View Full Version : Women using Large Format

Sandy Sorlien
25-Apr-2001, 12:59
Howdy guys, I have only been reading this forum for three months and have just acquired my f irst view camera after a 20-year photography career with smaller formats. Are t here any other women on this forum? The names all seem male, except the occasion al Pat who is indeterminate. Arca-Swiss customer service just answered one of my posts by calling me Mister Sorlien, an odds-on bet, but wrong. Do you think LF is a male-dominated realm, and if so, why? It can't be only the weight of the equipment. Sally Mann uses an 8x10 and she is a small woman, so we can do it if we want to. I must say I feel extra vulnerable using my view camer a. It attracts a lot of attention and some weirdos want to talk to me, using the camera as an excuse. If I am uncomfortable in the situation, I can't just walk away, I have to take time to pack everything up. Being under the dark cloth is an intimate viewing experience for making pictures, but I can't wait till my bin ocular viewer comes so I don't have to use the dark cloth. I imagine men feel a bit vulnerable under there, too; anyone could walk off with your other equipmen t in two seconds and you wouldn't even see them. (I think Virginia Beahan and La ura McPhee have the right idea, working as a team!) I am usually a very intrep id person, but this does concern me. Maybe the combination of large format plus computer savvy produces the large pe rcentage of men on this site. I know men are supposed to be "tech-heads" but I a m very interested in tech talk if it pertains to a problem I need to solve for i magemaking. I would be interested to hear from men or women about these issues. Cheers.

Stefan Geysen
25-Apr-2001, 14:14
I agree about the vulnerability-when-under-a-darkloth. A couple of years ago, when I was taking a picture of a building in the centre of Antwerp, someone stole my 5? Minolta meter attachment out of my case while I was under the darkcloth. On another occasion,some drunks stood several minutes in front of my camera,shouting and chanting, thinking it was a video camera!

Why so few women in the forum? Maybe because being a techhead is mostly a male thing :-) Back in photo school,where the majority of my class was female, there wasn't anyone even remotely interested in using the view camera. Even a medium format camera was looked upon as a "studio only" camera...

Anyway, welcome aboard and happy shooting!

Rob Tucher
25-Apr-2001, 14:16
Hi! I've noticed also that there aren't many women, both on this forum and out in the field. It might be a question of the size of the equipment, the techi-factor, or some other things. But I have also noticed that women don't enter into smaller format photography as much either. I belonged to a Nature photography club for a while and 80% were men. Some of the women came with significant others yet did not shoot anything themselves. Why? I can't say.

I just did a job in which I had to photograph portals and tunnel details inside two mile-long RR tunnels. I had to walk through each twice with 75 pounds of 5x7 gear, stopping to shoot as I went. It might be the weight that would keep women from doing this kind of work, but there are other ways, like hiring a caddy. It wiped me out and I am 195 pounds, in good shape, reasonably spry (44 years old), and have been doing this kind of shooting for 20 years. It sounds like you went the lighter large format route, using Arca-Swiss 6x9. Large format is a taxing, tiring way to go if you get off the beaten path or away from studio or car, but the rewards of large format for clients and oneself are worth it.

As for security, we all have that vulnerable period under the cloth. My ears make up for my sight as much as possible. I also hire someone to watch my back when I am in nasty areas, if budgets allow. And, like you say, you can't just hang the camera around your neck and walk away. But some of LF lack of maneuverability is a strength. Thieves can't grab and run, and for the most part they don't even recongnize what you are using and therefore wouldn't know where to sell it for quick money. I had a carry-on bag full of large format lenses with me once when I was flying to a job. It was worth $15,000 or more, in a large Lightware case. The flight attendant would not let me keep it with me even though I only had the one bag and it fit through the gauge outside the plane. So I told her she could stow it in a compartment up near her station but that I held her responsible. At the end of the flight she was harried and just told me it was my problem but that she had it sent down to the belly of the plane.

I had no claim ticket for it and it was being shuttled around with no route stickers. I waited at the conveyor where luggage was coming out for an hour and a half and had already filed a lost-bag claim when it finally, and completely alone, came up. When I checked it it had obviously been rifled and everything moved, but everything was there. Obviously the potential thief who held my bag back saw no value in it and left it alone. Little did the person understand the value!

I've had people ask if I am a surveyor. Some people know what the stuff is but I like to work solo and without too much chit-chat. I've been threatened and challenged, but nothing has come of it. Pairing with someone is ok if you work similarly and at the same rate. I'm sure the weirdo factor is the most troubling for a woman because you would seem more at risk, but the most victimized group is males in their 20s because, for the most part, they tend to think about security the least and put themselves in worse situations out of confidence. I should know. I got tumbled pretty badly at age 23 (not shooting but out for a fun evening with friends), and I was in even better shape, looked it, and thought I could hold my own.

Think security, go with someone when you can (even a non-photographer who understands the slow nature of it), carry as little as you can while making sure you can do what you need to, and use friendly psychology to avoid interaction with weirdos. No real solutions here but your post intrigued me. Welcome.

Paul Mongillo
25-Apr-2001, 14:24
Welcome Sandy! I think the subject of women in large format has been lightly touched on in forum in the recent past, but I can't find it. I have no idea why women seem to be scarce in large format. I don't run accross many large format photographers of either sex in my wanderings. I did run across a couple (male and female) in Durbar Square in Kathmandu in October that were working together with a 4X5. I tried to strike up a conversation, but they were German and spoke no English and me no German.

I think we all get a little spooked if there are a lot of people around when under the dark cloth. There is so much equipment to keep track of. I have learned to keep everything in my pack when not in use or in the apron on the tripod where I can see it when under the darkcloth. I also use a large capacity waist belt to keep things in. I almost always attract a crowd in my foreign travels and if I am in a town or city here in the US someone always stops to see what I'm, doing. Most folks just don't see large format cameras very often. I have never had a problem though.

My gilfriend is also a B&W photographer (medium format). We work as kind of a tag team on our travels. She prefers to photograph people up close and I prefer landscapes, buildings and people set in their environment. I almost always attract a crowd so she usually has her pick of interesting individuals.

By the way, she is just not interested in checking out the medium format page similar to this one. She has never shown any interest in using my large format gear either. Again, welcome

25-Apr-2001, 15:05
Not many women into Large Format because they've got better sense.

Linas Kudzma
25-Apr-2001, 15:15
Sandy, Late last year I saw the first woman in the field with a view camera. It was in a place called Ken Lockwood Gorge in New Jersey. I was going to stop over and saw hello, but she was busily setting up a shot so I didn't want to bother her (like everyone does me). Later she was gone. Not many females lugging around all this gear. They may indeed have more sense :)

Trevor Crone
25-Apr-2001, 15:26
Sandy, It is a great pity that there are not more women practicing the art of LF photography or indeed "photography!" I too used to feel a little vunerable unde r the dark cloth which is one reason I obtained a bellows focusing hood so that I'm now more aware of anyone around me. By the very nature of using LF, "funny l ooking" cameras, the slow deliberate act of picture making, attracts people who are curious as to what we are doing. May the light be with you, regards,

Sandy Sorlien
25-Apr-2001, 15:33
You may notice from my other posts that I did use my superior common sense to buy a small view camera, the Arca 6x9 FC (you 8x10 snobs no doubt think this is really an MF camera, but in all functional respects it is LF --- full movements and all that). This was mainly to use rollfilm and a wider format (6x9), but the lighter weight is very appealing. I fit everything into a small Jansport backpack, the kind my students use for books! I can hike pretty far with it. It's my wooden tripod that's a pain to carry. Thanks for the belt suggestion, I'll get one for my meter etc. Maybe I should add a can of pepper spray.

Sean Billy Bob Boy yates
25-Apr-2001, 15:36
Well on this forum Jacque Stackson occasionally contributes. She's a lady prof. and so kinda busy but she's out there with her 8 X 10.

As you say, there's Sally Mann, and Lois Conner and Linda Connor, Paula Chamlee...andwho else ?

A previous post about grumpy l.f. users encountered in the field pointed out that running into other l.f.'ers of ANY gender is kinda infrequent occurence.

Paul Schilliger
25-Apr-2001, 15:38
Sandy, there are at least two women who contribute in this forum. One is Jaque S taskon (jaque@cybertrails.com) and the other is here in Switzerland: Christiane Roh (rohcris@vtx.ch). It's always n ice to have other gender voices in the forum. Thanks for joining in!

Paul Schilliger
25-Apr-2001, 15:40
Sorry Jacque, I misspelled your name again!

Paul Schilliger
25-Apr-2001, 15:47
By the way, Christiane use a 6x9 Arca as well. To put it right between Sean's an d my post, it should spell Jacque STASKON jacque@cybertrails.com

Jonathan Brewer
25-Apr-2001, 15:59
This forum is for photographers and I don't think anything else matters. Most of the contributers of this forum are way ahead of me since I just made the move to LF and I'm a man, so the male, female thing is of no consequence. Dividing people into men and women and then applying generalizations to each group means nothing as this is a world of individuals.

You cannot generalize about anybody and I would ask you how you know that men are supposed to be "tech-heads"?. I don't really need an answer of course, so I saying to you throw out the why so many men, why so little women, size, ethnic backround or any other consideration except the one thing that binds us all together, our love of Photography.

