You are Here:
Overton Photographic Home
Eric Overton was born
in Fairfax County, Virginia on July 23, 1965 – although he waited
precisely seven years to the day to begin his photographic career on
July 23, 1972. It was on that day that his parents gave him a
box camera and a roll of Verichrome Pan for his 7th
birthday. The rest is very nearly history.
Having been earlier
tagged as a “slow learner,” nobody expected much of Eric, and he
therefore found tremendous freedom to explore and experiment in
everything he did. He recalls:
“This was back in the
days when if the rest of the morning kindergarten class finished its
chocolate pudding snack well before you did, the so-called ‘educators’
figured you must be ‘remedial’ in some fashion.
“I was a very quiet,
solitary kid; and while my peers were being labeled ‘genius’ for being
gregarious, I was being labeled ‘slow’ for being off in my own corner
most of the time. While everybody else enjoyed social games, I
could sit by myself and paint for hours. It didn’t take too much
of that behavior before my kindergarten teacher, Miss Cummings, tagged
me as something of a dimwit. It seems she skipped right over
‘future artist’ when she made her assessment. Not that I’m at all
bitter about it. In retrospect, it was one of the most
liberating labels ever put on me. I feel genuinely sorry for the
kids who get labeled as ‘gifted’ too early in life. They really
get no room to maneuver.”
When somebody handed
him a camera on his 7th birthday, nobody expected great
art; and he got plenty of latitude to make mistakes.
Over the next four
years, Eric largely taught himself the nuts and bolts of
photography. He was fond of books, and his father’s library
provided quite a few tomes on the subject of photography. He also
lived within easy biking distance of the local library.
And in about 1974, he
found some of his grandfather’s old cameras in a closet in his
father’s home office.
Eric’s grandfather had
been a stuntman in the early days of Hollywood, working for Vitaphone
Pictures (Brooklyn, NY) and standing in for Douglas Fairbanks on many
of the “pirate” films of the 1920’s. After Vitaphone sold to
RCA, the young Robert Overton (Eric’s granddad) continued to live and
work in New York, serving as a reservist in the coast artillery.
When W.W.II broke out, he found himself in Third Army and later on
Lucius Clay’s staff in blockaded Berlin. It was during that
postwar period (when fine camera equipment could be had from what was
left of the bombed-out Zeiss factory for the cost of a few cigarettes
and some whiskey), that Lt. Col. Overton collected the Exakta’s and
Zeiss lenses that eventually wound up in a closet in Virginia.
Eric thus learned to
shoot with some vintage gear.
“My first serious stab
at mastering the technical side of photography came when I was about
10 years old, and I began shooting with one of the old Kodak Bantam
828’s. It was a great learner’s camera, and if I could still get
828 film easily, I’d probably be carting it around with me today – if
only to take the occasional impromptu snapshot. It and the Minox
– which took much smaller format film – were among the first ‘pocket
“The first roll of
film I ever ran through it was one of the old K19 Kodachromes, and I
learned the meaning of the term ‘exposure latitude’ pretty
quickly. But after a while, I got the hang of it, and I was
correctly exposing both B&W print and color reversal films.
Since the Bantam was not a single lens reflex camera and had only a crude
sight on it (and no exposure meter whatsoever), I learned to see light
and be very careful about composition pretty early on. Lack of
much money to buy film also made me particularly careful – and stingy –
in making exposures.
“If I had to teach
anyone photography now, I’d probably start him on a similar
camera. Four years of shooting with only my own eye for a light
meter gave me an intuitive feel for light that you never get if your
first camera is auto-exposure, auto-focus, auto-loading, etc.
And for me today, even though my primary cameras have auto-exposure
modes (though never auto-focus), I can still tell when my
camera’s metering is lying to me. I’m also pretty comfortable
switching all the computers off and flying the things purely
stick-and-rudder. Frankly, there are some shots that you’re
simply not going to get any other way. Auto-exposure cameras are
set to compensate to 18% density, not to place exposure zones anywhere
near where they’ll capture emotion on film. And all auto-focus
does is put the point of focus where the camera thinks there’s some
point of interest in the frame – usually at the center. This is
why most auto-exposed / auto-focused images are so emotionally
sterile. It’s also why they all look like they were shot by the
same slightly-better-than-average amateur.”
