Portrait Photograph of Jon Witsell

My passion for photography can be traced back to the late 1980s when my oldest sister loaned me my first camera with the proviso that if I ever didn’t need it, she would take it back. I still have that camera today.

I spent a number of years with a Leica walking New York City’s streets capturing slices of the chaotic and ceaseless motion of that place. During this time I also discovered the opposite: the almost zen-like process of using a view camera. This, and my day job as an optical technician in the motion picture field, led to a love of the use and manipulation of unorthodox optics–soon I had rebuilt the most hammered 1950s Speed Graphic one can imagine, typically mounting on it either antique lenses or lenses designed for entirely different applications. Still today, one of my favored lenses is one I had built out of parts from the viewfinder of an electronic news gathering (ENG) camera–it renders form unlike any other lens I have seen. Today I can be typically found with my Canon and a pack full of Tilt Shift and f1.2 primes. My collection of antiquated and custom optics are carefully stored for when I can find a satisfactory method to use them with digital capture–or with a return to a material I still love deeply: film.

I create in black and white. This strips down reality to essence: to form, via light and shadow. I’d love to work in color, but color often confounds me–maybe someday. I see a pattern emerging in that my current unshown work is somewhat of a departure from past work: strictures about composition, sharpness, and full tonal ranges hold much less sway. I find myself now inexorably drawn to subtle compositions, the aesthetic quality of the blurring of out of focus areas (Bokeh, from the Japanese), and of inky black and detail-less areas of white. It is not the only way to create art. It is one way.

If I were to take you down a philosophical rabbit hole, I’d say that photography is an existential need for me. It is both a way for me to express my will to create, and it is a deep-seated attempt to fix a moment in time; to fix, however momentarily, the inevitable passage of days.

Thank you for looking.

Jon Witsell.

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