A TRIP ON THE ENO
A CANDID CONVERSATION WITH PHOTOGRAPHER HOLDEN RICHARDS
Holden, it is a pleasure to see you again today. Your Riverwalk: A Decade Along The Eno is one of my favorite collections, and the Eno River Association was fortunate to receive a hardback version from you last summer. As I admire your pieces, I feel hopeful that the efforts of the Eno River Association have contributed to preserving the river as a subject for your photography.
I am eager to learn about your unique equipment and development processes, but let’s first talk about your work on the Eno River, which was recently featured in Walter Magazine and can be seen here. What prompted you to focus on this natural feature?
Holden Richards studied painting and composition at UNC-Chapel Hill. His keen interest in photography started when he was in his 40s. To learn the craft he attended the Penland School of Craft to study View Camera with Jim Stone. He is a native North Carolinian residing in Hillsborough where he walks the creeks and rivers of Orange, and Durham Counties in search of the images that may become worthy subjects for his photographic works. He is a current Getty Images Contributor and his recent monograph _Riverwalk_ is included in the archives of the University of North Carolina and Duke University.
Jessica L. Sheffield is Executive Director of the Eno River Association. Jessica holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Education and Parks and Recreation from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, and served as Program Coordinator for Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions prior to assuming her position at ERA. Before joining Nicholas Institute she was Executive Director of Schoolhouse of Wonder in Durham, and served a four-year term on the Board of Directors for Friends of West Point on the Eno Durham City Park.
Thank you Jessica.
Moving to Hillsborough was the watershed moment for me. The centrality of the river, its beauty and cultural importance greatly moved me. The ease of access to it from my home downtown was certainly convenient. My routine visits there were extraordinary in that they were filled with visual stimulation. Even now I mostly photograph places I have traversed on daily walks for years, with the acquired knowledge of how the time of day and the season can affect a location.
It's clear you are deeply moved and inspired by this area, can you tell us a little more?
I am actually both moved and inspired by walking the open lands, creeks, and rivers of Orange County. When I moved to Hillsborough it became obvious to me over time that the river was essential to the town's growth, formation, and zeitgeist. I tried to walk it daily. It was a natural subject for me as I didn't was not a portrait photographer and did not want to deal with man-made anything compositionally.
Photographing generic natural beauty has become its own trope, so my thought process was I would commit to a very personal vision of this environment as it revealed itself to me and let others be able to literally stand where I stood and then see what I saw through my work in the darkroom.
You have been spending time on and in the Eno for more than 10 years. Do you have a favorite spot or two, that you would be willing to share with us? I know some folks don’t want to share their favorites, so they don’t get too busy with foot traffic!
I mostly photograph places I have traversed for years,
with the acquired knowledge of how the time of day
and the season can affect a location. I have my favorites
for a reason. I have walked almost the whole trail system,
but certain spots catch my attention time and time again.
Fews Ford, Cole Mill, and the Cabelands sections of the river
have interesting topography, geology, and forest. I tend to
get attached to a certain turn in the river or a particular tree.
I go visit them like old friends.
Holden, can you tell us from where your passion for photography originates?
This is an excellent place to start.
I would need to go back to the many trips that we took to museums when I was a child. I remember that at an early age I began looking at paintings in great detail and I would study the composition within paintings and drawings, and I believe that this was the basis of how I see photography as an adult.
And what about later? What influenced the style that you use today?
I always enjoyed landscape painting and believe that some of the aesthetic of art movements like the Barbizon School greatly influenced the style of my photography today.
Can you tell us a little more about the Barbizon School?
A mid-19th-century French school of painting that made a significant contribution to the establishment of Realism in French landscape painting. It certainly had an effect on the photography I do today.
Are there other influences you can point to?
Yes, I was also influenced by Brett Weston (1911-1993), known for his western landscapes and natural forms. He favored large-format view cameras, straight and uncropped images, and stark black-and-white prints.
There were several other things that influenced my work, I will mention British artist Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers and Tides as being a guidepost for me as to how to create with nature cooperatively. This was a documentary film about his creations of intricate and ephemeral sculptures from natural materials such as rocks, leaves, flowers, and icicles.
Do you suppose your time in Chapel Hill, at college not far from the Eno, might have had an influence on your work?
I studied history at UNC-CH but remembered that I had an extraordinary interest in music, painting, and drawing even back then. Of course, It would be years until I took the camera seriously for anything other than the family snapshot.
And after that?
Jessica, I did not get more seriously involved with photography until my 40s. To learn more, I attended the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains to study View Camera with Jim Stone, a visiting professor from the University of New Mexico, which helped pull my workflow into focus. Having a place like Penland close by has been essential to my growth as a photographer.
Penland is a national center for craft education and offers many types of programs and workshops and I certainly learned much of what I do today there. The school offers workshops in books and paper, clay, drawing and painting, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking and letterpress, textiles, wood, and other media.
You also mentioned a View Camera – tell us more about that.
Those of you who are already serious about their photography probably know that View Camera is a large-format camera in which the lens forms an inverted image on a ground-glass screen directly at the film plane. The image is viewed and then the glass screen is replaced with the film, and thus the film is exposed to exactly the same image as was seen on the screen.
You have unique preferences for your cameras; they are clearly the key to what you create. Can you tell us about the transition between cameras?
I had been using a 35mm camera for years. Then photographer Bill Bamberger, who was a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC-CH and teaches at Duke, lent me his student Medium Format camera. It uses 120 mm film or two by two inches. Much bigger than the 35mm I was using and with much better resolution.
After printing images from Medium Format film I immediately saw the improvements over the 35mm.
I was hooked on that camera for about seven years, but medium format is square. and I started thinking about rectangles again. What I really wanted was the kind of resolution that medium format offered, but in a large rectangle, so I bought a camera that used 4x5 inch film.
So, is that what you use today?
I had been dreaming of rich contact prints, even in my earliest stages of learning larger format, so a short time later I said to myself "If I'm going to invest time in Large Format I should just get an 8x10 camera” and that is what I did.
Turns out the transition wasn't as easy as one would think. Suddenly there are ten inches of glass in the view finder vs. two. And I quickly discovered that developing BIG sheets of film is very different from roll film development, and is an art unto itself.
I hear you saying that the process of film development was much different using 8x10"?
Oh yes. With an 8x10" I can develop each frame intentionally to bring out its best attributes vs. roll film in which all frames get one development. This was a real shift in mindset for me.
Now I was walking with a big camera and film holders, so making a photograph required more effort and I had to consider each possible scene very carefully. With roll film you could expose twelve images and then do another twelve all in one outing. But with an 8x10 camera, if you find four scenes worth your time and effort, you've had a very good day.
Holden, is there a favorite camera that you want to share with us?
That would be my vintage 1897 8x10 camera with lenses that weigh 3-4 pounds each. The camera itself weighs 8 pounds, so the camera with just one lens is about 12 pounds and film holders are a couple pounds each. I usually take 3 or four holders with me, so I am lugging around 20 pounds plus tripod. If I carry 4 holders it will take me a few hours to use all my film.
May I share a typical routine for me when I go out and try to find a subject worthy of consideration, carrying all of the above?
Yes, of course.
I start out just taking a nice walk. If I see a worthy subject, I build my camera components, take a meter reading, frame things up on the ground glass, choose a focus and aperture… And eventually put the film in and finally make a photograph. The hard part is finding a subject of interest with appropriate contrast appeal enough to make you stop and do all these steps.
Using a large antique camera creates a need for going slow and being intentional. I don't even have shutters for my lenses and the exposures are manual. Experience tells me how to adjust the exposure for what the light meter doesn't see. Then the custom development of each frame to maximize its potential. Followed up by printing on Fiber Silver Gelatin Paper in the traditional wet darkroom.
How important are the location, time of day, and other external factors?
Good Question. Ideal locations, dates, and times of day can vary widely based on seasonal conditions. While I generally have an idea in each season where light is best, I only know what I want when I actually see it. It's the endless variations of light and scenery that will pique my interest and cause me to pause.
While I might know a particular spot like the back of my hand, my goal is to see it all anew every time and be open to what the light and season are conjuring in that particular moment. If it makes me pause and go "ahh" that will probably result in a photograph.
Can you tell us a little about your printing process?
When I am using vintage large-format cameras, mostly older than 100 years old, I will “contact print” the results in my traditional wet darkroom. A contact print is taking the negative straight from the camera and laying it directly on top of the silver gelatin coated paper. Then light is exposed to the paper and negative
Here’s what’s important - There is no separation between what I saw in the camera and the negative itself. And by taking the negative and using it in its most mechanically honest way by making a contact print, the separation from the print
and my original vision is again preserved intact.
And why is this so important to you?
So to see a print of mine is to proverbially stand where I stood. Also a contact print is generally not manipulated, so it is a direct indication of the care and craft of the photographer
Before we wrap up, can you point us towards any contributions and publications about the Eno area that were especially important to you during this project?
One that comes to mind was Riverwalk: A Decade Along the Eno Monograph which has been accepted into both the Archive of Documentary Arts, Rubenstein Library at Duke University, and the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Another was a traditionally printed previously unseen roll of Vivian Maier Negatives for exhibition by The Vivian Maier Research Project.
Another that I am especially proud of is my Silver Gelatin Print of "Riverwalk: Twilight" that is included in the Cassilhaus Collection.
What would you say are impediments or challenges to your process?
I’d have say that for every image I have ever attempted or made, being patient is key. There are some images I have photographed 5 or 6 times until I have achieved what I thought was really there. Every exposure teaches you something about what you’re saying and what your process is revealing or not revealing.
It is really important to move past being hung up by technicalities and get on with the real seeing as soon as possible. The type of camera, type of developer, type of film, all those things should become invisible after a point, so that you can totally focus on what you’re doing. So I’ll just say every new exposure teaches me something.
When your pieces are viewed by others years from now, how do you hope they might be used and valued?
For my part, Many of the sites that I have viewed within Orange County are no doubt endangered. The changes I have already seen with the creeping subdivisions sniping at farmland and open field year by year, make me fear these images may only have a documentary effect or historical record someday. One may go out and try to find a particular spot that I saw at one time, and may find that it is gone or not the same due to urbanization.
I hope this will never be the case. For now I am engaged with the variety of views my home county provides. Thank goodness for the Eno River Association and Margaret Nygard saving the river park for future generations.
What have you set as your professional goals for the next 5-10 years?
I would say that my big plan is simply to stay here in North Carolina. As you can tell my art practice is very local. That’s a big deal. This is very important to me because this enables me to photograph like an insider instead of a tourist.
Holden, I am so pleased to have had this opportunity to talk with you today. What I have learned about your inspirations for this work, as well as the equipment and processes that you use to create it, makes me appreciate your collections all the more!
We wish to thank Walter Magazine for its contribution to this interview and for permission to use information from their article about Holden Richard for this publication.
Please visit them at https://waltermagazine.com/