I have insured my equipment and I mentally prepare myself for the loss of that equipment the moment I walk out the door. When I go somewhere to take pictures, I take a while gauge to the situation and believe me there have been times when there were photo-ops at a particular venue but also some danger which forced me to give up the shots rather than risk getting robbed or hurt. There might come a time when you might just have to walk away from your equipment.

John Bailey
25-Apr-2001, 16:02
Welcome Sandy-As to your question about LF and women-maybe the question should be are there more women shooting in studio and controlled situations versus how many women shooting landscapes and outdoor shots? Might be interesting to take a poll to learn the number, ages, sex and experience of those using this forum.

Weight has been a factor for all of us, as is the bulk of the equipment and time required to set up a photograph, not to mention the expense. Yet, the results are what keep drawing us back. Each photo teaches me so much that I want to then apply to the next image I take-a nice compulsion if you ask me!!!

As for safety-please always be aware of your surroundings. I am certain you are savvy, bright and aware, but sometimes a reminder of what to remember is helpful (and I need to remember these things myself just as much as anyone else does). Being safe is just as necessary even if you are walking alone in the wilderness to get to a wonderful location-pay attention to the trail and your footing so you don't fall and injure yourself, make certain others know where you are headed and when you are supposed to return, be cautious in bad weather (especially lightening storms) and take the rudiments of first aid and water just in case. In urban situations many of the same precautions hold true. As for crowds and/or wierdos, I often fake shooting with another camera which allows them their moment of performance and soon they tire. The binocular viewers are a sound alternative to a dark cloth. Just keep your bags zipped and intertwine the straps or wrap them around a tripod leg or maybe use a bunge cord to slow anyone down who covets your equipment more than you. If you can take a companion along, all the better. For me, sometimes taking a moment to let someone look through the camera creates new friends and allies who look out for you afterwards. But most of all whether you are in a city or in a wilderness, if that little voice goes off and says something isn't right then pack up and come back the next day or the next time or sometimes never-tomorrow for me is always a better solution.


John Bailey

Steve Baggett
25-Apr-2001, 16:17
Sandy, all the LF men are on this forum discussing equipment and all the LF women are in the field taking pictures.

Bob Salomon
25-Apr-2001, 17:30
And Mary Ellen Mark uses a Master Technika.

John H. Henderson
25-Apr-2001, 17:54
And I thought all those women who asked about my camera were interested in PHOTOGRAPHY! You mean they were HITTING on me?!?

Brian Ellis
25-Apr-2001, 17:59
I teach a Beginning Photo class in the Fine Arts department of a local university. I'm one of three instructors. The class sizes are usually 10 - 15. Almost always, there will be one, maybe two at the most, males in each of the three classes, the rest are females. Yet everywhere else, the ratio seems to be almost the reverse. I have no idea why that is. In the case of large format, I suspect the reason for relatively smaller female participation is the tech-oriented nature of it. Men sometimes seem more interested in the equipment, women in the photographs.

Ellis Vener
25-Apr-2001, 18:06
Sandy, I'm 6'5" and 270 (not real soft) pounds and I carry myself in such a way as to let people I'm not an easy mark. And still I worry about who is coming up behind me when I'm under the darkcloth.

David R Munson
25-Apr-2001, 18:18
In relation to Brian's comment, I see it too. I'm in a photography program at Ohio University and in both the fine art photography and photo illustration majors, women outnumber men by a good margin. In my current illustration class, there are about 30 people, and of those people, I am one of 3 males in the class. The ratio is a little closer to being even in the photojournalism sequence, but it still seems to be weighted on the female side. That being the way it is, it does make me question why it seems there are so many more male photographers out there working professionally than female photographers. Assuming this trend in photo education continues, it will be interesting to see what the field looks like in 20 years' time.

QT Luong
25-Apr-2001, 19:30
Participants of this forum, besides being LF photographers: (a) are often heavy computer users, (b) are mostly nature/landscape photographers (if the poll is accurate), (c) like nut-and-bolts discussions (I wish there was more variety, btw who is going to contribute the next trip report ?). This is the intersection of several traditionally male-dominated categories, so the result is no surprise.

25-Apr-2001, 19:36
Mustn't forget one of the little giants in contemporary LF photography. Marie Cosnidas with her ancient Linhof Technika and tripod, a Polaroid back, and all those little colored gel filters which she Scotch tapes in front of her one and only lens. Better pictures with this simple equipment than all but a handful of other great photographers. A class act, all the way!

David A. Goldfarb
25-Apr-2001, 19:46
Welcome, Sandy.

I carry my ultralight 8x10" Gowland PocketView in a knapsack much like yours, designed for laptop computers with padded compartments, so it's not impossible to move up in format and stay fairly compact.

