Panteón de Santa Rosalillita – Baja California

Panteón de Santa Rosalillita - Baja California

Something about Mexico is best left unspoken. It’s clear, almost obvious. To an American traveling south looking into death’s steady gaze can be unsettling. Best not to linger too long while the winter sun drops below the coastal range.

Ray Bradbury may have said it best, in 1948. “There was a smell of death all through Mexico you never got away from, no matter how far you went. No matter what you said or did, not even if you laughed or drank, did you ever get away from death in Mexico. No car went fast enough. No drink was strong enough.”

645 B&W negative: Kodak T-Max 100; R25 + polarizer. December 1998.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, Baja California, Cabo San Lucas, Catavina, f/64, Film, John Durant Photography, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Mexico, Photography, Volcano | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Salt Mines


Western Salt Works, Chula Vista California

In November of 1996 while driving around California on a magazine assignment I came across the Western Salt Works at the southern end of San Diego Bay. From the beginning I’d been interested in what writer Bram Dijkstra called cathedrals in the landscape – magnificent ruins left from another time that litter the backroads and deserts of California. Western Salt was a perfect example: a working anachronism in use continuously since 1871.

Clean fall light was breaking across the clapboard face of the factory as I pulled to the side of Bay Boulevard. A traveling carnival was breaking down Halloween attractions across the street. In the distance, a bank of clouds was quietly receding over the Pacific and the only sounds were the metallic clangs of the carnies and the rush of unseen cars driving in the distance – it was a moment out of time – it could have been 1996, 1956 or 1926.

In the back of my Jeep I’d packed a Toyo Omega G 4X5 with a couple dozen sheets of Kodak TMX – good professional-grade B&W film. I shot the street elevation using a 210mm Fuji f/5.6 on a single sheet of film – no back-up – at 1/8th of a second, f/22.5 using a R25 red filter (negative was a little thin). I was also using the straight-ahead style belonging to my early photography heroes Walker Evans and Edward Weston.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, Architectural Photography, B&W negative film, Chula Vista, Color negative film, color transparencies, desert, f/64, Film, Ilford FP4, John Durant Photography, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, Salton Sea, San Diego, Uncategorized, Vintage cameras, Western Salt Works | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ocean Waves


             From the Ocean Waves portfolio: Mission Beach – March 10th 2013

In 1937 Ansel Adams said: a great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed. 

I’ve been near and around the ocean all my life. Hot lazy summers in Santa Monica with my family; cold winters waiting for swing-wide sets at Sunset Cliffs; playful low tide afternoons in Mexico where you can glide through Plexiglas-clear water for two-hundred yards alone on a longboard. And I’ve been trying to find a way to capture that magic with a camera for almost as long. I’ve been lucky – some of my friends are wonderful photographers: Jeff Divine, Anthony Friedkin and Lee Peterson all have beautiful wave portfolios. I’ve seen and fallen in love with wave images created by Robert Longo, Art Brewer and Rick Griffin and they’ve all contributed to my approach to this project.

The Ocean Waves portfolio is an ongoing project that allows me to see and photograph breaking waves in a way that you could only experience in your dreams (or if you were surfing after sunset). The rich color and fleeting energy that – for the most part – you’d have to be in the water to experience.

Prints from the Ocean Waves portfolio are for sale. The image pictured here: Mission Beach March 10th is sold as an open edition 11.7 X 16.5″ print, signed & dated. The price – $240 – includes sales tax and shipping. Please contact me if you’re interested – JD

Posted in American Photographic Artists, Baja California, California, Color negative film, color transparencies, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Mission Beach, ocean waves, Photography, San Diego, Santa Monica, Southwest, surfboards, surfing, Torrey Pines | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Land That God Forgot, Part Three


The No Name Trailer Park, Pearsonville, California – April 1999

Driving through the Mojave is like passing through successive layers of California history. There are haunted places where nothing has changed in decades: little mom & pop motels quietly disintegrating, ruined roads that lead to contaminated sites, dormant volcanoes and lost fortunes. The landscape is stripped of everything we take for granted: trees, houses, roads & bridges – and the raw earth is revealed in geologic time, littered with broken dreams.

I was driving north through the upper Mojave Desert on my way to Nevada when I came across the No Name Trailer Park on the west side of I-395, the highway itself a relic. Blasted airstream trailers littered the property and the EAT sign, the only remains of another defunct roadside diner, rose like a monument, into the desert sky.

I had my reliable Mamiya 645 with me, and this image was shot on Kodak TMY 400 using a polarizer and an R25 to kick the clouds off the sky. Let me know if you’d like a print.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Mojave Desert, Owens Valley, Pearsonville, Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Los Angeles, California – 1969


   Burned Fender Stratocaster – Shrine Auditorium,  Los Angeles, 1969

1969 was an interesting time to be alive in Los Angeles. Running into artists, actors and rockers was an everyday deal – something we all took for granted. Folk rock was happening in Santa Monica, John Mayall lived up in Laurel Canyon and you could see Canned Heat trying to surf at Topanga. They were shooting Pretty Maids All in a Row at my high school, weed cost $10 an ounce and The Byrds were playing at the Ash Grove.

I’d just turned sixteen and Hendrix was booked at the Shrine Auditorium. In spite of the cool weather, it was an oven inside – all the doors were open, heat pouring out into the cool February night. The show was amazing – it was the Electric Ladyland tour and my ears were ringing for two days.

Jimi opened the show without the band, launching into a beautiful arpeggio – as the passage hit a crescendo, he stopped and laughed in pure delight -it was that kind of show. The next morning Kathy Wolf and I went back downtown to the Shrine to see if the band was breaking down or if we could find any interesting artifacts – a poster, a pick – anything. The auditorium was locked up tight but around back at the loading dock there was a beat up truck – and in the back was a burned Stratocaster.

As always, I had my camera. Let me know if you’d like a print. Open edition, signed (verso), 11X17″ $200

Posted in B&W negative film, California, Color negative film, color negatives, color transparencies, Film, Fuji RDP3, Jimi Hendrix, Kodak, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Los Angeles | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

God & The Devil In The Land Of The Sun



I’m part of this great nation because my grandfather was born here, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He took a horse, back in 1895 and rode it all the way down to Guanajuato looking for his American dream. Not a penny in his pocket, only dreams in his head. And he was an immigrant coming from the States into Mexico. And he found his American dream in Mexico – Vicente Fox

Posted in B&W negative film, Baja California, Catavina, Color negative film, color negatives, color transparencies, desert, f/64, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Mexico | Leave a comment

How to Make Something Beautiful (part two)

Canon F-1n                  Japanese woodblock: my vintage Canon F-1n (20mm f/2.8)

Start with something completely familiar – like an analog single lens reflex. Find a chunk of clear Douglas fir and sketch directly to the wood surface. Can’t draw? Doesn’t matter – that may even make it better. Cut out the drawing and ink the block. There’s something lovely and imprecise about the nature of wood: you can’t cut against the grain – it just splinters, but it still looks good. Straight lines get wobbly and clean curves are non-existent. The overall result is low-tech and organic, which is pretty much the exact opposite of photography. Don’t worry, you’ll like it.

