...precisely record infinite detail.



an 8x10 camera which allows him to precisely record infinite detail.

Above is a line from one of the closing essays in Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects photo book written by Anne W. Tucker. While the actual statement of “infinite detail” may be a bit far fetched, there is tons more in an 8×10 negative than most photographers are probably used to. Lets just keep this in mind while I ramble on for a bit.

Gresham, OR, June 1979

Recently I was thumbing though the Steidl edition of Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects. I’ve been though this book dozens of times in the past, and as it has happened before with this book, I noticed one of those subtle little details that completely changes the way I look at a particular photo. This time it happened with the photograph titled Gresham, Oregon, June 1979. Searching for this image online turns up a disappointing set of results. Here is the largest version I was able to track down.

Joel Sternfeld, Gresham, OR, June 1979

Not much use to illustrate the detail, so onto my scanner goes the book.

Detail: Woman Breastfeeding

There we go. Seems that there is a woman breastfeeding a baby behind that U-Haul. So now that you’ll never be able to not notice that detail, lets move on.

Squandering the “Infinite Detail”

Ever since I started shooting 8×10 in 2012, I’ve had this thought rattling around in my head that all the advances in digital photography has actually created one of the best environments to be shooting large format film as well.

Back when American Prospects was created, how could Joel have utilized that infinite detail? Well, he’d get a really big print made. To do that with analog technology required a very large enlarger, in a very large darkroom. Then that very big print needs to be on a very big wall for people to walk by and look at.

I feel like I got it super easy in comparison today. One scanner no larger than a toaster oven and the ability to crop out all the glorious subtitles and details for screen viewing via Photoshop. No giant room. I can keep my lights on. And can enjoy a drink without worrying about accidentally taking a sip of hypoclear. Times are good. Though the thing is, I’ve only been posting my photographs at a mere 18 megapixels. So, with the launching of my Watershed gallery, I’m going to put this power to good use. You will now be able to keep zooming in on the picture to analize all the little details.

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