I've had one disturbing incident under the darkcloth in Finland (which otherwise seems as safe a country as there is on the planet) when I was photographing an old textile mill and was approached by an older gentleman in worker's coveralls, clearly drunk. He tapped me on the shoulder and started speaking anxiously in Finnish and waving his finger. I had no idea what he was talking about, but tried to express the fact that I hoped I wasn't doing anything that might be taken as disrespectful, but it seemed that we didn't have any language in common. This didn't stop him. As he went on he started pointing across the street, where there was another old mill, converted into a theater, and there was some sort of youth festival going on outside of it. He began miming the action of shooting a rifle--pchh! pchh! pchh!--perhaps indicating his displeasure with regard to the festival, or maybe recounting a hostile company response to some labor action long ago. I never did figure it out. Eventually I motioned to ask whether he wanted to look at the groundglass, which people often do, and he did, and made some motions with his finger, perhaps offering a compositional suggestion. And I said "Kiitos," my one word in Finnish, which means "Thank you," and shook his hand, and he went on his way.

Dominique Labrosse
25-Apr-2001, 20:12
I find this male/female issue an interesting topic as recently I've wondered if there is a difference between the photographic "vision" of men vs. women. I gave my theory a little test by looking through the galleries on photo.net and I can't say that I see any differences. After some very light and unscientific research I agree with the above poster that in photography there are only individuals and that the gender issue is irrevelant.

For what it's worth, my photography school program is split more towards men - especailly in the more techincal courses (Zone System, Photog for post production, etc).

Cesar Barreto
26-Apr-2001, 01:11
Sandy, Being quite a feminist myself, I welcome you with red carpet and flowers. Maybe, if more women were playing around, these pages wouldn't be so full of techniques and "how-to". As about equipment and the weight issue, I found a good solution: humiliating myself. I've just started using a Kodak 2-D 5x7, similar and smaller than Berenice Abott's favorite 8x10. I just can't say the camera is heavy as hell! To make things easier I'm following Adams advice, who said that the more lenses you have the more are the chances you pick the wrong one. So, as the camera grows, the more objective one should be. By the way: I also have a 6x9 Arca, old model, and it works a lot for me. But I still feel more confortable taking a flat-bed 4x5 out for walking and trekking. The big negative deserves and provides some solemnity that translates better my feelings for nature. And I don't think that's a male question! Anyway, welcome again, and I hope you enjoy this "macho" way of shooting.

Cesar B.

Pete Andrews
26-Apr-2001, 06:53
Welcome to the forum Sandy! I hope we don't bore you away again.The rest of you guys, just watch your language from now on. OK?

Jackie Poutasse
26-Apr-2001, 11:08
Hi SAndy,

Another female checking in. I'm not new to photography but I am fairly new to large format. I have both a 4x5 Speed Graphic and an 8x10 ROC Empire State. I haven't used the 8x10 yet as I'm still collecting parts and pieces when the budget allows. I've only used the 4x5 for Polaroid work so far. I guess I hadn't thought about the saftey factor yet as I usually have a friend out with me and they are complaining about how "fiddlely" I am with the camera. I'm very slow with the setup and picture taking thus far. I suppose safety is something I should be concerned about but my major interest is portrait photography so I assume I most always will have someone with me. No one has tried to talk to me about my camera yet but I live in a very "artsy" neighborhood so folks on the street doing strange things is taken in stride. As far as the tech and gear part of LF I'm very into both. I'm also into DIY and plan to build an 8x10 camera this summer. My main reasons for LF are the big negative. I'm into alternative proceses and don't have room for a proper darkroom to enlarge negatives. Also, I find it fascinating to see images on the ground glass.

Sal Santamaura
26-Apr-2001, 13:31
Based on profiles in View Camera (I've got them all from the first issue; thanks Steve!), women seem to be represented in LF about as much as in any other profession/avocation. As to why they don't frequently post to a forum such as this, could they be reticent to speak without absolutely certainty that what they're saying is correct? That is a characteristic of many women I've worked with - - in a completely non-photographic career - - that frequently doesn't show up in men. One can see hip-shooting all the time here, at photo.net, and on other related forums. Also, posting does put one's words literally in front of the entire world. Young girls have been observed to refrain from speaking in class when agressive boys jump to answer all the questions. Could it just be continuation of an established behavior?

