Native Americans believed that a camera captured your soul and were afraid of it.  In this age of ubiquitous images and video surveillance, they may have been right.  Certainly, when  I set up my camera to photograph a person or a place, my intent is to try and capture an essence -- a soul, if you will.  An expressive photograph does just that.  To that end, various  color and black & white medium and large format film was meticulously exposed, developed, scanned, edited, and printed on the finest paper.

I have a passion for photography and a beautiful, expressive print.  My entry into this extraordinarily demanding, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding art form came about by pure chance (as do many of the roads we take in life).  A friend needed somewhere to store his 35mm enlarger to make room for a girlfriend moving in.  Along with the enlarger I got trays, reels, chemical mixing bottles, a bulk film loader -- everything I needed to start.  Then, the all-too-familiar reaction when the first print came up in the developer:  I was hooked.  It was magical.  Later, frustrated that I wasn't achieving the tonalities and resolution I was seeing in museum and gallery prints, I purchased medium and large format cameras, a film/print processor, and a 4x5 enlarger.  I  began doing color as well as black & white, developing the film and prints in a one-bedroom apartment (not recommended); half the bedroom was the "dry" darkroom, the bathroom was the "wet" area, and my living room became a makeshift studio, with lights and background canvasses.

Reluctantly, a friend talked me into matting and framing a few of my works and taking them out on the weekend to sell in SOHO, NYC, an area with several blocks of wall-to-wall artists, all competing for the weekend crowds.  Remarkably, I sold one print.  I purchased racks to hang framed prints and stands for unframed, matted prints.  I did this for several years, expanding into art festivals and, later, several NYC galleries.  The work attracted visiting collectors from across the U.S. and at least 14 countries.  To this day, I still miss the interaction with the hundreds (likely thousands) of people who stopped to view my work and talk on those crowded, busy weekends.

For health reasons, I stopped darkroom work (and my chemical exposure, however carefully minimal) and public selling.  I began selling my remaining prints online.  Eventually, I learned proper scanning techniques and Photoshop, and a new world opened up.  The learning curve was steep and I was very demanding as to quality, but eventually I was able to produce inkjet prints that I only dreamed possible back in the darkroom days.  The tonal and color control that I could achieve in minutes digitally would have taken days of mask-making or been impossible in the darkroom.

My skills have matured to the point where anything is possible.  Still, I find the best results come from letting the negative tell me where to go.  Michelangelo said "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”  Every negative has an expressive print inside it.  Achieving a beautiful, expressive print is (for me) intellectually, physically and emotionally exhausting, but ultimately, incredibly satisfying.  I apologize to women for the analogy, but it feels like giving birth.  The greatest obstacle for a visual artist isn't equipment or material, it is learning to see.  To know where to take an image.

I don't know if a camera can capture your soul, but photography has captured at least some of mine.

William Roberson © 2020