I used my faithful Canon F-1 as a model for this woodblock first thing today. I inked it after lunch. Made a few corrections and called it done at 2:00PM. I’ll be creating a set of 10×10″ prints on Arches 100% cotton rag paper. Let me know if you’d like one – prints are $50/each, signed.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, Baja California, Canon F-1, color negatives, color transparencies, f/64, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford FP4, Japanese block printing, John Durant Photography, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Photography, Rolleiflex, San Diego, Vintage cameras, Wood block printing, woodblock | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I Shoot Film – Part One

Why I Shoot Film - Part One

Roadside Gas Station (retired), National City California

Film has built-in limitations – but it’s honest. It has reciprocity problems and grain, but it’s film grain – not noise. You can’t shoot a 16 bit digital frame and desaturate it to B&W. Exposure has to be right on – it can’t be salvaged with white-value recovery in a RAW processor. If you load the camera with B&W film, that’s what you’re shooting and that’s what you get. There’s no going back to the original file and adding a 50% desaturation layer for some kind of antique look. If you shoot film, you’re connecting with state of the art twentieth-century technology: exposure and development times better be right on or you’ll have nothing. Think of it as practice. If you practice photography with film, it’s the equivalent of playing a Bach etude – a solo piece written for piano, meant to be played on a piano. Analog, old school and pure.

If you shoot film, you have to load the camera. That conscious choice will rest on other decisions: weather, time of day, filter factors and what’s on your mind – how you feel. Antonin Kratochvil uses Kodak P-3200 and the film’s grain works with his gritty subjects. Ansel Adams used a fine-grain continuous tone approach so the photographic process didn’t get in the way of the images. It’s personal.

I spent my life as a photographer understanding what light would look like printed on a piece of Agfa Brovira double-weight paper. I learned that it will be sharp, warm and feel like memory – only more real because every time you feel the heavy uneven weight of the paper you’ll be revisiting a moment in time that photograph was an attempt to understand. The photograph is an abstraction: a fairly convincing representation of a slice of your time and consequently your existence. It’s real – not a collection of ones and zeros on a hard-drive. It takes up space, it can be handled and it insists on being taken seriously – with a touch of respect. You won’t print every single frame: only the ones that can speak for you.

I shot this single frame using Kodak TMX100 through a Toyo Omega 4×5 camera – a combination in wide use since about 1901 – to explore my feelings about California before freeways, before daily school shootings and instant telecommunication via social media. I was looking for a California before there was a television in every room – a time when you had to know what you wanted in order to get it.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, California, Color negative film, color negatives, f/64, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford FP4, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, National City, San Diego, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Land That God Forgot – Part Two

John Durant Photographer El Progresso, Northern Baja California – December 1998

Driving through Mexico in the winter is something I’ve done all my life. Traveling on highway D-1 brings to mind the classic topics of life, death, creation and eternity – mainly because that’s what the land looks like: eternity, or maybe the surface of a distant planet. In California you can go weeks, maybe months without a trace of existential thought. In Mexico it hits you about sixty miles in on the transpeninsular highway. Winter light is low and clean. It reveals and hides in equal measures. The land is covered with a fine dust that has the flavor of tequila and you find yourself wondering if what you’re tasting is the country – the earth itself is in your mouth and eyes. You will also find yourself taking time, going on hundred-mile tangents and forgetting what day it is.

My friend Philipp Rittermann had been using an English B&W negative film: Ilford Delta 400 – and for a year I tried, but could rarely squeeze the kind of response he was getting out of it – except on one day in December of 1998. For one day, in the wilds of Baja California, it all came together with the help of my faithful Mamiya 645 and an R25 filter. This photograph was taken while traveling north, fifty miles off the pavement east of El Progresso – just before sunset.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, Cabo San Lucas, Catavina, Color negative film, color negatives, desert, f/64, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford FP4, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Mexico, Mojave, Philipp Rittermann, Photography, Vintage cameras, Volcano | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tough Times in California

Tough Times in California

                                Santa Barbara Chapel, Randsburg California

The first time I caught a glimpse of Randsburg California was in Paul Sample’s depression era painting Celebration. The painting depicts the scrappy mining town on Independence Day – four miners in varying stages of intoxication populate the foreground amid mine headworks and empty liquor bottles. The light is clear and hard with a muted, dusty palette. Residents of the town are depicted off in the distance in a way that brings to mind Pieter Bruegel’s 16th Century landscapes – but that’s not the point: living in a Mojave Desert mining town in the 1930s was somewhere near the end of the line. It’s the same today.