Jeff Buckels
26-Apr-2001, 17:59
HI SANDY -- I've noticed the same thing Brian Ellis mentions, i.e., that women seem to hold their own, at the very least, in academic LF settings, including workshops (also in spreads in View Camera and such), but seem miserably under-represented on this website (and similar stuff, like ebay). I don't understand what computers have to do w/ it. I don't see the computer world as blue (as opp. to pink) collar, etc. Actually, most of what I do is either out in the desert (I live in New Mexico), where I rarely see anybody, male or female, or at home in my "studio".... On the strength issue, I have no advantage over anyone, male or female, so I first of all try to adhere to Brett Weston's great maxim, "If it's farther than 200 yards from the road, it isn't scenic" (or words to that effect). Seriously, though, and because it's hard to have an "assistant" with me very often, I have thought about using some kind of cart, like a good manual golf cart or, since the desert terrain is usually very soft and irregular, maybe one of those baby strollers you see people jogging with. You know what I mean? Like with the big bicycle-type wheels? Seems like you could adapt one of those to carry a fair amount of LF stuff.... --jeff buckels (albuquerque)

Jennifer Waak
27-Apr-2001, 01:43
One more female LF photographer here. Well, my Arca-Swiss 4x5 arrived this week (my first LF) but I haven't had time to take a shot with it yet, so I guess I can't quite call myself a LF photographer yet. :-)

I tend to lurk on a lot of discussion groups covering a gamut of topics. I rarely contribute because I don't mind researching to see if my question has already been answered and typically find that it already has. And given my experience level I'm not terribly comfortable offering advice.

I basically use the forums to learn what I need to know to solve the problem of the day and get out. I look forward to the day when I can offer photographic advice feeling I have a wide enough range of experience in the area to be confident in my decision. Until then I'll continue to lurk.

Sorry for the rambling -- I'm "lurking" as I wait for the dryer to finish so I can complete packing for my vacation to Romania tomorrow!!! The A-S is staying home, but the Canon system is going with me along with more film than I thought was humanly possible to transport.

Nicholas F. Jones
27-Apr-2001, 09:59
So far, not much attention has been given here to the historical dimension, but the case of the seminal Group f.64 is certainly relevant. Formed in the San Franciso Bay area in 1932, the original members were Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston; and when later that year the Group collectively exhibited their work at the de Young Museum in SF, they invited Preston Holder, Consuelo Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, and Brett Weston to join them. Thus two of the original seven, and four of the eleven exhibitors were women. The subject of women in Group f.64 has been discussed by Therese Thau Heyman in her exhibition catalogue Seeing Straight. The f.64 Revolution in Photography (Oakland Museum 1992), pp. 28-29:

"The study of Group f.64 invites speculation about why so many women were empowered through their association with a male friendship group that might have ideologically subjugated women as darkroom assistants and mere receptors for male creativity.

"Very likely the question of how women were accepted in the group was colored by the changing circumstances of women after World War I, when the "New Woman" emerged out of the battle for the right to work and vote. As early as 1913, eager women writers explained admiringly that Anne Brigman and Laura Adams, a successful San Francisco portrait photographer, could be independent in photography, as this work was 'suitable' for women, needing no large capital outlay, no long schooling or learning beyond the usual education of women. Women's 'intuition' was cited as justifying their special talent for portraiture, particularly--it comes as no surprise--portraits of children."

Following brief sketches of Cunningham, Noskowiak, Kanaga, and Lavenson, she concludes:

"These remarkable women were acknowledged as peers by their Group f.64 male contemporaries. Only later did a silence come to surround their work--a silence created by exhibition curators, art dealers, and photographic historians in the 1950s. Although Lavenson and Cunningham continued to live and photograph in the Bay Area, they were not singled out for solo shows until their careers were validated by their remarkably long lives. As Cunningham noted, she and other women photographers in their fifties were invisible; only when she reached seventy did she become a celebrity."

Despite the long wait for recognition, these women (and their work) did, as we all know, become well known, especially Cunningham, and with them Dorothea Lange and others, some of whom have already been mentioned in this and earlier threads. Discussions of these gender occupational issues often get around to the presence or absence of pioneers who may serve as role models for those who follow, but whatever are the reasons for the current apparent dearth of female LF photographers (at least in this forum), a lack of illustrious forerunners is certainly not one of them. All the best, Nick.

P.S. Whenever the 8 x 10 goes out, my wife Marilyn and I work as a team and she enjoys all aspects of the shooting.

james mickelson
28-Apr-2001, 12:40
Put your camera bag/gear under the tripod when you are "under the cloth." That way you can keep an eye on it. As for why there seem to be few women in LF, there seem to be few women in photography. I go shooting at least 2 or 3 days a week and when I am out and about it's my impression that out of all the photographers I see, 9 of 10 are men. Just my observation. I wrote a thread on Philosophy of Photography forum about the differences between men's and women's view in photography. I feel there is a subtle difference in viewpoint and how a subject is handled. And in the colors used along with the contrast of the image. I belong to PPofA which is a professional photographers organization, dealing with wedding and portraiture, and see a real difference there. I welcome all the women who are here with us. LF is a special way of seeing and hope you all stay with it. James

Jeanne Flowers
29-Apr-2001, 17:36
Hi Sandy. Yet another woman LF photographer. I work in every format up to and including 11 x 14. The latter is a real challenge, but I have carried it several hundred feet. I usually use a heavy duty luggage cart for the 8 x 10 and 11 x 14, though that can be a problem on uneven turf (like wandering through sagebrush). One good thing about 11 x 14 is that it makes the 4 x 5 seem miniscule. I don't photograph in an urban environment, so don't have many of the concerns one would have there. I often find a crowd gathering to watch me photograph and someone making a comment about Ansel Adams, but for the most part people are just interested and want to know more. I give my lecture on large format photography, and that pleases them. Paula Chamlee comes to mind as another large format user, as well as Lois Conner and Linda Connor. Lois Conner has carried her 7 x 17 banquet camera through China on a bicycle! I just discovered this web site recently, so haven't input anthing yet. Good luck!

David A. Goldfarb
30-Apr-2001, 01:15
Don't forget Elsa Dorfman, queen of 20x24" Polaroid. She has a nice website at elsa.photo.net.

james mickelson
30-Apr-2001, 19:30
Jeane, you mentioned sage brush. Do you shoot out West? I am always looking for other LF photographers who travel a bit. If you don't mind, where do you shoot when outdoors? I'm out of San Diego and shoot in the southwest often. James

Sandy Sorlien
2-May-2001, 19:30
Hi again, thanks for all your comments, this has been fascinating. Lots of great insight. I must respectfully disagree with Jonathan and Dominique who suggest that gender is not an issue in photography or technology. If it were not, there would be the same percentage of females on this forum as there are in the world at large. Biologists have determined that male and female brains are physiologically very different. For those who teach photography, as I do, it's important to realize that there are differences. (For those who are married it is also important!) I told one of my colleagues about this discussion, and she agreed that it was very difficult to get her women students to use the view camera, *unless* they were assigned to work in pairs. Then they loved it. One of my female students watched me using my compact little Arca 6x9 and said, "That makes me like the view camera! I hated it last year when I had to use those big clunky 4x5s from school." Perhaps photo departments should include a few 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 format view cameras in their equipment rooms. To add to the list of women who do use LF, there's Jeanne Birdsall, who uses a 4x5 for studio portraits and landscapes (printed in glorious gum bichromate). Today's her 50th birthday. Happy Birthday, Jeanne!

Ellis Vener
3-May-2001, 02:10
There is also educator/writer/photographer/artist/critic who uses a 4x5 sometimes. And I should think virtually every female commercial photographer (and by that I don't include wedding or most portrait photographers) uses a 4x5 at some point in their career.

At Fotofest (http://www.fotofest.org)I regularly see a lot of woman who use large format cameras for their work.

Jeannie Birdsall
4-May-2001, 13:44
Thanks, Sandy. That's just what I wanted -- for a lot of strangers to know I'm 50 lousy years old. But enough about that. I've also worked with an ancient (circa 1910) 8x10 camera in the studio to create paper negatives -- they make great platinum prints. I took the 8x10 outside once or twice and was overwhelmed with the bulkiness and weight, but the 4x5s (old press cameras, usually -- I'm not big on spending money) travel all right -- I've taken a few to England. If only the filmholders were lighter. I've even worked a few times with a 12x20 banquet camera, but it was old and falling apart and was just too much -- or so I decided after sawing a hole in my studio ceiling so that I could use the camera vertically -- without the hole, I couldn't get the slide out of the filmholder. I certainly agree with Sandy that men and women often approach technical problems differently. My love for large format comes from letting me avoid some techical stuff, i.e. enlarging. I love contact printing the original negative -- I love the purity of it.

P.S. Sandy is still several years away from 50.

7-May-2001, 10:48
Hi All, Im a female too, but I only make use of my gender, if I take portraits of male politicians or other prominent males in my press photography. I like to see my self as one of the lucky last few women in a male dominated occupation. Soon, the world of professional photographers will be half/half, and I will no longer 'stand out in the crowd'. I hire LF and always have an assistant or a friend to stand behind me on location. I believe in not 'seeing' the difference between our genders. I think it stops a lot of young women, if they focus on the majority of men in a group/forum/gathering etc. Just press on and do your thing, whoever you are, whereever you are. Life is too short to be swamped in 'disadvantages' and 'unfairness' and 'unequality'. And by pressing on, one may just make a frontfigure for other women to follow. (Gosh, Ill stop here before my head explodes). Thanks to all on this list for the great contributions. I thoroughly enjoy this list !! -and please excuse my poor english. Si

Amie Lynn
8-Jun-2001, 18:33
Female photog. here. New to the large format family-8x10. I have been a professional photographer since I was 20 years old and learned that photography is a male dominated industry. I actually had a client walk up to me, with all my equipment in hand, and said "honey, where is HE and he shouldn't let you carry all of this stuff." I immediately replied (in SHOCK) "I am the photographer." she then replied "How old are you?" Well you could just imagine what my reply would have been next, but in trying to be a professional I blew off the comment and continued to find out what needed to be done.