What certainly helped
matters was the fact that Eric’s father shared his interest, and his
mother was working from time to time as a model. Photography was
the norm at home.
In 1976, Eric got his
first “modern” 35mm single lens reflex camera, a Mamiya DSX500.
The choice was largely made based on his father’s already owning the
1000DTL version of the Mamiya. The objective was to make their
accessories interchangeable. This was the first camera Eric owned
that had a built-in light meter, although its exposure settings were
all purely manual.
1977 was a banner year
for Eric. It was then that he took his first stab at home
developing, buying a “developing kit” for $12 at the local photo
“For $12, you didn’t
get a lot – but it was enough. Included in the kit were a rather
cheap plastic developing tank (that was an absolute pill to load), a
few small (and equally cheap) 4x5 trays, a little contact printing
frame, a few plastic clothespins, and just enough Dektol developer,
Kodak fixer, and 4x5 Kodabromide paper to develop one roll and contact
print it. My first home-developed roll of film immortalized Mrs.
Ziff’s 6th grade class on 20 exposures of 35mm Tri-X
Pan. As I recall, developing time was only 5 minutes at 68F, and
the negatives were still incredibly dense. Dektol is a paper
developer; and I was throwing it, undiluted, at a piece of film for no
other reason than that I didn’t know any better.
“Thinking back, if I’d
had the $34 for the more ‘advanced’ developing kit (which came with a
crude enlarger molded in plastic – with an equally cheap plastic
lens), I’d have bought it. But $34 was several months’ income
from mowing lawns and shoveling snow, so enlargements were out my
financial reach. For the better part of two years I only contact
printed, examining the prints afterward with a magnifying glass.”
1977 was also the year
in which Eric won his first photo award (a Kodachrome shot of a tiger
at the National Zoo that caught the eye of an editor of the Washington
Post) and did his first job for money (baby photos of the
newborn across the street).
“To this day, when
people ask how long I’ve been doing this for pay, I say, ‘since
1977.’ My being in the business over 20 years seems to put
clients at ease. I suspect that they assume that if I were a
hack, after all that time I would have bilged out.”
1977 was, additionally,
the year when the movie Star Wars hit the silver screen.
“Star Wars had
an incredible impact on a 12 year old kid. I’d been photographing
the moon and making time exposures of swirling stars for a few years,
and I’d always been looking up. It was about this time that I’d
also managed to get my hands on a small refractor telescope and was
regularly looking at Jupiter’s moons or Saturn’s rings.
“The timing of Star
Wars coming out was therefore quite serendipitous. I mean,
here I’d been learning all this darkroom stuff, and suddenly
Smithsonian magazine (a staple in our household) was running an
article on how all the special effects were done. I was already
building and flying model rockets, and I wanted to do similar tricks
with cameras as were done by John Dykstra and the original crew at
Industrial Light and Magic. I realized pretty quickly that what
was missing in my repertoire was an ability to process color reversal
films and high contrast B&W lithography films in order to make
multiple-matte composite images.
One of the great things
about being 12 years old and being into something the other kids
aren't is that nobody has any notion of what you can and can't do. And
12 year olds are often too naive to know what's easy and what's hard.
So I spent the winter of 1977-1978 learning about the then-new
Ektachrome E6 process and how to handle various litho emulsions and
developers. (This was something somebody with more knowledge
would have labeled "difficult.") I bought my first E6 kit
with most of a month’s pay from shoveling snow. Fortunately,
1977-78 was a snowy enough winter to underwrite my chemical
purchases. Most of the lab glassware was Mason jars and beer
cans at that point.
“It was also around
this time that I took my first stab at making a motion picture.
The title was Spaced Out, and it contained no actual
actors. But it was a pretty impressive effort at motion picture
special effects, considering it was made by a 12-year-old working with
one of his grandfather’s 50-year-old hand-me-down ‘Vitaphone Pictures’
16mm silent cameras. Two and a half minutes of film hardly made
it ‘feature length,’ but I somehow managed to watch it again and again
without getting too bored. I just bored everyone else with it, I
“I remember renting a
16mm projector from the public library to show it to my friends.