Ever since gold was discovered near the Rand mine in the late 19th Century, Rand Camp as it was known has been hanging on. According to the 2010 census there are 69 residents. The town sits in the center of the Mojave Desert between Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada one mile west of highway 395. There’s one cemetery, one church and two bars. The watering holes are closed five days a week. The chapel was built in 1924 and is held up with what could be called improvised flying buttresses – unpainted joists holding the exterior walls in place on the east elevation.

I shot this frame from Butte Avenue using my Rolleiflex f/3.5 (Schneider) loaded with Kodak TMX100 through a red #25 filter. The day was still and my Leitz Tiltall tripod was hot to the touch. The the only sound was the warm wind blowing through overhead power lines. I couldn’t help but think of the miners in that 1930 painting, dead drunk in the summer sun.

Signed, open edition prints of this image are for sale starting at $100. Contact me at  if you’re interested. Prints vary in size and cost beginning with 10 x 10″.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, Architectural Photography, B&W negative film, f/64, Film, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Mojave, Randsburg, Sierra | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Windward Side of San Simeon Point

John Durant PhotographerThree frames of Kodak TMY 400

Inside the cove at San Simeon Point the wind is blocked by a headland planted with groves of eucalyptus and cypress. The ocean is calm and the air is still. Glassy waves rifle up the curved beach with tactical precision. Day to day business goes on at Hearst landing – parking cars,  gift shop, tourists – all the trappings of a destination beach.

The windward side is another story: huge waves explode, grinding the ophiolite mineral formations into glistening black sand. This is the way California looked before Hearst built his opulent castle, before newspapers, radio and movie careers. Before the shore-bound Portuguese whalers built the picturesque wharf, before the Americans or even the Spanish arrived. This is California the way the gods intended it to be seen: through the viewfinder of a good medium format camera.

I shot this sequence on Kodak TMY 400 a few minutes before sunset in November of 1995 on my way back to LA from San Francisco. The film’s high speed allowed for hand-held camera (no tripod) and a reasonable shutter speed.  My favorite photo in the sequence is C-43 (dead center). I just finished making three big prints of that negative (20×24). Which is your favorite?

Posted in American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, California, Central Coast, color negatives, color transparencies, f/64, Film, Kodak T-Max, Kodak TMY, Kodak Tri-X, Photography, San Simeon, Vintage cameras | 3 Comments

Jim Hubbell’s Skunkworks

ImageJames Hubbell – in the workshop, Santa Ysabel California

You could call Jim Hubbell an artist, but you’d have to stretch the definition to cover drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, stained glass work, mosaics, jewelry, poetry and philosophy – and that may only be a partial list of his interests and talents. Any one of those job descriptions would, in Jim’s case, have to contain definitions of all the others. If you don’t know Hubbell’s work, consider this an introduction – here’s a link to my site:

A lot has already been said about Jim, his architecture and his artwork so maybe I should just let him tell you – this is part of the artist’s statement from his Oceanside Museum of Art retrospective earlier this year. It addresses art in general and his sculpture specifically.

For me it is the dance between the light and its shadows, the volume of the whole sculpture coming and going. How an edge will separate the two planes, soften the edge and eye rolls easily into the shadow. It is a discipline that deals with real materials, occupies real space and yet can speak about the unknowable – James Hubbell, 2013

I shot this portrait of Jim in his Santa Ysabel workshop in the summer of 2012 as part of his Oceanside Museum of Art retrospective catalogue. The entire portfolio of catalogue photos lives on my website in the archive at:

Posted in 6:19 Format, American Photographic Artists, Architect's workshops, Architectural Photography, Artist's studios, California, James T. Hubbell, Julian California, Modern Architecture, Organic architecture, Panorama, Portrait, San Diego, Santa Ysabel, Sculpture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment