Interview with Rolfe Horn
#1 Please introduce yourself
My name is Rolfe Horn, I grew up in the San Francisco bay area and currently reside in Oakland, CA.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
When I was 7 years old, I bought a Beacon II 127 format camera. I thought it was the coolest thing because the lens would have to pop out to take photos, as well as it had a self winding shutter which would allow for multiple exposures. At that age, I couldn’t afford the hobby very long, and put it down until I was 15. That was when I saved enough money to buy an Olympus OM-2 with a motor drive, as I wanted to capture friend performing acrobatic skateboarding moves. Within three months of buying that camera, I had cobbled together a working darkroom in a corner of my fathers workshop and that is when I truly discover the wonders of photography and the magic of the darkroom. I was also drawn to the landscape, as it was nice to see the scenery and try and capture what I was witnessing.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I have a photographic background. While I was enrolled in many art classes early in life, I was always drawn to photography and concentrated on that. I attended Brooks Institute of Photography, in the pursuit of a studio still life type of career as I was drawn into how light could shape objects. The landscape won out in the end.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
I’d say Ansel Adams and the West Coast photographers in the early days as well as many of the Japanese woodblock artists. In the late 90’s, I was given a book of Michael Kenna’s work and it really opened my eyes, as much of the photos I made in my teenage years were in a similar vein (at night, foggy scenes etc.). I went on to assist Michael for a couple years which was really wonderful.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph? Are you planning every step or is it always spontaneous?
There’s a certain amount of planning, in terms of where I want to go and places to visit. But the end result is always spontaneous. I think the best work comes from seeing something which wasn’t planned on and results in a magnificent image. A lot of driving around or hiking is required, but that is what makes it so fun and interesting.
#6 What fascinates you in places that you shoot?
Of course the land, the people and culture (if I’m in a foreign country). I love it when I find this wonderful scene and later on in the evening I strike up a conversation with locals over yakitori and describe a scene to them, and they can’t understand what makes it so beautiful, just another tree on a rock as they see it.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
My father convinced me to start out with black and white, and of course having a black and white darkroom dissuaded me from exploring color. I like the vagueness of the medium, what may look like a foggy day illuminated by the sun is actually a nocturnal scene lit by sodium vapor lamps! Black and white allows me to study to tonal variances of a given image an decide on how to print it for the feeling I would like to achieve. This wouldn’t work so well with color, I don’t think.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
I mainly use Ilford Delta 400 film developed in Pyro PMK, which gives the film a yellowish cast as well as “masks” the grain. I then print using a cold light head (which has a blue tint) on Variable contrast paper, Ilford multigrade usually. What this combination does is give a range on contrasts within a single exposure of the enlarger, less contrast in the highlights and more contrast in the shadows. It seems to give the photograph a very long tonal range.
The camera I mainly use is a Hasselblad 501cm with 50mm, 80mm and 250mm lenses. For metering, I use a Zone VI modified pentax digital spot meter. The tripod is a carbon Gitzo with a Foba mini bullhead on it. I also have an old turn of the century 5×7 camera I will begin to play with once my new darkroom is completed as I will have an enlarger capable of 10×10 negatives.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
I’d have to say practice. And practice more. I typically come home from a trip of 3 weeks and have 100-120 rolls of 120 film to develop, say about 1350 exposures. I usually only get 30 or so which I like enough that I eventually print up. I’m always practicing myself!
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
Doing landscape photography is my day job, fortunately. I haven’t really done any commercial work in a long time, and the print sales have kept me going. I do like to mountain bike, so I ride almost every day in the hills above my house, through redwood and oak trees, which is fitting as I really enjoy the forest.
#11 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I’m looking forward to making some larger format prints traditionally, upwards of 40×50 inches, or multiple panel installation photographs. I think it will require a subtle break from the way I have been photographing by thinking in terms of a larger scale. I am really excited by these opportunities. I’m still a few months away from completing the new darkroom but when it is completed, I can’t wait to try some new ideas.
Rolfe Horn Official Website: