William Kerr’s Beautiful Kodak Tri-X Food Photography

All images and words by William Kerr. Used with permission.

We’ve received well over 1,000 submissions for our analog photography zine; and while you all know that the best of the best (no more than 20) photographers are getting into the zine there are a number of photographers that still have very good work surely worthy of being profiled on our website. One of those photographers is William Kerr–who loves food photography and Kodak Tri-X in the 6×7 format. Crazy, right? You’d typically see food in color, but William does it in shades of light, blacks, whites, and shadows.

I genuinely think that you’re about to fall in love with his submission.

I’m Bill. I’ve been shooting casually for 35 years and a little, seriously for 25ish on and off. I use an RZ67 with the 110/2.8 and a beat up Nikon D3100, mainly with the 60mm Micro-Nikkor. The images I’m attaching are from a semi-long running film project I’ve got going on.

I’m a foodie, kind of. I guess. And as a foodie we’re supposed to in touch with our food, to examine our ingredients and so on. I thought it might be interesting to take that literally so I started shooting closeups of food items, usually ingredients.

I haven’t gotten around to getting extension tubes for the RZ, so while it racks out a long ways you can’t really do *macro* work as such, so I crop the frame, sometimes pretty radically, It’s not really that much about the big neg, for this stuff, it’s about the slower more meditative way we work with film. There’s only 10 exposures on a roll, the camera is pretty big. I don’t use the prism finder. The whole thing is slow and careful.

Since I’m supposed to be examining my food, getting closer to it, it seems to me to make sense. It might be stupid, I dunno, but it feels right? I feel like I *am* getting closer to my food, so that’s good.
I soup in Rodinal (r09) or sometimes d76. I like rodinal for the shelf life. I couldn’t honestly tell you which images are which out of this lot, but if you look I think you can see that some of them are more rodinal-ly and some are more d76-y, but I might be imagining thing. One thing’s sure, some of these need some more spotting..

Then I use the D3100 with a jerry-rigged backlighting setup for the rough crop and the repro into digital. Then I’m 100% GIMP after that. I spot, adjust tones, dodge&burn, edge-burn. Sometimes I tone, but not these guys.

I got in to photography as a young teen when mom gave me her old, I think it was a Kodak Startech. Snaps of the dogs etc. As a young adult I started reading Ansel Adams and so on, the usual. Developed my own film, shot some color. Since then I’ve been off and on serious, but gradually more and more serious, building up projects and whatnot. No real online presence, that seems to be just a rat-race. I actually just spun up this email account a few months back to reply to some seriously egregious stuff in a forum I’ve lurked in for years (I know, I know, I should just leave it alone.. )

Influences? Adams, obviously (it probably shows in these, well, I hope/wish) as a technician, and I can’t quite shake his ideas about tonal range. More recently I’m pretty inspired by Gregory Crewdson and Cindy Sherman. I think they’re big idea people but I haven’t worked out how to use anything I see there. I’m kind of a small-idea guy maybe. So I aspire but…actually Daniel Zvereff who I first saw the the Phoblographer. I loved his skate photos from India. Still working on whether I could borrow something from him too!

Photography isn’t important to me for any big reason, I guess. It’s just always been there, and I feel like I have things to say, and I feel like the process helps me out too. This food project is as much a personal meditation as anything that makes some art, for example, but its a meditation I feel like it good for me.

I can’t decide if I’ve more a creator or a documenter. Isn’t photography both at the same time?

What am I thinking when I am shooting these food pictures: Well, I’m trying to get at the essence of the food in some way, right? I mean, that’s my idea. So sometimes I am actually thinking “well this is stupid, garlic doesn’t have an essence” but sometimes I feel like I’m getting at something. I try, anyways. The quality is light you can probably tell is pretty much the same, but I do move it around. I’m thinking about where I can put the food, and where the shadows should fall, that will somehow in some way I can’t really describe, make it look as much like itself as possible. Basically I fuss with it until it feels right, and then shoot. a few frames with slight differences, move the light this way a little, that way. Then maybe I move everything around and try a different bowl, a plate, a tabletop, whatever, and repeat. I don’t really know what I am looking for, but I struggle to stick with the meditative aspect, and bull through.

I don’t know if you’ve even tried meditation, but there’s this cycle where you lose your center and start thinking about work, or the dog, or something, and then you have to chase that out of your mind and get back to your center, your mantra, whatever it is. It’s a lot like that. I find myself thinking about technical details, going down rabbit holes of fussing with the light. Then I pull myself back to the food, and try to find whatever it is that lettuce has. Sometimes I get something I like, sometimes not.

Processing is sort of sketched above, I guess? Shoot Tri-X on 120 rolls in the RZ, soup it according to the directions on the bottle, really. Standard stuff. I don’t fool around with caffenol or alternative processing much. Sometimes i do rodinal is 1:25, 1:50, or 1:100, but that’s as radical as I get. Then copy it into digital land with the D3100 with my repro jig. I know I could do better with a good scanner, but I’m not after large prints anyways so eh. I use the Nikon RAW converter to go to TIFF. I have some standard adjustments to my digitized negatives that I think render the tonality of Tri-X “correctly” and then I just do standard darkroom stuff.

Burning/Dodging, spotting, edge burns, fine tune the crop. All in GIMP, because it’s free and so far to seems to be good enough.

I don’t use film for everything, that’s for sure. But when I want to slow down and really be in tune with the work, I bust out the RZ and a couple rolls of Tri-X. It’s my mental “studio mode” I think. Plus, it feels right to do wet chemistry for food. I know, toxic, but it’s physical, it’s real, you can touch it, right? Like the food. So it’s philosophically right.

Or maybe that’s all a bunch of BS? It sounds kind of like BS when I write it all out 🙂