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

Simple, Reliable & Classic


Broken Hill – Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego California

Whenever I get out of sync with the world, I go back to the basics. With surfing it’s always been a big single-fin pintail. For everything else there’s my Rolleiflex. It’s a meditation. Twentieth century analog design slows you down, forces you to consider your line, composition and intent. You have to use a light meter, set the aperture manually and pick a shutter speed you can live with. In a lot of ways an object like an old Rollei allows you to go back to a simpler time – for me it’s a beach house in Santa Monica where my dad composed photos at waist-level with this camera, a light meter around his neck and a Camel dangling from his mouth. The image in the viewfinder is reversed, dim and hard to see. A fragile graph breaks the square frame into twenty-five smaller, glowing tiles – oddly removed from reality. Left is right and it’s slightly disorienting, abstracted. There’s no digital chirp when you’re in focus – you’ve gone back to a time when you just had to know.

I shot this west view of Broken Hill with my dad’s Rollei f/3.5, heavily filtered on Kodak T-Max 120, using a Leitz Tiltall tripod – the same combination of camera and tripod Irving Penn used when he created his Worlds in a Small Room portfolio in 1960. There’s something inherently honest about shooting straight B&W: it’s not a digital color image desaturated and re-toned for a vintage look – it’s straight.

I’m creating a small edition of this photo for the Torrey Pines Association. Let me know if you’d like a print – they’ll be 10×10″ on 100% rag paper, signed open edition.

Posted in American Photographic Artists, California, Fujichrome, Ilford FP4, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, Rolleiflex, San Diego, Torrey Pines, Uncategorized, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How To Make Something Beautiful (part one)


Wood-block print: Rolleiflex f/3.5 with rare reversed D.

Start with something you love. It has to be the kind of thing you can’t leave alone, something with a pleasing heft, well made and beautiful. Like an old Rollei. Find a good pencil, sit down and draw a picture of it. Can’t draw? Doesn’t matter. Make the drawing on a piece of clear, dry white fir with as few knots as possible. Reduce and simplify the truth of this object until you have a clean line drawing – not too complicated but containing the spirit of the thing itself. Having a personal paparazzo document the process is always nice (thanks Sidney).

Locate a good set of wood carving tools and cut out the negative (reverse) image of your drawing – you may have to resort to carbon paper to flip the sketch horizontally. Yes, they still make carbon paper. Any letters will have to be reversed to read. Yes, I know my initial is backwards. You’ll need a roller, some decent ink and a few sheets of paper. I strongly recommend Arches hot press watercolor paper. It’s French and costs as much as hashish, but it’s worth it for the unique feel of 75# paper stock. Black ink looks wonderful on French watercolor paper.

Gently ink the block, position the paper and with a brayer, transfer the ink (I use the back of a wooden cooking spoon for this). White pine is soft and easy to cut but it’s delicate and braying hard will ruin the clean edges. The block is only going to last a few prints before deteriorating completely, so give it some thought, use good paper and be gentle.


I’ll be selling an 8.5 X 9″ version of this print for $100 – a signed artist’s proof on 308gsm 100% rag paper. Let me know if you’d like one. This series of Japanese block prints will eventually include three or four of my favorite old cameras and will be a suite of hand-made prints.

Posted in 6:19 Format, American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, Canon F-1, color negatives, color transparencies, f/64, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Ilford FP4, Japanese block printing, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, Photography, Rolleiflex, Vintage cameras, Wood block printing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Jesus in New York City


             And Jesus was a friend to publicans and sinners – Matthew: 11:19

When asked why He ate and drank with sinners Jesus was said to have replied: it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call on the righteous, but sinners. In New York City, the righteous and the sinners live pretty close together and both of them use the same kind of technology for street-side advertising: bracket signs. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission defines a bracket sign as a rigid outdoor sign, with two display faces, installed perpendicular to a building facade. What you put on that sign is up to you.

On a quiet street in Chelsea sits the Manor Chapel. The architectural style is classic Flemish Revival and the plump S scrolls and curved stepped gables bring to mind a pair of dressy Dutch sabots. The chapel was consecrated in 1874 but the sign introducing Jesus to West 26th Street is an incongruous sheet metal and neon combination that would look more at home extolling the temptations of, say, a bar in the Financial District.

Posted in Architectural Photography, B&W negative film, Chelsea, Flemish Revival Architecture, Jesus, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Kodak Tri-X, Manhattan, Manor Chapel, New York City, Noir, NYC Subway | 2 Comments

Lance Carson, Malibu California

Image                      Lance Carson in the shaping room – January 21st, 2013

The outline of a hand-shaped surfboard is drawn directly on the foam using a rigid template as a guide so the left and right rail curves match. Templates – like an enormous set of French curves – lean nearby, out of the way and they all have names. Often it’s a surfboard model or the name of another shaper – once in a while a template will have the ultimate distinction: the name of the surfer for whom the board was designed. The outline curve of the surfboard is drawn all at once – five or six feet at at time and the sound the pencil makes on the rough, skinned blank has a kind of resonance. It’s not like drawing on paper – the sound travels through the foam with a shearing hiss – like ten feet of silk being torn, or maybe a breaking wave. That sound is unusual and specific: if you can hear it, you’re having a board made. If you hear that sound in Lance Carson’s shaping room, you’re in the sacristy of the high church of surfing where experience, art and dexterity all come together.

Lance Carson not only shaped boards for the the best surfers in the world – he was one of them. Skip Frye told me once: Lance owned the nose. For generations of surfers, the name Lance Carson was synonymous with Malibu and his boards – particularly the big pintails – are at home in long point waves, but there’s more to it than that: the big pintails are goddamned beautiful. Achingly beautiful. Pure art.

