Interview with Don Kirby
#1 Please introduce yourself
I’m Don Kirby and I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico with my wife Joan Gentry, also a photographer. Landscape photography has been my interest for almost 40 years. Major projects include the Ancestral Pueblo culture, the National Grasslands, and the wheatcountry of Northwestern US. Nazraeli Press has published four books on my projects, the last jointly with Joan (The Anasazi Project). Joan and I run a photography workshop program as well.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
Serious photography got a late start, although I’ve carried a camera since the age of ten, initially photographing family and friends. Did a bit of printing in college, then switched to color slides, still photographing travel and activities with friends, like backpacking, mountain climbing, etc. Later, for reasons still unknown, switched to B/W film, built a darkroom, and started trying to make photographs with an expressive intent. Still later, photography became full-time effort.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
Viewing art, particularly photography, has been a long-time pleasure. My early training in photography was through the original Ansel Adams texts and workshops with Bruce Barnbaum, Ray McSavaney, and Jay Dusard, all fine teachers whose work I admire.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
I’ve admired Ansel Adam’s work, Brett Weston for graphic form, Minor White’s “what else it is”. Mario Giacomelli”s landscape work was a freeing experience. Philosopher Susanne Langer’s writing helped with concepts of meaning, expressive form, and beauty issues. Teaching with Bruce Barnbaum, Stu Levy and Huntington Witherill has been a learning experience.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
No preparation other than deciding where to go to start. I try to go to the field with no pre-conceived ideas about what to photograph–just react to what I see. When something interesting appears, I start exploring the possibilities, what to include, exclude, how to develop the idea. If it comes together, I visualize the look of the final print and figure out filtration, exposure, development and printing strategy to achieve the print. Sometimes it works!
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
The places I photograph are places I’m interested in exploring, both physically and photographically. I like new, less traveled landscapes and also returning to previously explored places. I love dynamic landscapes (canyons, mountains) as well as static landscapes (grasslands), sometimes for the photographic challenge.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
I carried color film early, but over time I found that I didn’t compose well in color. I like the abstraction potential in B/W and the ability to handle an expanded light range.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
I use a 4×5 Technica view camera with Kodak TMAX or Fuji Acros film, sometimes a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 roll film back. Film development uses XTOL developer in a JOBO processor. Prints ranging from 4×5 to 30×40 inches use Ilford multicontrast cold tone glossy paper developed in Kodak Dektol. My enlarger is an LPL with a color diffusion light source.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
Time. Almost nothing from my first ten years survives. Produce work. Learn the materials and expand their capability. Teaching helps keep you current.
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
Photography is my hobby as well as my profession. I still read physics hoping to find out how the world works, work out and play tennis to keep moving.
#11 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I’m between projects right now, but I’m sure one will come up when I get in the field. I’m going to expand my use of digital techniques, but don’t plan to leave film.
Don Kirby Official Website: