom in one of the classrooms. Mr. Teat taught him how to load film, develop, and make prints in the darkroom which further fueled his interests. Photography took a back seat after high school as he pursued a career in Information Technology. He picked back up with the arrival of Digital cameras in the mid-nineties since these would allow the merging of his two interests in a creative way. He traveled often for his job and always brought along his camera to document his travels.
Around 2006, Jason visited a relative who had an old Nikon FM manual film camera and remembered the darkroom days in high school and how much he enjoyed making prints and working with film. It was then when he purchased his own Nikon FM and also began studying works of Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher and other film photographers.
In 2014 Jason purchased an old enlarger and built a darkroom in the storage room of the garage in his NC home. He began making prints on silver gelatin paper and began shooting almost exclusively in black and white film.
Today Jason lives in North Carolina and primarily works with black and white film and making fine art prints out of his home darkroom.
The Analog Process
It all starts with a roll of film, passion, and an idea with a sense of adventure thrown in for good measure.
Much goes into the making of a fine art print. There are many different film stocks and I use several different ones depending on why my desired end result will be. I like Fuji Acros when I want to capture those slow shutter moments that tend to freeze motion and time. I like to use Ilford HP5+ when I know its going to cloudy or I need a fast shutter to freeze action. I love using Ilford Pan F on those really bright days as it has a smooth even quality about it that works great for sunny days.
After the film is exposed it needs to be developed. I choose to develop my own film to save costs and control the development process. I use old school developing tanks and Kodak chemicals much like they did 50 years ago. I develop in the kitchen sink and hang the film to dry in the shower. Once dry the film gets cut into strips and inserted into a plastic film sleeve for scanning. I scan my film in order to get an idea of what a finished print might look like instead of going straight to the darkroom and wasting paper making test prints.
I have many different film cameras that I can use and they all have features and qualities that I will select based on what I want to create. I have many 35mm cameras that are light weight and much easier to carry on long hikes. I have my Pentax 67 that is a heavy tank of a monster but those large 6×7 negatives lend well for making prints up to 16×20 in size. It is my favorite camera in my entire collection and I use it as often as I can. I have a Bronica SQ-Ai which has a square 6×6 medium format frame that is nice for when you want a square format print.
As with film, there are many stocks of enlarging paper which can be used. I prefer to use RC paper for making test prints but I will use fiber based paper for making final art prints to be sold or given away. There is no comparison when you hold a finished fiber print in your hands. It has a quality feel and should last a hundred years or more if cared for properly. I’m currently able to make prints up to 16×20 in size which will be matted to a 20×24 frame.
The Darkroom Process:
This is where the magic happens. This is where the image really starts to take shape. I turn off the lights, turn on the red light and put some music on. I usually start with making test strips on strips of enlarging paper to get an idea of my exposure time for the enlarger. Once I have my base time I will make a test print and develop it so I can view it in the room light. It is this time when I can envision how my finished print will look. The printer has many tools to his disposal such as dodging, burning, masking, and contrast controls where he will bring out every detail and make the print pop just the way he’s envisioned it.
Once the exposure has been done the still white paper is put into the developing tray and just like magic the image begins to appear. I never get tired of the excitement and anticipation of seeing the image come through for the first time. Once development is complete, the paper goes into a stop bath tray, then the fixer, and two separate wash trays before going into the selenium toning bath. The selenium toner converts the metal silver to silver selenide which provides enhanced longevity and archival permanence. It is then that the print gets more washing for around 30 minutes to ensure all the chemicals wash out of the fiber base of the paper.
Once the finished print is dry, it will crinkle up because of the fiber base in the paper and must then be pressed flat for 1-2 days before it can be placed into a matte. As you can see, there are many steps that go into making a finished print and for every finished print, there are quite a few that don’t make the grade and go into the trash.