Kallitypes roadtrip #1 – Preparation for the 4 week trip ahead

Richard E. Bakers van for roadtripHave we not all dreamed about packing up, installing a portable lab and taking off? Richard E. Baker actually does it. Follow this series of his 3,000-mile-long road trip across the USA where he will be making kallitypes in his portable lab in his car.

Writer and photography / Richard E. Baker

Links to all the chapters in the Kallitype Roadtrip:

I have always been visually torn between the ephemeral and the eternal. Old buildings draw me in like bats to an attic. The buildings will not last and with every snap of my camera’s shutter, I capture a piece of history, things that represent the past and the present, but not the future. Only the photograph will remain. I can sit for hours in an abandoned farmhouse imagining the hopes and dreams of people looking for a brighter future and finding only dirt and despair; or the family who saved every coin they had to start a small store in the middle of the wilderness knowing the town would surely prosper and they would prosper even as the town started to crumble. I am equally attracted to rocks and geology. Rocks and mountains appear permanent to me. Although they will eventually crumble, they will remain long after I am gone. They stand as monuments to earth’s constant struggle to survive. Fortunately for me, this Yin and Yang often occupy the same areas: lost hopes scattered among the rocks of time.

With that in mind, I started to plan my trip from Washington State to Phoenix, Arizona over hills, mountains, forests, deserts, plateaus, and through homesteads, ancient civilizations, abandoned, farms, ranches, ghost towns, and the more recent debris of hollow gas stations and flattened businesses. I crave sunshine during the winter months. Washington is often mistaken for the Rain Planet. The state is rated tenth for depression. (Oregon comes in first) Any sliver of sunshine during the winter causes temporary blindness to residents and they spend hours standing in dark closets waiting for their vision to clear. Sunshine is the cure for depression, the reason Hawaii and California suffer the least depression in this country.

“I was especially anxious to chase the sun and get started because of a recent discovery: Van Dyke Brown printing.”

I have photographed much of the world with analogue equipment, often using my Holga camera. I enjoy primitive and basic things – the simpler life, things that are closest to the originals. Refinement draws from induction. From the time photography was considered the ultimate truth, today’s digital photography has become a lie. People no longer take pictures; they make pictures. There has always been some manipulation with photographs, mostly simple dodging and burning. Now almost everything is manipulated. Don’t like the boats in the background? – throw in some mountains instead. Never been to Egypt? – add in some camels and pyramids. If you need a companion, Photoshop in Dr. Don Ryan, well known Egyptologist. Tell everyone he is your best pal.

Brush and water. Vandyke brown by Richard E. Baker.
Brush and water. Vandyke brown by Richard E. Baker.

The internet, publications, art galleries, and almost everything has been altered. Look at the photographs. Has anyone seen such flawless shots, such brilliant colors, such vibrancy? Photography has added to the illusion of life and no longer shows us things we might have overlooked and helped to expand our knowledge, but has given us the opportunity to view lies as truth and has expanded our ignorance. Imperfection is vital to the truth. A record producer once asked Jazz musician Miles Davis if he wanted to record over a passage of flubbed notes. “Naw, man,” said Davis. Let’s keep it real.” Shooting with a Holga is as real as you can get with a camera.

Today, most photographs have no meaning. Almost everyone has a device to take pictures and they take millions of them. They are not meant to be kept and are little more than ephemeral dust. The pictures are not printed; they are deleted. People cannot relate to a modern photograph in a meaningful way; surprising since most photographs are selfies.

I develop my film on the road: in jungles, rest stops, village huts, cheap hotels, and wherever I happen to be at the end of a roll. Washing the film in a mountain stream is not uncommon. The image and the land have a connection. If Weegee could develop from the trunk of his car, so could I. He was also able to make prints. I am often frustrated because I cannot make any prints in the wild. Toting all the chemicals, red light, paper, and enlarger, especially when I am on a motorbike, is not an option.

Several months ago I decided to go through most of the early photographic processes starting with salt prints. I found the processes interesting but did not make the connection between printing and travel. Attempting to evaluate the flubs I was making with Van Dyke Brown, an idea finally dawned on me. Processes like Van Dyke Brown and Kalliytipe are perfect for backwoods printing. Since they are printing out processes I did not need an enlarger. Van Dyke Brown only needs the emulsion, sunlight for exposure, a weak solution of fixer, and a water bath. With those ingredients, I could finally make prints anywhere. With the anticipation of both sunlight and prints – not to mention the added pleasure of a country void of people, I started to prepare for my trip to Arizona.

Colombia rocks. Vandyke brown by Richard E. Baker.
Colombia rocks. Vandyke brown by Richard E. Baker.

