“Twenty years of walking while carrying a tripod,” laughs Tim Wolcott. “I felt like Lawrence of Arabia. I studied paintings, which are really about line, color, space and form. After getting all that knowledge, I thought I could break every rule photography ever created. I’ve drawn a lot of photographs before I find them in nature. Then I can photograph them.”
Wolcott’s photographic family lineage is outlined in Part One of this interview. Part Two explores his green gallery experience and his book production breakthrough for photographers, among other accomplishments.
“I’ve figured out how to make a traditional, high-end coffee table book for photographers without having to throw $120,000 at the printing,” he explains. “It can now be done for a really extraordinary price with a printer in Hong Kong. That’s a significant breakthrough, and it’s really going to help the photo industry.” The Los Angeles Digital Imaging Group has tapped Wolcott to teach a class on this subject in a two- or three-step class where printmaking will be integral.
“This whole idea of 3000 books costing $110,000 or more is absolutely absurd,” he says. Wolcott’s formula for fine bookmaking overseas includes a dust jacket, shipped to a U.S. port, with Hexachrome printing and costs approximately $24,000. The price for 500 of those to have slipcases with linen and gold lettering is an additional $3000. A lower run of just 1000 books costs $15 per unit. The price gets even lower if you’re willing to settle for CMYK printing instead of Hexachrome.
Wolcott has a long history of firsts in the photographic industry, particularly when it comes to hardcopy of images. For several decades he’s been exhibiting his work that is entirely printed and framed with green technologies. In 1996 he built a gallery in Big Bear, California. It’s goal was to be the first continuously exhibiting green photography gallery in the world. “We only show pigment prints, which use no chemicals or heavy metals,” he says. “Our frames are from managed-forest woods. We try to do everything the right way.”
Being environmentally conscious was not a trendy maneuver for Wolcott and his gallery. “It was a little hypocritical to show a beautiful shoreline of a lake in a photo mounted on the wall printed with Cibachrome technology, and then you’re dumping three gallons of toxic crap into the water system. We invented the first green process of printing color and called it Evercolor. The original idea was to make the prints last forever—nonfading and nontoxic. We were able to change out one of the yellows to get away from the heavy metal yellow, and make it 100% green. OSHA couldn’t regulate us. The prints last 250-plus years on display. That’s about 245 years long than a Cibachrome,” he laughs.
Light over long periods of time is what fades photographs and prints. This can be solved by using something like Tru Vue glass, which blocks virtually 100% of the UVA and UVB rays. “We wanted to show color photographs could be an investment, and last literally indefinitely, like a good, well-developed black and white photograph,” says Wolcott.
Eventually, Wolcott began consulting for ink jet printer companies. He helped develop pigment ink jet technology. “By late-1995 we made the first fine art ink jet pigment photographs, though we couldn’t show them until Photokina in 1996,” he says. “Ink jet printing has come a long way. I still think it has a little further to go, but it’s in a very good place now.”
In the near future, Wolcott will be bringing very small groups of people to the hidden places he loves to shoot in. Instead of a normal workshop, he wants to provide the locales where participants “will walk away with some of the best images they’ve ever shot,” he says.
Wolcott’s first camera was a Calumet Orbit 4×5. He moved to Mamiya medium format cameras. “When we were experimenting with what ink jet printers could do, we bought an 8×10 just to have a huge piece of film to see where we could take it,” he says. “To have a camera that large, you need an incredibly strong and sturdy tripod. I use the Induro tripod, the C414. When you’re climbing into a lake with $45,000 worth of camera gear on top of your tripod, it’s nice to know it’s big and strong. The rocks on the shores in Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are quite slippery. They’re ruthless to people. The best thing you can do is stretch out those tripod legs as wide as they can go and use that to help balance you. One wrong slip and almost anything digital hitting the water gets its electronics fried. That’s what I love about the Induro tripod. The ability to either close up the legs and help push me out of the mud, or to spread them out to help me balance is really important. Sometimes I’ll move rocks on the bottom of the pond so I can stand higher. With the extra-long tripod legs, I can position the camera even higher than I can hold it. It makes a big difference. I also use a smaller Induro.”
Tripods are integral to Wolcott’s images not only because of the long exposures he needs, as outlined in our first story on him, but because of perspective. “Picking the right height so the ground falls off at a certain rate is a unique way of looking at the landscape,” he explains. “If you don’t look at the ground and the way it falls away, the horizon doesn’t fall away at the right angle. This changes your perspective. When it’s correct, it allows the lilly pads to fall away at the right level, for instance. You want the image to feel three-dimensional, the way eyes see it. Sometimes the only way to mimic this is by getting the camera higher than the human head. When you walk in and see one of my 60 x 40-inch photographs, it feels like you’re standing at the actual scene. That’s what I’m going for.”
Induro has also helped him with stitching images. “I’ve been using Induro tripods for the past three years to do panoramic stitching since I went digital,” Wolcott says. “Having that super-sturdy tripod to do a 170-degree shot with some very heavy gear on it is really nice. It allows you to make the image feel like your eyes are there, but you also have this super-wide perspective. It’s like using an old banquet panorama camera, but now you’re shooting digitally, and you have every choice of lens Mamiya makes. It’s better quality tools than the old days. We used to have to walk around with these 22-pound tripods. They were the biggest and strongest ones you could get, but they were all metal. It was like carrying a baby around. Now we have these really lightweight, super strong tripods which lock very easily. You just shake off the water when you’re done and away you go. We used to have to really clean the old ones. ‘Adequate’ is a good description of what they were like.”
Wolcott has a philosophy for the gear he carries which never fails him. “I have the same gear no matter where I go,” he says. “I never partition my gear down. Most photographers travel with one or two backpacks. They think about what they might need and then they’ll shrink their gear down. Over the years I’ve seen some people make very crucial mistakes, wishing they had this lens or that lens. I have one of the largest backpacks ever made, and carry thirteen lenses. I use a framing card to compose the shot I want, then set up the tripod in the right position to mimic that shot exactly.”
A Phase One P 45 camera is always with Wolcott. It shoots 39.4 16-bit linear capture using Capture One software. He also has a Mamiya 500mm lens. “That one,” he laughs, “you don’t try to carry with you. It works great for shooting lilly pads.” Wolcott can stitch landscapes together to create files up to 1.8 gigabytes, allowing for incredible detail when he prints his oversized images.
Tim Wolcott’s many years spent in pursuit of photographic excellence has done his family name proud. Part One of our interview with him chronicled his family’s long history with photography. Alexander S. Wolcott, an innovator in camera technology, would marvel at the technology his descendant uses daily. He would also be proud of the accomplishments Tim has achieved. From ink jet technologist to green gallery entrepreneur, book producer to educator, Tim Wolcott has worn many hats in the photo industry. Although he has worked hard at these ancillary areas to photography, great picture taking is still paramount to him. “You still need light, vision, and patience,” he stresses. “Image is everything.” We agree.