The projector was set up for optical sound, and the silent film had
sprockets where the soundtrack would have been. When I first
turned the projector to ‘run,’ the volume was cranked all the way up
and the thing made a God awful buzz as the sprocket holes ran by.”
Eric’s parents couldn’t
help but notice their son’s interest in both darkroom photography and
rocket ships; and with the newly opened of the National Air and Space
Museum within easy striking distance of their Virginia home, Eric was
encouraged to visit the museum frequently and take photos when he
“After a while, I’d
seen everything I could at ‘Air and Space,’ and I started to wander
into the other Smithsonian buildings on the Washington mall. It
was only a matter of time before I found myself in the art
Again, turning up in
the National Gallery of Art was a serendipitous event.
“I wandered into the
National Gallery about the time that Ansel Adams was visiting and
guest lecturing. Everyone else stood somewhat in awe of
him. I had no clue who the man was, and as a consequence he just
struck me as one more person who could tell me a few things about
photography. I had a lot of questions at that point.
“I remember attending
an evening lecture and pretty much getting up in the poor guy’s face
afterward. But as nearly as I can tell, after a whole evening
spent with people fawning over him, having a precocious 13-year-old
say, ‘Hey, old man… How’d you make that photo?’ was something of a
relief to him. I got a few good tips that night – not least of
which was to strive to master the craft of photography and resist the
temptation to try to pass off inferior technique with a claim of
‘artistic expression.’ I sensed that if Ansel had been my
trumpet teacher, I’d have been practicing lots of scales. In any
case, his admonition to be a craftsman made a strong impression.
I have some regret that I wasn’t older and more experienced in the
craft when I met him; but he died just a few years later.
“I count myself lucky
that I met him at all, and I’ve crossed paths with a few of his
protégés since then. In all cases, strong dedication to
craftsmanship is a trait they’ve shared. That more than anything
was probably Ansel’s legacy.”
With some persistence,
Eric convinced his father that he could do the darkroom work for them
both if he had a real enlarger. Part of the bargain was that Eric
would be responsible for printing those of his father’s photographs
that would grace a basement room that the family was remodeling.
“That was when I
backed myself into a real corner. My dad hadn’t worked in B&W
for years, and just about everything he wanted to hang on the wall –
mainly shots from Vietnam and Cambodia taken just a few years before –
had been shot to early 1970's vintage Kodachrome 64. But I
wanted an enlarger badly, and I was prepared to make just about any
Faustian bargain to get one. So learning to make Cibachrome
color prints from slides was unavoidable.
getting a good handle on the E6 color reversal process, the Cibachrome
P3 process wasn’t quite so daunting.”
By the time Eric hit
high school and the rest of the boys were discovering girls, Eric was
“Frankly, my friends
and I were the prototypes for Beavis and Butt-Head. We were a
bunch of pyromaniacs. If there was so much as the slightest
chance that something would burn or explode, we were into it in a big
Eric at that point had
the good fortune to cross paths with a talented and encouraging high
school chemistry teacher.
“I didn’t know it at
the time, but Mr. Lavallee was teaching two or three of us college
level material as high school freshmen and sophomores. It was
only when I got to college – an Ivy league college no less – and placed
out of the entire freshman year and half of the sophomore year of
chemistry that I realized just how much the man had taught us. My
hat’s off to him for doing so much – and somehow still managing to
prevent us from blowing ourselves up in the process.”
Ironically, at this
point, most of photo chemistry remained out of Eric’s grasp.
“I knew about the
Gurney-Mott latent image hypothesis, of course. And I understood
that developers were alkaline – and usually something organic.
But that was about it. The back of John Hedgecoe’s book The
Book of Photography had a few formulae for the more common B&W
developers, but exotic chemicals with names like ‘hydroquinone’
weren’t in the Woodson High School chemistry lab. And potassium
nitrate was. So I blew things up instead.”
It would be a few more
years before Eric got deeply into photochemistry. But when he got
there, he was very well prepared.
Following high school, Eric took a job with his father’s employer, the
Central Intelligence Agency. It was there that someone had the
presence of mind to assign him to the job of “Film Inspector” and
transfer him out of the assignment initially proposed for him – a
clerical job in the in-house bomb disposal unit. In his new photo
job, he had plenty of opportunity to develop a keen eye for details on
film, frequently working with the crew at the National Photographic
Interpretation Center (NPIC).
“The Agency experience
was an interesting one to say the least. For years, I’d wondered
about what my dad did at the office; and now I was seeing it firsthand
on a day-to-day business. I also learned a few things about
myself just in the process of getting accepted into the place. A
few of the psychological tests turned up some unusual personality
traits, and learning about them at age 18 sure beat learning about them
the hard way later in life. Until I’d taken a few of those tests,
I’d assumed that I was pretty much like everyone else in the
world. Afterward, I knew that I had an extremely rare personality
type. That of itself was an eye opener. There was a
humorous moment in there when somebody asked me about drug use, I
indicated that I’d never done any drugs at all, and the needles on the
box indicated that I was telling the truth. At that point, the
examiner leaned across the table and said, ‘You mean you got this way
“This was also,
frankly, an interesting juncture in Agency history – from a
photoreconnaissance point of view, anyway. The Blackbird fleet
was slowly being phased out in favor of satellites, and film was giving
ground to electronic imaging. There were the old-timers who’d sat
staring into endless reels of film that had come off the U2’s that
overflew Cuba and spotted the Soviet missiles in the bushes. And
there was a younger generation of folks as well. But nobody was
wedded to any technology – folks just chose whatever got the job
done. I still marvel, though, at how some of the older guys could
send literally hundreds of feet of film by on a scanner at speeds where
they’d look like a blur to anyone else, and then stop the film on a
dime and point to something interesting.
“Like it or not,
you didn't hang with those guys for long without developing a seriously
good eye for detail.”
Returning to school,
Eric matriculated at Dartmouth College, where through a rather
circuitous path (pardon the pun), he wound up in the engineering school
studying to be an electrical engineer. Aside from honing his
skills in the hard sciences in ways that would later improve his photo
lab technique, studying engineering also served his photo interests in
some highly unpredictable ways.
engineering school had a pretty tight connection to the med
school. There were two fairly prominent cross-disciplinary
activities in that regard. One was hyperthermia research – where
the engineers built special microwave antennas designed to cook your
brain tumors from the inside out.
“The one in which my
photo skills came into play, however, was in orthopedics. For
quite some time, the local hospital had seen high numbers of hip and
knee fractures – between old people who slipped on the ice and skiers
who’d screwed up on the slopes. And the Dartmouth-Hitchcock
Medical Center had become a magnet for people interested in hip and
knee replacement surgery.
school was thus heavily funded to help design better prostheses.
Of particular interest was the subject of how well bone grew into a
titanium hip implant. The engineering school would send
artificial hips across campus to the hospital, and the hospital would
send cadaver femurs back the other direction, so that the engineers
could put them on the tensile tester and see how hard they had to pull
to yank them back out.
“We had a little
chamber of horrors in the basement, and since dogs were everywhere on
campus (including the classrooms and labs), it wasn’t all that unusual
to see a group of students chasing a dog with a femur in its mouth down
one of the basement hallways. Keeping them out of the lab was
“My connection to all
this was that more than once I got to photograph some one or another
test for somebody’s journal paper. And on a few occasions, I
ended up at the other end of campus photographing the disassembly
procedure in which the femur was retrieved. I didn’t realize it
at the time, but you don’t have to sit in on too many autopsies before
you start figuring out basic anatomy.
days I’ll get asked how old I was the first time I photographed the
nude. My usual response is that I was 20. I don’t bother to
mention that the model was deceased.”
On off terms, Eric parlayed his electrical engineering skills into a
job as an engineer at a radio station back home in the Washington DC
area. It was at this time that he began to photograph live
models, most of whom were women.