Posted in 6:19 Format, B&W negative film, California, color negatives, color transparencies, Donald Takayama, Jacobs Surfboards, John Durant Photography, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Lance Carson, Los Angeles, Malibu, Skip Frye, surfboard shapers, surfboards, surfing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Up High In Mexico

John Durant Photographer

                               Tecate Peak, Southwest Slope, Baja California

Fifty miles from my photo studio is the Tecate border crossing. To get there, take California 94 away from downtown San Diego – away from the absurdly expensive California lifestyle you’ve heard so much about, away from freeways, hipsters, beach bars and all the other landmarks you’ve ended up taking for granted. The road gains elevation most of the way and the view goes from suburban to cow-town in under an hour. The border crossing is endearingly low-tech and the town of Tecate sits in a dusty bowl surrounded by rock-strewn granite peaks. There are no time-share hustlers or dance clubs – this is a serious Mexican town, waking up and going to work every day.

On November 18th I arrived at the southern slope of Tecate Peak on the Mexican side. In my pack were two cameras and five lenses, along with my faithful but heavy Manfrotto tripod. The hike starts at 2500 feet with an immediate elevation gain of a couple thousand feet – straight up. A fast-moving fall storm was clearing out as I arrived at 4:30PM with just enough time to work with the last of the autumn light. I’ve been shooting in this rock garden for years but every time I make the hike it’s new, different and wonderful. Down at the bottom of the hill they’ll tell you: don’t go – it’s dangerous up there. But it’s home to me in so many ways.

Posted in 6:19 Format, American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, Baja California, Catavina, color negatives, color transparencies, desert, f/64, Film, Fuji RDP3, Fujichrome, Ilford FP4, John Durant Photography, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Mexico, Panorama, Photography, Rancho La Puerta, Southwest, Storm, Tecate | 2 Comments

Classic Noir

April – shot through a vintage Rolleiflex f/3.5

In the most general sense, Noir is a cinema term for a genre of film-making that concerns itself with evil, moral corruption, alienation and disillusionment. A classic Noir film featured women that smoked, carried guns and did whatever the hell they felt like doing. This and the low camera angles, dramatic lighting and downbeat plot-lines (where the good guys weren’t all that good and the bad guys were horrible) usually created a sense of cynicism, pessimism and ambiguity. Did I forget anything? Oh yeah: melancholy, guilt, and paranoia. In other words – these were great films. With the Noir tradition (strong threatening women, temptation, lurking danger) in mind I created this portrait of April by shooting through a vintage 1950 Rolleiflex. She’s a classic dame. In her purse were cigarettes, a lighter and a .25 caliber automatic. Lighting was hard and bare and so was she. Some of my favorite Noir lines were running through my mind as I produced this series – like this gem from Kiss Me Deadly – Mike: You’re never around when I need you. Velda: You never need me when I’m around…


Posted in American Photographic Artists, B&W negative film, color negatives, color transparencies, Hollywood, Ilford FP4, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Los Angeles, Noir, Portrait, Rolleiflex, San Diego, World War II | 6 Comments

Marooned On An Enchanted Isle

Prince Street Station at Broadway

Digital diva Cera Zittlow and I were in New York City to shoot an architectural assignment during the last week of October 2012. There was a lot going on: the annual Photo Plus Expo, a dozen dinners and parties (the Sony party rocked), the American Photographic Artists board meeting, Shoot NYC to name just a few of our obligations and distractions. We had an opportunity to to catch up with some old friends (Michael Grecco, Theresa Raffetto, Christian Peacock) and make a few new ones – Hurricane Sandy among them. We were sitting in the bar at the Crosby Hotel when the biggest hurricane to ever hit the eastern seaboard arrived – the lights went out and that was that: Lower Manhattan went back in time a hundred and fifty years. No water, power, no cell coverage. The bridges closed, the subways stopped and all air traffic was canceled. You couldn’t leave the enchanted isle of Manhattan by any means. The night before Sandy arrived, I shot this three frame image while waiting for a train at the Prince Street station at Broadway near where we were encamped. The original 1917 tile mosaics and dedicated alphabetical friezes have been lovingly maintained. I was shooting Kodak P3200 – a super high-speed B&W negative film – now discontinued. It’s grainy, contrasty and imprecise – in other words: perfect.

Posted in 6:19 Format, American Photographic Artists, Architectural Photography, B&W negative film, color negatives, color transparencies, f/64, Film, Kodak P3200, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak T-Max, Manhattan, New York City, NYC Subway, Panorama, Prince Street | 3 Comments

World War II in California


                                                                                                                                                        S. Charles Lee: Bay Theater – National City California

In October 1945, World War II was still raging on two fronts, Glen Miller was blasting from car radios and Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw was playing at the newly opened Bay Theater. National City – named for National Steel and Shipbuilding – was a company town, producing all manner of military vessels for for the war effort and the Bay Theater bears the indelible mark of the war in the Pacific. It’s a classic S. Charles Lee design and has been called Steamship Moderne, but the marquee and neon sign should really be referred to as Conning Tower Modern: it’s designed with the strictly business look of submarine superstructure, complete with steel access ladder, safety rail, bullet-proof steel plating and a flagpole. This anachronism sits unused at 330 National City Blvd., and is a regal reminder of American can-do attitude.

Posted in Architectural Photography, B&W negative film, California, color negatives, color transparencies, f/64, Film, Hollywood Sign, Modern Architecture, National City, S. Charles Lee, Steamship Moderne, Theater Design, War in the Pacific, World War II, Zig-Zag Modern | Leave a comment