Steve Aimone:

ON BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHIC PRINTMAKER

It started out innocently enough...

I’d been a practicing fine artist my whole adult life. A bachelors in philosophy, a masters in fine arts (painting and drawing), and a deep love of the creative process quite naturally led me to a career as an independent art workshop teacher. In turn, the workshop curriculum and experiences led to the opportunity to write two books. The first was Design!, aimed at both artists and craftspeople.

And then sometimes you just step in it...

The second book, Expressive Drawing, was proposed and accepted by just the right publisher at just the right time. One of the publishers was studying painting, loved my approach, and the project became handsomely funded. And since the book was to be loosely based on workshops I’d been teaching, the publisher asked me to take some photos of artist-participants at work to serve as illustrations for portions of the text. It was recommended I get an entry level digital camera; I purchased a Nikon D40, familiarized myself with a photo-editing program, and was ready to go.  I was now a photographer taking photographs for a serious, functional purpose!

Nikon D40 (stock image)
Expressive Drawing, Steven Aimone, Sterling Publsihing, 2009

Around the same time, my wife Katherine and I bought a house on Monhegan Island, a 500 acre outcropping twelve miles off the coast of Maine. My brother, photographer David Aimone and I started a tradition of getting together on Monhegan each May to spend time together. David would take photographs and I would paint.

But then, subtly and incrementally, an unexpected change in course took place....

The Carina House, photo: David Aimone
Cliff, storm clouds, rocks, sea, White Head, Monhegan, Maine, Panasonic Lumix FZ200, 5.18.14, photo: Steven Aimone

As I accompanied David on photo hikes around the island I began taking the D40 along to experience the island for myself photographically. We would come home at night, process the digital images, and compare experiences. Great stuff.

David, though, spent only part of his time using his digital camera. The rest of the outings were spent using film cameras—35mm, medium format, large format… pinhole and zone plate as well. So innocently enough, one day I said to Dave, “I don’t understand why you go through the efforts involved in using film cameras when these digital ones we have seem to do the job just fine and much more economically.”

Rather than answer me in words, David gave me two medium format film cameras to try out for myself, a Rolleicord twin lens reflex and a Zeiss Inkonta M folder. I shot with them, David taught me to develop the film myself… and I was hooked. SERIOUSLY hooked. I would scan the negatives to transform the images into digital files I could use to share images with others and to print out on a digital printer!

Rolleicord, medium format, twin lens reflex (stock image)
Zeiss Ikonta M medium format, folder (stock image)

As my photography practice developed I acquired more that 40 film cameras, medium format and 35mm of all kinds and explored what each had to offer. Very exciting and illuminating! I  tended to my practice regularly and devotedly and  became focused on sharing the scanned images on FLICKR, the online photo sharing site. I edited the photos to serve this purpose. And occasionally I would make archival pigment prints on a digital printer.

But what works on an illuminated screen doesn’t function the same when converted to hard copy digital prints .Yet I wasn’t not yet ready to set up a darkroom and learn to use it. So I continued on, until…

I became aware of the resurgence of instant film and instant film cameras. Seemingly, all of a sudden and for a small sum, a variety of instant photo equipment became widely available. And it occurred to me that instant prints were FILM prints after all—one of a kind, produced without digitization. I bought a Lomo’Instant camera, tried out a pack of film, and presto —rich, creamy, glossy, real-deal black and white prints. I loved them and shot film pack after film pack.

Studio building, fire escape, tree forms, River Arts District, Asheville, NC, Lomo'Instant, Instax, Mini Monochrome, 1.4.21 photo: Steven Aimone
Lomo’Instant, instant film camera (stock image)

There were drawbacks, though. The images were one size and relatively small at that. Plus, you got one print, only one print, and had little ability to influence or adjust the qualities present in the prints.

I had experienced the making of a cyanotype on several occasions but had backed off from creating more of them, waiting until I had a large format camera and negatives to work from. But the Lomo’Instant images were no bigger than a medium format film negative. So… I began experimenting with making petit contact print cyanotypes. Now THAT was exciting to say the least. So, finally, I became a fledgling photographic printmaker!!!

Recently, I’ve been making direct contact print Cyanotypes. Some retain the cyan chroma.

Cyanotype, Inside an old tree, branches, lichen, backlit, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, printed from 6x6 negative shot with a Yashica D twin lens reflex, 3.21.21
Cyanotype, Landscape with trees and cornfield, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, printed from 6x6 medium format negative shot with a Ricohflex Dia M twin lens reflex, January 2021

Others are bleached… and/or tea- or coffee-toned.

Tea-toned cyanotype, Inside an old tree, branches, lichen, backlit, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, printed from 6x6 negative shot with a Yashica D twin lens reflex, 3.21.21
Coffee-toned cyanotype, Landscape, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, printed from 6x6 medium format negative shot with a Ricohflex Dia M twin lens reflex, January 2021

And while these initial explorations in contact printing were quite thrilling when printed from 6×6 medium format film negatives, I am now exploring working with 4×5 large format negatives shot with a refurbished Graflex Crown Graphic

Graflex Crown Graphic, large format film camera (stock photo)
Cyanotype, Blossoms, cluster, Burton Street Community Peace Gardens, Asheville, NC, Graflex Crown Graphic, Schneider Symmar f-5.6, 150mm lens, contact printed from a 4x5 negative, 3.14.21
Cyanotype, Landscape, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC, Graflex Crown Graphic, Schneider Symmar f-5.6, 150mm lens, contact printed from a 4x5 negative, late 2020

and 3.25 x 4.25 large format images shot with a recently-acquired Folmer Graflex R.B. Series B

Folmer Graflex R.B. Series B, large format film camera (stock photo)
Cyanotype, Blooming daffodils, yard, Asheville, NC, Folmer Graflex R.B. Series B, Kodak Anastigmat f-4.5, contact printed from a 3.25 x 4.25 negative, 3.7.21
Cyanotype, Blossoms, rhododendron, Asheville, NC, Folmer Graflex R.B. Series B, Kodak Anastigmat f-4.5, contact printed from a 3.25 x 4.25 negative, 5.7.21

Next up? Finish setting up a darkroom in the bathroom of the painting studio so I can begin  making silver gelatin contact prints! Oh, and experimenting with Harman Direct Positive paper (where you print without a negative; the image is exposed directly onto the paper) too.

And the layers of the onion continue to peel away. Stay tuned…

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. aimonephoto

    Fine work Steve! I have some serious competition (if we were competing!) LOL!

  2. Steve Aimone

    Thank you for the kind words, bro!

  3. WJ Eastman

    Great post!

    1. Steve Aimone

      Most appreciated, WJ… thanks for reading.

  4. Timo Evon

    An artist’s eye is a powerful asset regardless of the medium, and you for sure have it! Thanks for the bio and introduction to what got you to this point – I’ve been wondering.

  5. Steve Aimone

    Taken to heart, Timo, Thanks for the kind words.

  6. Jane Cohen

    Steve… this was a very illuminating view of what you are up to. So interested in your work and process. Thank you for sharing and being so articulate. Look forward to more!

  7. Duane Couch

    Steve, this is a fascinating description of the process and evolution of your photography practice. It is beautifully written, and the photographs are wonderful! I love the spirit of experimentation!

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