“When I got back to
Virginia during an off term from college, I wandered into a local radio
station. I had no idea whether they had engineering jobs or not;
but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. The minute I came in,
somebody asked me if I was responding to the ad in the paper.
Thinking quickly, I said yes. Twenty minutes later I had a
job. Blind dumb luck, that.
“When summer rolled
around, the station got into full swing with promotions. We were
playing Top 40 music, and we were always out at the bars where the
younger crowd hung out. I got to know Georgetown like the back of
“One of the station’s
salesmen had some heavy connections to Coppertone suntan products, and
somebody else was tight with the owner of a bar called ‘Annie’s of
Georgetown.’ One thing led to another, and pretty soon every
Sunday night the station crew was down there running a bikini contest
and passing out tubes of ‘Panama Jack’ suntan oil.
“At that point, I was
making a little side money shooting headshots for people I knew in the
radio and TV business, and word was getting out that I was pretty good
with a camera. It was only a hop, skip and a jump from there to
picking up extra cash shooting bits and pieces of the modeling
portfolios of the girls who turned up every week for the bikini
contests. Some of them were college students earning some loose
change and book money, and some of them were – if you can believe it –
professional bikini contest contestants. Only in America.
Is this a great country or what?
“Anyway, what I started
finding out was that I had a natural eye for photographing the human
form. All those autopsies paid off, I guess.
“But unlike the women
I’d photographed before, these came fully assembled.”
Eric also spent time
abroad at this point in his life. Studying at the Ecole Normale
in Blois, France, he had a unique opportunity to photograph much of
Europe, and he made the most of it.
I was spending
weekends in Paris sightseeing – and occasionally working illegally with
a camera to pocket a few extra Francs. I was also making short
excursions into the countryside around Blois – which sits squarely in
the heart of the Loire valley’s wine country. I was not far from
DaVinci’s home at Clos-Luce; and Chenonceaux, probably the most
beautiful of all the French chateaux was also no more than about an
hour by train. Seeing the home of the maestro or soaking up the
light coming off the Loire onto the chateau that quite literally
straddles the river can't help but make an impression.
“Plus, a lot of the
local travel I did by hitchhiking. Hitching is not easy in
France, by the way. You spend a lot of your time walking rather
than riding, and when you walk, you have time to see your
surroundings. I saw a lot of stuff that the natives regarded as
‘banal.’ But even the mundane can be interesting when you really
take the time to look at it. And since it was often a whole day
shot just trying to get one ride, I had the time to spend looking.
“I became convinced
after a few months of living there that there’s something just a little
bit different about the quality of light in France. Logically, I
know there’s no basis for that statement, but I think it true
nonetheless. In any case, there was a lot of beautiful light by
which to make photographs.”
When Eric finally did
leave school – earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering – he
took his first job in the field of electro-optics with a firm in the
research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. This, however,
began a period when he took a sabbatical from his photo career.
“Basically, when I
left school, I realized I could make about four times as much money as
an engineer as I could as a photographer. And when you’ve got
debts from school, pay scale factors pretty heavily into your
“Honestly, though, I
was also burned out with photography. I’d spent a few years
taking a whole lot of really crappy jobs because I needed the
money. Some of the ‘bikini girl’ jobs had a natural appeal for a
young man running on hormonal guidance systems; but even some of them
were with some downright catty and unpleasant women that I’d have told
to take a flying leap if the rent weren’t due every month. And
for every job I enjoyed, there were two more that I didn’t. Too
many people knew just how badly I needed the cash, and for a while,
photography stopped being fun. I took jobs back then that I
wouldn’t take today for all the tea in China.
“That having been
said, I probably ought to add that even in the period in the early
'90's, whether I liked it or not, I still had a hand in the business,
if only indirectly. I was spending a lot of my time stooped over an
optical bench designing laser interferometry and holography equipment.
And I was writing embedded software to do chromatography measurements
for a medical application. And since the application in question was
measuring immunoglobulin levels in tears as a method for diagnosing
conjunctivitis in the eye, before I was done I'd learned a great deal
about the physiology of vision.”
So in about 1990, Eric
set aside the bulk of his gear and basically didn’t take another photo
for three full years. In 1993, however, fate intervened.
“Two things got me to
hang a camera around my neck again. First, the girl I was then
dating and I decided to vacation in Jamaica. There was no way
that I wasn’t going to snap at least a few photos of the ‘yard’ while I
was there. I hadn’t had a real vacation since leaving grad
school, and I wanted to have a tray full of slides so that I could
relive this one as often as my sanity demanded it.
“Second, one of my
workout buddies needed photos. She’d won a few rounds of the
‘Miss Hawaiian Tropic’ contest, and was being considered as a model for
a catalog to be put out by a young company called ‘Venus
Swimwear.’ She’d gone to a local photographer who’d gotten more
than a little fresh with her; and after she pretty much ran out of the
place screaming, she decided her next session was going to be with
somebody whose history she knew a little better. I agreed to
shoot a few photos just for her. The photos looked good, and
word about me started getting around again.
always been the technical side of photography that most interested me;
and subject matter had always been secondary. But at this point,
I was establishing a reputation as someone who photographed people –
and in particular women. So I just went with it. I could
still do all the fun darkroom stuff no matter what the subject
“I just make at least
some time today to shoot landscapes – in order to press myself out of
the comfortable exposure zones of IV, V, VI, and VII where it seems I
live an awful lot of my professional life.”
In 1994, Eric moved to
Canton, Ohio (about an hour south of Cleveland) to work at a company
developing security products for the banking industry. His
assignment was, among other things, to detect counterfeit currency by
shining various colored lights on it. Again, optics and
chromaticity reared their heads in the middle of his career as an
On the weekends, he
found his way into the Cleveland ‘Flats,’ where before too long, he
also found himself shooting photos for Hooters restaurant, Budweiser,
and Miller Lite.
“I headed up to the
‘Flats’ in search of a little night life, since once you’d seen the Pro
Football Hall of Fame and the Hoover Historical Society’s vacuum
cleaner museum, you’d about exhausted what there was to do in
“On one of my
wintertime trips through the Flats, I met the local marketing man for
Budweiser. By maintaining the contact, six months later when the
weather was warm, I was the official photographer for a weekly bikini
contest sponsired by Bud and held at the local "Hooters" restaurant.
That was, in the words of Yogi Berra, ‘déjà vu all over
“Not long after, Rusty
Wallace’s race crew (complete with car) turned up in Ohio; and Miller
wrote me a few checks to shoot the car, the guys from the local beer
distributorship, and the ‘Girls of the Miller Lite Cold Patrol.’
Beer and cute young women were becoming staple items in my photo
career. I guess there’s worse that could happen to you. But I
sort of chuckle when I read Ed Weston's old daybooks – and in
particular his famous 1927 exclamation, 'Why this tide of women?!'
When the engineering
career in Canton didn’t pan out, Eric decided to return to warmer
“Basically, I was
looking for someplace where the sun shone and I could indulge myself as
both an engineer and a photographer. San Diego, CA and Austin,
TX ended up on the short list of places to live. Both had plenty
of places to ply my trade as an engineer. Plus, San Diego was
close enough to LA to be a viable place to take photos; and Austin had
a vibrant music scene and the beginnings of a film industry. In
the end, I chose Austin, since I intended to buy a house; and what
bought a palace in Austin at the time wouldn’t get you a tarpaper
shack in San Diego. Plus, I'd been hotrodding cars for years; and
my primary vehicle (a heavily modified 1968 Cougar) wasn't even close
to street legal in California. And in spite of the fact that it
regularly passed 1990's vintage emissions tests, California law wasn't
written by anybody with even a smidgen of common sense.
So I put down roots in
Austin. The housing market has changed here in the last five years,
but since I bought into the market in ’96, that’s somebody else’s
problem. I have my house, a studio and darkroom in it, and plenty
of music and film personalities to photograph.”
When he got to Austin,
Eric got pretty quickly established as a guy who could make you look
good on film.