So now am will take on the large format industry in stride and step in line with my famous female counter parts.

Becky Lynn
9-Jan-2004, 23:14

Female photographer here. :) Nice to see other females with a passion for photography. Sandy, I also just got a LF camera. I have a Wista SP. If there is anyone in my area (Modesto, CA) that is into LF photography and would like to have a day of shooting, please feel free to email me.

Becky Lynn
9-Jan-2004, 23:26
Just now, as I am getting into LF photography, am becoming aware of the lack of females interested. How many of you are visual learners? I bet most of you are. (being that you are photographers) It makes it hard to find someone to teach you to use a 4x5 when you are female and don't want to give the "wrong idea" in asking someone to go out shooting with you!

Darin Cozine
8-Feb-2004, 23:33
Sandy, welcome to the forum.

Paula chamlee has alllready been mentioned, but here is the link to Paula and Michaels homepage:


They are very active in the LF community, and very helpful. I once inquired about the AZO paper they champion and they sent me a few proof snippets. (I still need to get back to them).

Another link you will find interesting:


Some of my all-time favorite photographers are Margaret Bourke-White and Imogen Cunningham.

If you feel out of touch with other female LF photographers, you might want to start a forum on ezboard or geocities to establish a community.

Al W
10-Feb-2004, 09:22
A woman, can't remember her name, wrote in a while back with a suggestion that worked for her. I use it too, and it really keeps the weirdo count down. Wear a hard hat and reflective vest when working in the city. Everyone will think you're a surveyor and leave you alone. A couple orange cones adds to the effect. She also used a tripod with wooden legs and wrapped them with reflective tape.

Sandy Sorlien
14-Mar-2004, 03:58
Hi Al,

That was me.

Nice to see this thread still active (sort of) after three years! I am back to report that yes, I'm still out safely shooting up the streets of American towns and cities with my Arca, and yes, most people think I'm a surveyor. My husband gave me the greatest present for Christmas 2003 -- collapsible orange traffic cones! They fit in my tripod bag.

Even in the Ashcroft era no one ever asks me not to shoot; police cruise by without stopping, unless I am blocking an entire lane, and even then they are nice about it. A curious patrolman in Fredericksburg, Texas even suggested a good town for me to shoot (Mason, TX) ; I went there, and he was absolutely right.

Happy Spring to all, Sandy

tim atherton
20-Mar-2004, 12:40
"My husband gave me the greatest present for Christmas 2003 -- collapsible orange traffic cones! They fit in my tripod bag."

Glad to hear he still has the romance... :-)

Sharon S.
7-Apr-2004, 17:31
Good to hear that other women are using LF. I took a class and fell in love with the camera, bought one and, yes, I lug the darn thing around by myself. Ah, the things you do for love!!!


7-Apr-2004, 22:14
I just re-read the thread and was surprised to note that no one has mentioned two of the greatest photographers of all time (men OR women), both of whom used LF gear. Margaret Bourke-White, and Dorothea Lange.

Calamity Jane
5-May-2004, 06:56
Whal, it seems I overlooked this thread before :-(

Always glad ta find other women with similar interests - knowing one is not alone in being "strange" is somehow reassuring ;-)

I'm just getting into LF but go back 30 odd years in 35mm and 20 years in MF.

Living in rural and wilderness Canada most of my life and doing mostly wilderness and farm photography, I have not had to contend with 2-legged "problems" very often - more danger from getting lost in the bush, encountering a bear, or cresting a hill to find yourself face to face with the farmer's bull!

My favorites field camera has been a Pentax 645. I am 5' 9" and strong as an ox but 5 or 10 miles afoot thru rough country with the MF supplies can be brutal. (A couple of good shots of some seldom-seen vista go a long way toward easing aching muscles though.)

(Whar waz I goin with this? Oh yea!) I can see where the bulk and weight of a LF pack would really be too much for the average 5 foot-and-a-bit woman who doesn't come from a background of pitching hay and mucking out stalls.

I suspect there is also a "legacy" issue. Photography has been a "profession" a lot longer than it has been available to the "general public" and professions were dominated by men. Large Format is (in the vast majority of cases) a progression from small-frame to MF to LF and most people who survive long enough to make the progression have, I think, done a lot of darkroom time. Even when I started out (1969), there was "stigma" about sharing a darkroom with the opposite sex (other than a spouse) and very few young women could afford to equip their own darkroom. 'Course I had no "reputation" to protect in 1969, so it didn't matter to me ;-) If I hadn't had access to a darkroom (more or less) all along, I doubt that I would have retained my interest in photography. I really don't want to know all the techincal details of papers, devgelopers, films, 'n' so forth - what I am after is to end up with the picture from my mind's eye on film - but I gotta do the "techy stuff" to get there.