I am by nature a loner. I do not know if I was born that way or conditioned that way. As a child, I lived four years in the outback of Alaska before it was a state. There was no school to attend nor were there any playmates. I had myself as my best friend and a vast wilderness as a playhouse. I learned to take care of myself to the extent that my parents never worried when I disappeared into the brush looking for old trappers’ cabins, rope bridges, or moose. At the age of six or seven, I was already building shelters in which to sleep. I just had to tell my parents when I would be home.

My father was in the Air Force and we lived in many places between Alaska and Panama. I attended eleven different schools and there is nothing worse than constantly being the new kid at any institution. To this day I always travel alone.

I find preparation for a trip very enjoyable, the mapping out and the packing, even though I seldom follow the itinerary. My attention span is short and strange roads draw me in. All roads lead someplace and I want to know what is down them. The more primitive the road, the more intriguing.

First on the traveller’s list is taking the Ford Ranger to the shop for an oil change and a thorough inspection. There is nothing worse than being caught in the desert because an old radiator hose cracks, a wheel bearing is starting to fail, and the only resemblance the tires have to real tires is that they are reasonably round.

Equipment for the truck

  • A shovel to dig my way out of holes
  • Tire chains for the same reason
  • 10 gallons of water – The Ranger is rear-wheel drive, the worst possible vehicle for bad roads. The water for developing and adding weight to the bed gives the truck more traction.

Planning the road trip

I start with a U.S. map and mark the starting and destination points to get a general idea of how far I will be travelling. That gives me an estimation of time and expenses.
I map out several routes, generally avoiding expressways. These routes are narrowed down according to possible interests. I decided on Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona on the way down, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington on the return trip; about 3,000 miles total.

Camping equipment

  • One-person tent or trailer – I have a 1947 teardrop trailer arranged for photography
  • Sleeping bag
  • Backpack stove
  • One small cooking pan
  • Dog dish – I eat out of a dog dish because they are indestructible.
  • Headlight
  • Ice chest – I drink bottles of water down about an inch then put them in the freezer. Before I leave I put them in the ice chest to help keep the chest cold longer and save on buying ice for several days.
  • Table
  • Chair

Packing up the car for a roadtrip


  • Peanut butter and Jelly – My staple. I have on this mixture for days
  • Flour tortillas – I take them instead of bread. They last longer than bread and are easy to pack.
  • Top Raman – Very cheap and very light
  • Chili – Several cans for a treat
  • Instant oatmeal
  • Several hard-boiled eggs
  • Tea and coffee
  • Fresh fruit bought along the way
  • Water

Lab in the back of a car

Cameras and gear

  • Several tripods
  • Film
  • Film holders
  • Zone IV 4X5 field camera
  • Holga pinhole panoramic camera
  • Digital Nikon Z6 – to photograph the prints and get them into the computer
  • Moskva 5 camera – I have no need for a soviet era camera. I bought one from Ukraine as my way of support in their recent struggles. They make rough cameras with excellent glass and I thought the camera would be fun to use on the trip.
  • Apple computer

Developing supplies and equipment

  •  A kallitype kit from Bostic & Sullivan
  • 4X5 contact printing frame
  • Paper – I had trouble with some of the early printing because of the paper. Switching to Revere Platinum solved the problem. The paper was developed for alternative processing, works great, and is reasonably priced
  • Film developer – My standard developer is PMK, not exactly eco-friendly. I like eco-pro, but the developer takes up much space since one cannot use it as a one-shot developer from concentrate. You must mix 5 litres then fill a jug with the amount you think you will use and dilute it 50/50 with water. I had no choice except to pack a half gallon. I quickly changed my mind and went with Diafine. Diafine did not save any space but the developer has the advantage of developing all B&W films for the same time (3 minutes in each solution) and has a wide latitude regarding temperature. The disadvantage is the developer cannot be pushed for higher contrast, something needed for decent negatives in many alternative processes, so I would have to work around the process. I would have to work around the process. I also purchased a bottle of highly concentrated FlicFlim Black, White, and Green developer. Made in Canada, the developer can be difficult to find in the U.S. The few reviews say the developer is decent, friendly, and economical. The concentrate is diluted 1/47 and is easy to carry. I was anxious to test the results
  • Fixer
  • Developing trays
  • A graduate
  • Small box of watercolours – I like painting over prints to relax while enjoying a glass of wine
  • Changing bag
  • Foto flow
  • Clothes pins
Waterfall. Vandyke Brown by Richard E. Baker.
Waterfall. Vandyke Brown by Richard E. Baker.

