John Bower's photography

Any image, in any of my books, can be ordered as an 11” x 14” fine photograph. Not as an inkjet digital print, but as a hand-processed gelatin-silver print. I enlarge and develop each photograph personally in my own darkroom, and each is mounted and matted, and ready for framing (See below for mat sizes). The following provides some specifics about my shooting, processing, and mounting.


I use two camera bags. The camera itself (a Pentax 67 medium-format film camera) goes in one, along with filters, light meter, spare batteries, plus various extras that I don't often use. The lenses, and extra rolls of film, go in the other bag. The majority of my black-and-white work is shot on Ilford FP4+ 120-size roll film, and I get 10 negatives per roll that are 60mm x 70mm. These are somewhat larger than a 35 mm camera's 35mm x 24mm negatives—so they yield sharper enlargements. (The negatives are the same width as a playing card, but a little but shorter.) I often carry the bag containing lenses with me as I walk around a particular subject.

I have a 90-180 zoom lens (90mm is a normal lens for this camera), a 75mm shift (perspective control) lens, and a 300mm telephoto lens. I also have a 2X tele-converter, which will double the focal length of each lens. For photographing buildings, the shift lens is really great, because it can be adjusted to remove keystoning (distortion) caused by perspective. Plus, I have a set of 3 extension tubes for shooting up close.

When heading out for a day of shooting, I grab the two camera bags and put them in the car. My tripod (an Induro AT413 Aluminum model, with a Gitzo GH2780QR ball head) is often already in the car. I also keep a 42" diameter collapsible five-in-one reflector, a hard hat, a battery-operated spot light, an Indiana atlas, and a collection of county maps in the car.

If I think I'll need it, I'll put a large 42" x 72" collapsible five-in-one reflector in the car. I might also strap an 8' step ladder onto the car's roof racks. I custom-made an aluminum mount for the top of the ladder that will accept the column from my tripod, thus giving me a 9-foot-tall tripod. It's handy to get closer to tall cemetery statues and some building details.

Lynn grabs her laptop for recording the specifics of each shot, including negative number, date, location, notes, etc. She and I are almost always together when I'm out shooting, and we take our lunch with us, because we rarely know where we will be at noontime. We also travel with a couple of jugs of water and snacks.

When we arrive at a location to actually start shooting, I'll hang a filter pouch (containing red, orange, blue, and green filters) and my spot meter (Soligar Spot Sensor II) around my neck. Then, I'll attach the camera to the tripod (which I use always), and if I think I'll need a different lens I'll hang the lens bag over my shoulder. The red and orange filters are used to darken a blue sky to varying degrees, to make the sky more dramatic, or to emphasize cloud formations. I also sometimes use them (and the green and blue filters) when I'm shooting something that I plan to later hand-color a print. For example, if I'm shooting a green sign, I may use the green filter, which will result in the green area being lighter on the black-and-white print, thus able to accept the hand-coloring paint easier. (For some example of hand-colored signs, see this page.) I always use my spot meter to determine an accurate exposure, and I’ll typically shoot 2-8 rolls of film in a day.

For about 10 years, I used a Mamiya 645E medium-format film camera (with several lenses, including a shift lens). Then, in August 2010, I bought the Pentax 67 (and lenses) with an Individual Artist Grant I received from the Indiana Arts Commission. So, now I'm using the Pentax exclusively.


I do all my own darkroom work (You can tour my darkroom here), and I usually develop my film within 2 or 3 days of shooting. I use Ilford and Kodak chemistry for both film and prints, and I may vary my film development time in order to get more or less contrast in the negatives. After the film is developed, and I've made contact sheets of the negatives, Lynn and I will go over them together to determine which images to print.

I'll usually make 8x10 work prints of 3-10 images per roll of film,. I'll carefully enlarge, focus, and expose a negative in my enlarger onto Ilford Multigrade RC paper. I can vary the contrast by using filters in the enlarger, and I'll often fine-tune the exposure by burning (adding more exposure) or dodging (holding back some exposure) certain areas of the image. It isn't unusual for me to make several prints before I get one that I really like. I keep detailed notes for each print, which I write on the back after the print is dry. These 8" x 10" work prints are stored in metal file cabinets.