“My stint shooting for
Bud and Hooters led to my hanging out with one of the girls who worked
in the Warren, Ohio restaurant. She and I shared an interest in
martial arts – which was a handy discipline for her, since more than
once she had to subdue a patron. Warren is an old General Motors
town, and when a lot of those Chevy Cavalier parts started getting
made in Mexico, a whole lot of the UAW natives got laid off and
restless. Friday and Saturday nights you could pretty much count
on a fight in your bar or restaurant if you owned one. If there
were union boys at one table and scabs at another, you knew something
ugly was going to happen sooner or later.
“Anyway, before I left
for Austin to interview for the engineering job that I eventually took,
she jokingly told me to bring back a Hooters tank top with ‘Austin, TX’
written on it.
“On my first trip into
the Austin-Northcross Hooters store to do her bidding, I met a waitress
there who was moonlighting from her job at an engineering firm.
She was also working part time as a model. Add all that up, and
you can see why we hit it off pretty quickly. She ended up being
one of my best models, and she spread the word about me around as many
places as she could. I was up and running in Austin faster than
just about any place I’d ever lived before. And by this point,
I’d given up trying to shoot much of anything other than people (and
again, particularly women) for money. True, there were always
opportunities to photograph high-tech products; and I still do a fair
amount of that as well. But for better or for worse that doesn’t
seem to be where my reputation ended up being made.”
Now that he was
settled into a good darkroom of his own design, Eric started to
synthesize his own photo chemistries.
“One of the better
bookstores in town carried a copy of Steve Anchell’s Darkroom
Cookbook; and in ’96 I bought it, took it home, and immersed
myself in it. One of the formulae included in the book was that
for PMK Pyro, the B&W film developer I now use almost
exclusively. Also attached was a footnote on how to obtain a copy
of Gordon Hutchings’ The Book of Pyro through the Photographer’s
Formulary in Condon, MT.
Gordon was the inventor of the PMK process, and he was in large part
responsible for the revival of pyrogallol developers in the
large-format B&W fine art world. I immediately saw the
applications of pyro to portraiture, and I put the stuff to work
there. This was also about the time that I really discovered all
the merits of cold-light printing, and I modified the B&W lamphouse
of my primary enlarger to accept the Aristo V54 cold light head.
Gordon’s primary light is an Aristo W45, but I wanted to experiment
with something a little bluer in color to really emphasize the pyro
stain. I may yet switch back to something like a W45, however,
when I put in my next large format enlarger.”
Finally, in August of
2000, Eric had the opportunity to meet and trade tips with Gordon
“Meeting Gordon was a
real treat. There are some huge egos in this business, yet for
all he’s done, Gordon is an exceedingly modest and approachable
guy. I don’t do much work at sizes greater than 6cm x 7cm, and
part of the fun of working with Gordon was getting to play with the 8”
x 10” Deardorff view camera that for him is a staple of fine art
landscape shooting. Gordon is also a skilled printer, and he had
a lot of suggestions for me as far as improvements I could make in my
split-contrast printing technique. It may well be some of those
suggestions that drive my next enlarger choice.
“I actually met Gordon
through contacts I’d made at the Photographer’s Formulary in Montana,
and before my time in Montana was up, I’d had the added benefit of
meeting about a dozen or so other fairly serious artists in the
“By no means least
among these folks was Gordon's assistant, Christine Anderson, a
professor at the University of Montana who is an accomplished
photographer in her own right. Chris had also recently authored
Tutti Nudi, a feminist critique of the nude throughout history.
In the extremely small world department, Chris' daughter Lu was
somebody I knew from living in Austin. And fortunately, Chris is a
feminist with a good sense of humor and perspective, because it wasn't
all that long after I returned to Austin that I ended up using Lu as a
model in a car club's swimsuit pin-up calendar.
“At least, I hope
Chris has a good sense of humor about these things...”
These days, Eric
continues to do fine art portraiture in both B&W and color from out
of his studio and darkroom in Austin, TX. His current projects
include fine-tuning his E6 process to produce optimal results with the
Fujichrome RVP and RDP-III emulsions. His hobbies include the
restoration of old cars, marathon running, and martial arts. And
he continues to be active in the local Austin high-tech scene as a
designer of electronics.