Of course, there are also clothes and personal items like a copy of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories. This may sound like a lot of gear, but everything packs away nicely. If I just take my truck, all chemicals fit in a tower of plastic drawers, and food and dinnerware in another. Camping material goes behind the truck’s seat. Cameras rest on the passenger side floor and the view camera goes on the seat.

I have a 1947 tear-drop trailer I found rotting in a farmer’s field. I paid him a few dollars for the trailer and, with my brother-in-law, we dismantled the trailer and completely rebuilt it from the ground up as a photo trailer. The beast works wonderfully as long as I stay on paved roads. All the chemicals have their own places. The major chemicals, in a cabinet on the outside, opens to a small working table. Although convenient, the trailer was not suitable for this trip since I would be spending a lot of time on back roads.

I thought I might take a few last shots of Washington before I left to give me a chance to test the chemicals and cameras. This is a tough place for landscape photography. Trees grow everywhere and the mountains, except when covered with snow, are dull. Ansel Adams had a tough time photographing Washington. He liked mountains, but he liked them bare and with rock cliffs and faces. I utilize the trees by photographing the stumps. They make for interesting compositions.

Stume. Vandyke Brown by Richard E. Baker.
Stume. Vandyke Brown by Richard E. Baker.

I drove to Alder lake where the stumps are especially nice. The lake has its own seasons: wet and dry. Half the year the stumps are under water and the other half they rest on beds of mud. The roots often form curious leading lines. For about an hour no rain fell and some splatters of white clouds floated nicely above the stumps. I snapped a few shots then followed with a drive up a logging road for a picture of Mount Rainier. The mountain dominates Washington and for those who have the money the park is a lovely drive. Money pervades everything in this country and with an entrance fee of $30, the beauty is not for the poor as it was when I was a kid and we often filled my Hudson Hornet with high school buddies, took off to the park on a whim, made a campfire of dead tree branches, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, drank illegal beer because we were underage, talked about THE SUBJECT – GIRLS, and slept beside the river to the music of cascading water.

The film and prints turned out fine. I did not use my field camera and instead made computer negatives. They never look as good as straight negatives but I just wanted to make sure I had the process down. They were developed at home, not outside. The good people at Bostick & Sullivan, who specialize in alternative processes, had sent me their Kallitype kit. I was anxious to compare the process with the Van Dyke Brown but would have to learn during the trip. That was to come later. I roughly sketched out the itinerary, a useless endeavour since I seldom follow one for more than a day, but it makes me feel like everything is covered. I slept restlessly that night in anticipation of warmer air and clearer skies.

Though this series will focus on photography, there is more to Richard E. Baker than just photography.

Links to all the chapters in the Kallitype Roadtrip:

Richard E. Baker playing jazz.
Richard E. Baker on stage playing jazz.
Richard E. Baker giving digital cameras to an orphanage.
Richard E. Baker giving digital cameras to an orphanage in Vietnam.

Richard E. Baker is a musician, writer, and photographer. As a musician, he started playing professionally at the age of 14 and has played with Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, and Mel Torme. He has written over 30 books, and over 100 articles, and has won many awards including the Ernest Hemmingway Award for short fiction. As a photographer Richard E. Baker was named Boxing Photographer of the Year by the World Boxing Board, a finalist in the Sienna Awards, one of the international sports photographers of the year by American Photo, first place pinhole photography award, first place in the Holga award, first place Macanudo award, and each year Richard collects digital cameras and give to orphans in Vietnam.

Recommended reading - Learn more about Kallitype & vandykes
Kallitype, Vandyke Brown, and Argyrotype: A Step-by-Step Manual of Iron-Silver Processes Highlighting Contemporary Artists

Kallitype, Vandyke Brown, and Argyrotype: A Step-by-Step Manual of Iron-Silver Processes Highlighting Contemporary Artists

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A cookbook of simple, basic recipes for making black and white printing paper and paper negatives.

Alchemist's Guide To The Kallitype Print: Printing In Silver

Alchemist's Guide To The Kallitype Print: Printing In Silver

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A step-by-step guide to printing kallitypes.

Kallitype: The Processes and the History

Kallitype: The Processes and the History

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An extensive encyclopedia of history and various kallitype processes.

Making Kallitypes

Making Kallitypes

by Dick Stevens

A definitive guide.

4 thoughts on “Kallitypes roadtrip #1 – Preparation for the 4 week trip ahead”

  1. It would be great to be able to see the images full screen, descriptions of getting the image to paper & info regarding the sites. Hope Richard has a safe & productive trip, looking forward to seeing them!

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