(My other obscession - building stuff - is just another manifestation of the same illness - turning an idea into a physical reality)

Just some thoughts.....

Diane Maher
5-May-2004, 10:58
I've gone through the ranks of 35 mm, MF and am shooting LF (Toyo 45AII and Agfa/Ansco 8x10). I don't have my own darkroom, so I am hoping to give some alt-processes a try this summer.

I understand about not knowing anyone locally who shoots LF. I only know of people who work at the photography stores who used to shoot LF.

I also sympathize with the comments made regarding safety. I like to take my LF stuff out into the field and have had these same feelings. I usually don't go far from the car - not in that great of shape anymore - but I love using the 8x10.

Becky Lynn
7-May-2004, 10:06
Calamity Jane and everyone,

Well, it looks as though I have a twin. All but your many years of experience! (30yrs of 35mm and 20+ MF) and now your taking up LF. Hmm... Tell us, Calamity Jane, do you have work online for us to see?

I have 3.5 yrs experience. About a yr with a digital point and shoot. A yr with 35 mm and a yr. with MF. I'm working on my first yr with LF. Other than a few run in with bulls and trouble trying to figure out how to keep my hair from tangling up under the dark-cloth, everything is going smoothly.

BTW: I found a website that addresses the troubles of dark-cloth and hair troubles. http://www.hairtroubles.5u.com (this site is all in fun) ;)

I've been building a dark room in a big-rig trailer that has had the axles torched off and then it was set on a level piece of ground. I did a site to keep friends up to date on how the darkroom is coming along if you'd like to see it, it's at http://www.becksdarkroom.5u.com

I love the idea of the orange cones to put out while shooting. That is such a fun idea. Where can we get these collapsible cones?

Oh, and do any of you ladies have your photography online?

Have a wonderful day,

Calamity Jane
11-May-2004, 07:39
Sorry Becky but I don't have anything online - don't own a scanner yet. I have also been inactive for the last few years. About the only photography I have done lately is digital and I've used it to show my various projects over on my Web page (http://www.geocities.com/diannebest)

It's only in the last couple of months that I have started to reclaim my darkroom (which had become a storage room), bought fresh chemicals and film, and made a list of all those stoopid little button batteries that need to be replaced to get my gear up and running again.

The 4x5 camera construction is almost done. I chickened out and bought a bellows, and the brass inserts (for threads into wood) haven't arrived yet, but I hope the LF camera will be done this week. Maybe I'll try to get a film or two scanned then.

Becky Lynn
19-Jun-2004, 23:34
Calamity Jane,

How's that 4x5 coming? Did you reclaim the darkroom?? :) I've been busy trying to get used to shooting and developing sheet film. It's not as easy.... that's for SURE, but printing from a 4x5 negative is awesome!

I enjoyed the website and info about how you came to be known as "Calamity Jane". Very cool.

Happy trails,

Calamity Jane
20-Jun-2004, 04:21
Hi Becky!

The 4x5 is done and getting "broken in", although the bellows I bought turned out to be less than light-proof - I gave it a coat of flat black and am waiting for the maker to send me a replacement. The darkroom has been reclaimed (though it still has to store some of my reloading supplies), I scrounged enough 1L glass bottles to store my E-6 chemicals, and I made a bigger tempering tank yesterday to hold 7 1 Litre bottles. The 38.3 degrees +/- 0.3 degrees is TOUGH without a fancy heater but I seem to be getting by with +/- 1 degree (despite what the instructions say).

I have run 6 B&W and 12 E-6 transparencies so far and my biggest problem seems to be the mechanics of handling the 4x5 film without getting my fingers on it! Now that I have some processed film, I am going to have to practice loading and unloading with the lights on so I can work out a technique. I ended up with thumb prints on some films in the last batch :-(

You have done an amazing job on converting that trailer to a darkroom - I am IMPRESSED!

I have been lucky in that most places I have rented have had at least 1 room that could be converted. When I finally bought a place of my own (built about 1920) it had a strange floor plan because it had been expanded twice - there was a bedroom off the living room and the bathroom was off that bedroom. By blanking the bedroom window, building a counter, and running some plumbing, it became a darkroom. With a temporary blackout shutter for the bathroom, it becomes part of the darkroom to, which is convenient for drying film, prints, or answering the call of nature mid-process ;-) It was also nice that the previous owners, when they put in new kitchen cupboards, installed the old ones in this bedroom - PERFECT! Up here, in Manitoba, I couldn't afford to heat a free-standing building! I assume you are some place warm?

I am searching for a high-bandwidth site to post photos - for free - I am too cheap to PAY! When I find one, I'll have some of my photos scanned and put them up for all to see.