When I'm ready to make an 11" x 14" enlargement (or a 16" x 20" enlargement), I'll refer to the work print, and the notes, to produce a larger version. Once the 11x14s are processed and dried, I'll tone them in a Kodak Brown Toner solution. This gives them a slight sepia (brownish) tint. This toning process converts the metallic silver in the paper to a more stable silver sulfide, which makes the prints much longer lasting.

The largest I'll print a 645 negative (from my old Mamiya 645E camera) is 11" x 14" because I've not happy with blowing up that size negative any larger. Too much enlarging looks too fuzzy to me. However, I will enlarge the larger negatives taken with my Pentax 67 camera up to a 16" x 20" size.

After they're dry, I'll don a jeweler's binocular magnifier and look over each toned print to see if there are any tiny white dust spots. Dust spots can result from dust on the film, or on the photographic paper while the paper is being exposed in the enlarger. I always dust each negative with a can of compressed air before it goes in the enlarger, so there usually aren't any dust spots, but if there are, applying a spotting dye (Spotone) to them with a very fine #00000 sable brush will really improve a print.

As you can imagine, all this hand processing is much more time consuming than making a digital inkjet print. But that's what makes creating a gelatin-silver print in a darkroom both an art and a craft. And, because I do all the work myself, you can be assured that there is a bit of me in each and every print.

Limited Editions

I don't number my prints, but I do keep an accurate count of how many of each 11" x 14" and 16" x 20" print I make. Once I've made 25 prints of a particular image, in an 11" x 14" size, I will make no more. Thus, all my 11" x 14" prints have a maximum, limited edition of 25, and my 16" x 20" prints have a limited edition of 10. The reason I don't number them is because I know that, for some images, I'll only ever print 2 or 3 copies, and numbering systems typically use the print number and the edition number. For example 1/25, 2/25, 3/25 up to 25/25. This type of numbering implies that one knows how precisely many prints will be in an edition (in this example, 25).

While I know I will never print more that a few copies of some images, I don't know precisely how many (I may print 3 or 5 or 7). If I knew I was going to print 7 copies, I could simply number them 1/7, 2/7 and so on. But, as I sit here today, I don't know how many copies I'll print in the future. So, I've simply decided not to number any of them. But you can be assured that my 11x14s are always printed in a maximum limited edition of 25, so there will never be more than 25 of a particular image printed, in that size

In August, 2010 I started using a Pentax 67 camera, which produces a larger negative than I had produced previously. I will print these larger negatives in either an 11" x 14" size or a 16" x 20" size. (The larger negatives are numbered over 1,000 (In other words, the negative number will be in this format: XXXX.XX). These larger sized prints will be printed in a maximum limited edition of only 10.


The last step is to mount each print on cfc-free foamboard, which has an acid-free, low-temperature, heat-sensitive adhesive (making the prints removable). For this I use a Seal Dry Mounting Press. The prints are matted with acid-free, 100%-cotton-rag mat board (Crescent brand, color: Optical White #1684), which I sign in pencil. I cut my own mats with a Logan Mat Cutter (Simplex Plus Model 750). Finally, the mounted-and-matted prints are shrink-wrapped to protect them until they are framed.

The mat size (which is also the frame size) for 11" x 14" prints is 16" wide by 20" high for vertical prints, and 19" wide by 17" high for horizontal prints.

The mat size (which is also the frame size) for 16" x 20" prints is 23" wide by 28" high for vertical prints, and 27" wide by 24" high for horizontal prints.

Each mounted and matted 11" x 14" photograph is priced at $225.00.

Each mounted and matted 16" x 20" photograph is priced at $325.00.

To order a photograph, click here.

For more information about John, click here.

For information about displaying photographs, click here.