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ND Magazine coverpage and Article

April 23, 2012

Roman Loranc, one of the few holdouts among fine art photographers still shooting 4x5 sheet film in his Linhof view camera, loves telling this story: 

“I was photographing in The Ukraine several years ago, and had decided one morning to shoot some pictures in an old train station.  I didn’t know that photography was not permitted there; that it was actually illegal to do so.   After I’d set up the 4x5, and had exposed a few sheets of film, a police officer asked what I was doing, and then arrested me when I told him.  He quickly inspected my camera and then called his supervisor over, and they began talking rapidly in Russian.“

 “Fortunately for me, I’d grown up in Communist Poland, and speak Russian fluently.  The gist of their conversation concerned my camera, because when they inspected the ground glass there were no images there.  They had a problem in arresting me since there was no evidence that I had shot any pictures.  They had no idea I was shooting film!   So they gave me a very stern warning and I departed as quickly as I could, my camera and film holders intact.”

His first camera, given to him as a communion present by his Godparents, was a small 35mm Druch, made in Poland.  This broke almost immediately.  Years later he was traveling in Russia and saw a very sexy East German made Pentacon Praktica LTL, which was a copy of a Nikon.  It came in a little suitcase that contained an enlarger and trays and safelight and even chemicals—everything necessary to make and print photographs.   Camera equipment was very difficult to come by in Eastern Bloc countries, and Loranc wanted this camera desperately.  But it was incredibly expensive, way out of his budget.   However he was wearing a pair of the latest Levi jeans, which were highly desirable back then.  “People don’t realize that having Levis in the Eastern Bloc was like having a Mercedes Benz here.  I left that store with my first decent camera and a pair of polyester pants that were so short I looked like an idiot the rest of my trip.”

Loranc, as mentioned, spent his formative years in Poland, living amidst many centuries of architectural splendor and where even everyday functional objects were often crafted by artisans who added a certain expressive flair or embellishment to the items they made.  He grew up surrounded by things that felt special to him in an artistic way, and this has informed his personal aesthetic ever since.

“My first inspiration as a visual artist came from the paintings of Chelmonski, Stanislawski, and Paniewiz.  I’m drawn to the richness of their work, their sense of drama, and use of light and dark.  The darker color palette sets a darker mood, which I find appealing.  A painter interprets his subject before it is painted, filtering the scene using his skill and artistic sensibility.   This is something I try to do with my photography.”

In Communist Poland there was no easy access to fine art photographic books, let alone original prints by master photographers.  He remembers the prints he did see as having an overall dullness and lackluster quality.  So when he arrived in California in 1985, and saw original work by Ansel Adams, the Westons, and Morley Baer, he was in awe of the richness of tone, the depth of the blacks, and the glowing light that emanated from these prints.   He knew immediately that this was what he wanted to emulate with his own work.  “For some time,” he remembers,  “I had a print by Morley Baer with I kept in my darkroom to use as a comparison.  When I was able to achieve the kind of richness in my prints that I saw in Morley’s, I knew that my skills were advancing in the right direction.”  

Loranc enjoys photographing meditative things, like tule reeds when the light is soft and just right for such photography.  These smaller intimate subjects, that are often overlooked because they are often commonplace, he finds to be quietly expressive.  “When you minimize what you put in a photograph,” Loranc says,  “You focus the viewer’s attention and, I think, convey the message of the photograph more clearly.

“I appreciate that light is a messenger,” says Loranc,  “Revealing the world at every instant.  The magic of photography is its ability to slice a moment out of time, which you can later hold as a print in your hands.  When I’m outdoors photographing I feel my existence intensely.  My camera is my voice as I participate in the conversation I am having with the world.  There are special moments when I know that I have connected with something bigger than myself when I have focused the camera at the essence of my subject.   At that moment I feel a fullness that I cannot describe in words.  It is a visual experience and I can only refer you to my finished print to explain the fascination and connection I feel for the place I have photographed.”

He first began photographing river tules at the Nature Conservancy Preserve in Galt, located in the Great Central Valley of California.  He wanted to show the subtle beauty of the disappearing wetlands.  Most people overlook this beauty because it is not easily accessible.  Loranc likes the idea that this area is being preserved more for wildlife more than for people.  He hopes that when people see his photographs they will want to protect and preserve these fragile lands.  That is and important impetus for this work.

“I am working on a book that will feature my photographs of tules with poems by Robert Lax and a summary essay by Dr. Anthony Bannon, the former Executive Director of George Eastman House.  The book has been in production for over a year as we developed a special printing process to reproduce my work as authentically as possible and we hope to have a small edition with silver-gelatin prints available for collectors next year.  One of the poems we are including is called ‘A Thing That Is” and I feel that title neatly sums up much of my photographic philosophy.  I try to make images that say everything without saying more than is necessary. Anyone interested in purchasing information about the book and print sets may contact me through my website.

Loranc makes lengthy annual pilgrimages to his native Eastern Europe, drawn back by the allure of his childhood memories.  He now owns a house in Galadus which he uses as a base for his summer-long photographic expeditions.  There is a large part of him that misses the cultural patina that permeates the older villages and historic districts of the cities of Poland and Lithuania.   He finds evocative images in cobbled nighttime streets and the decaying facades of ruined medieval churches.  With his long exposures and mysterious tonal rendering he creates a unique expression of these venerable structures and places.

“I’ve always believed your strongest work comes from exploring your surroundings and the places which feel most familiar to you.  I have deep roots in Poland, and also Lithuania through my grandfather.  I’m always longing to visit these pastoral areas and photograph them, which I wasn’t allowed to do during communist rule.  So going back is like recovering a little of my childhood. 

Going back to your roots is a very powerful experience.  We all come from somewhere.  Exploring this region now with my understanding of who I’ve become gives me a great perspective.  

 These can be very challenging trips because Loranc doesn’t really like traveling.    He doesn’t like the pressure of feeling that he has to produce something.   It can be very challenging, technically, because he is carrying film through so many airports and traveling with a 4x5 camera and tripod and all the other necessary gear. 

He can be in Eastern Europe for one month and sometimes the weather will be completely uninteresting.  At these times he shoots no photographs, knowing he could be taking beautiful photographs of Mt. Shasta, right outside his home’s front door! But there is something pushing him to travel, especially when he gets moving emails from other people with similar backgrounds in Poland and Lithuania.  They see his photographs and want to make pilgrimages back to explore their own roots. It’s very rewarding for him when he receives emails like that.

“Photography is a very powerful tool,” he says,   “It captures a moment in time, and saves that instant for longer than it existed.  I love being able to express something that captivated me at that time.  When I am out shooting I am unaware of the passing of time.  I am completely absorbed by the subject I’m trying to capture.  Hours can go by without my realization that they have passed as I concentrate on seeing what is before me. Then being able to examine and interpret that segment of time and space later is an amazing thing.   And to be able to share this moment in time, which I’ve captured on a piece of paper, with other people when they look at my work-- that is truly the best feeling in the world.”

Smibs TV

- Episode 3: Traditional Darkroom PhotographyMay 10, 2006

Peter Urban talks to expert photographer Roman Loranc about his success with traditional dark room photography, selling at galleries and what brought him to the US.
Stream video (50min.)



May 10, 2006

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Outback Photo

Interview by Bettina and Uwe Steinmueller

Interview Podcast (audio 11MB, 25 minutes)