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Old-fashioned photos

He edges the cardboard box toward him on the truck’s tailgate. Opening the package, he gingerly pulls the colossal piece of equipment from the depths of the box.

Once firmly within his grip, he transports the 18-pound camera up the rocky embankment to the modified wooden surveyor’s tripod he already has positioned in the shallows of a roaring creek.

“I am the mule,” he mused before scaling up the hill with his newest obsession in hand, a ‘Large Format’ 8-inch by 10-inch cast-aluminum camera designed to “withstand an atomic blast.”



In a world gone digital, photographer Eli Rush refuses to catch up with the times. Instead he immerses himself in a bygone era of Medium and Large Format cameras and old printing processes. The results are stunning and can be seen at the newly opened Exposure Gallery on Broad Street in Nevada City.

“I think it’s obvious to any viewer that Eli’s photos capture nature. It’s truly refreshing to see work so loyal to the process,” said Shannon Perry, owner of the gallery that focuses on photography.




Look for Rush’s prints hanging on the left side of the room. The Medium Format colored prints seem to glow on the walls – thanks to a film size four to 20 times larger than typical 35 mm and a vintage form of printing known as Ilfochrome. Rush’s images of running water over stones are soothing and sublime.

“There is a richness, depth of almost three-dimensional quality and color saturation of the Ilfochrome process that cannot be rivaled by anything I’ve seen yet, traditional or digital. Many people have looked at my Ilfochromes and have sworn that they have been digitally enhanced, even when I’m standing there telling them that they haven’t been,” said Rush.

Tucked away in a corner of the gallery is his newest passion – black and whites created by the almost lost art of 19th century born platinum printing.

“I’m cuckoo for platinum,” said Rush.

The prints are small and intimate requiring the observer to step close to get a better look.

Taken with a Large Format camera – the size of the negative is the size of the print. Rush uses high quality art paper that he hand paints with emulsion made from platinum and palladium.

After the paper is allowed to dry he makes a contact print by sandwiching the negative between the treated paper and clear glass. The platinum particles become embedded on the surface and within the fibers of the paper creating an image that will last as long as the paper does, perhaps hundreds of years. A UV emitting black light then exposes the negative to the paper.

“It just feels so much more artistic than color,” said Rush.

Oaks in fog, views of the Yuba River canyon, leafless alder, a lone fence jutting from the snowy cattle fields in Sierraville – those are some of Rush’s images. The prints are hazy, surreal and appear to be from another time. The brushstrokes from the applied emulsion form a black border around each photo.

“It makes it look like a little window into dreamland,” said Rush.

Noticing forms in the natural world is ongoing for Rush as he steps out of the gallery and into the brisk afternoon. His eyes glance skyward at the clouds churning against a backdrop of blue.

“I’m always looking. My eyes are always busy. I always remember studying the world with my eyes.”

On a recent trip to Spenceville, Rush had his first date with his newest love, the dinosaur 8-inch by 10-inch. With only two shots to work with he is deliberate with his precision. It’s not uncommon for Rush to spend hours crouched down in a creek in his wetsuit making minute adjustments to get exactly what he wants. Sometimes what he wants is simply a gnarled root system. “There’s huge landscapes in small ones. It doesn’t have to be vast.”

The camera didn’t come with an owner’s manual so Rush is learning as he goes. The bellows extend to 32 inches and allow Rush to get incredibly close to his subject. There are numerous knobs for changing perspective and depth of field. “If you’re not patient you have no business with one of these,” said Rush.

He drapes a black sheet over his head while peering through a focusing loop that magnifies the image seen upside down and backward on the 8-inch by 10-inch ground glass. He says seeing the world in that turned around way has helped him better study composition. “It does a good thing to your perception. You’re not so hung up on identity and literal translation,” said Rush.

His rapture with photography began in 1981 when he bought his first camera, a used 35 mm Olympus OM-1 while preparing for a wilderness river trip into the remote Canadian Yukon. That same camera accompanied him on more than 2,000 miles of river trips to the Amazon rain forest, where he returns year after year to capture “primordial mists and velvety light.”

Since the late ’90s, Rush has stuck almost exclusively to the larger format cameras. “They allow me to better express myself artistically and my reverence for the natural world, to present that world in the most beautiful way possible,” said Rush.

Eli Rush’s photography will be on display at the Exposure Gallery through May. The gallery is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday. It is located at 312 Broad St., Nevada City. Visit the gallery virtually on the Web at http://www.exposuregallerync.com.

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Laura Brown lives in Nevada County and covers the outdoors for The Union. Her e-mail is laurab@theunion.com


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