Screen Door from Issue #71
We came upon the remarkable Bruce Turner and his vintage camera at Washington Pass in the North Cascades of Washington state this summer. Others were snapping digital photos of his 1892 London-made Thornton-Pickard camera before rushing back to their cars. Turner was patiently watching the changing sky, quietly pacing the rocky outcropping on which he’d set his tripod, waiting for the precise moment when clouds and sunlight might harmonize to the music of the mountains, when he would squeeze the shutter bulb in sync with the rhythms. “The clouds,” he explained, “know I’m watching them.”
Turner always looks for the “picture perfect” but in the same breath says there is no such thing. He never travels far from home: “What is important is capturing a sense of light to create work that goes beyond me and lives on its own,” he says. “So I learn the light where I’m at.”
Turner takes his time creating photographs. Time to find and buy a 19th-century camera, time to invent and patent its shutter housing (based on an 1860s design) so that it fits interchangeable lenses, time to import specific supplies, time to wait for the clouds.
After hours of anticipation, Turner was ready. He squeezed the vacuum bulb for the precise amount of time needed, blasting the image onto 8×10 Ilford sheet film.
Then he packed up his 30 cumbersome pounds of aged-to-perfection gear and headed home to his studio, where the real work began: developing the negative in an acid formula based on a nut found only in Japan, retouching with ancient Kodak inks, playing with shadows and time, fine-tuning light and perception.
This print shows the Liberty Bell mountain with its spires weighted to the left, when in reality they are on the right.
“I treat my camera as a musician would his most precious violin,” he says. “All things combine to express an idea not exactly like any other.”