20 Years in the Making
In 1999, Haverhill Massachusetts was the perfect place to call home for the homeless, artists and professionals commuting to Boston. Artists loved Haverhill because they could find affordable space for artsy endeavors. It wasn't the prettiest or most desirable town, but it had tons of character and grit. At the time, Haverhill was referred to as the armpit of the region, and yes it had a bit of a stench, especially on hot summer days.
I (Chris Williamson) was brought to Haverhill by my friend Ray (Illustrator/cartoonist). He was looking for an art studio and found a huge 5,000 square foot raw space ($800 month). He asked if I had any interest in sharing it. I was regularly shooting 35mm film and needed a darkroom for printing. I also had a graphic design business and thought it would be a great opportunity for an office. We went ahead with the space and so the story began.
As a child, the desire to conceive of and build was ever present. I was always doodling to pass the time. In school, in church, on that long family trip, drawing scratched the itch to create. My bedroom floor rarely had any empty space because there were always projects going (Lego towns and space vans, car models, construction sets, etc, etc). And then came my first camera. I remember it being a Kodak X-15. The photos were horrible, but that's what you get from 126 film and a plastic lens. Though, the idea of capturing a moment was pretty intriguing.
Duncan Street Studio, Haverhill MA
The Haverhill studio couldn't have happened at a better time. Moving in didn't take much time. It was a huge space to fill, but I didn't have much to fill it with. I set up my design station computer (Apple G3 beige) on a desk built of a door and a pair of saw horses. My services at the time were mainly creative layout and digital imaging for print. Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark Xpress were standard design tools then.
I was living parallel lives as a designer for major tech brands and as an aspiring art photographer, exploring the grit of the city and wandering vacant winter beaches. My design projects consisted of creating software packaging for companies like Hasbro games, Xerox office products and RedHat Linux OS. Experiencing both the fast evolving tech world and documenting the decay of the old industrial world (in Haverhill) was a dichotomous view of the world. I was witnessing both ends of the industrial timeline.
Once the office was functional, I primarily worked on client work while constructing a darkroom. I was very excited to get to printing. At the time, I was using a Pentax K1000 and getting a taste of medium format, with my grandfather's 2 1/4" camera. I really liked the higher resolution of the 2 1/4" format, but enjoyed the rectangular 35mm format more for composing shots. Eventually, I figured out that a large format camera (4"x5") is what I would need. 4x5 film is ideal for achieving high resolution prints and the learning curve from smaller format cameras isn't tooooo difficult.
In time, my darkroom printing was getting better, but I wanted more information from the film. I craved the ability to print large images that hold high detail. 4x5 film has that power! To put this into perspective, A professional digital DSLR/SLR camera (in 2019) has an image area of about 25 megapixels. Pay attention to this..... a 4"x5" film camera is able to achieve roughly 1,000 megapixels. This equates to 40x higher resolution than a standard professional digital camera in 2019. And if you want more detail, you can use a slower ASA film, like Kodak Technical Pan film, at 25 ASA (amazing!).
I located a Graphlex Crown Graphic 4x5 camera in Keene NH for $350. I purchased it, along with a couple film holders and a spot meter. Celebration! I was on my way to becoming a real art photographer (at least that's what I told myself). The darkroom now needed accommodations for the 4x5 format (enlarger and film processing equipment). These items were purchased from a photographer in Portsmouth NH (enlarger and other supplies for $650). It was all coming together.
4x5 Photography and Darkroom Work
Working with the 4x5 was challenging at first. The process is much slower in every way. I was no longer shooting with camera in hand. The camera was always on a tripod and compositions had to be made by looking at a piece of glass on the camera back. To see your composition, you had to cover the camera back with a dark cloth and turn your head upside down to view what the lens could see and then set focus/exposure/aperture. It was all very inconvenient, but eventually became like a meditation.
Shooting 4x5 became such a joy. I loved that camera and the slower process. I typically had my gear along for quick day trips, weekend excursions and vacations. I built a functioning photo art studio with hot lights and fabricated light diffusers with foam core, aluminum foil and diffusion paper. It was surprising how well the lights actually worked.
Looking back, I recall spending the days whirling between client work and dipping into the dark room to process film or make a print. I would take quick glimpses out the window, always on watch for desirable clouds to go shoot. Tons of activity in that studio. Those were THE days!
News paper article: In 2003 I was interviewed by the Haverhill Gazette. It was funny reading the story because I definitely didn't say everything that was stated. Click on article to enlarge.
The Journey Calendar Project
As my collection of images grew, I approached one of my print vendors (Ram Printing) about producing a calendar as a dual promotional piece. To my surprise, the idea was well received and we printed "The Journey" Calendar. I had creative license over the design and paper/ink selection. I was very happy with the result. In 2004 we printed another calendar, which featured images of Boston at night.
Evening in Boston
Boston skyline photograph shot on 8"x10" chrome film. Available in custom sizes up to 100"x36".
Photos from the Duncan Street studio. Images include: chill lobby space, art party opening, inside studio, creative carnival costume photo shoot, experimenting with mannique.
A Change of Space
The building that housed our art studio sold in 2006 for $1.1 million. The artist community and even the homeless people were getting shuffled and pushed out of town with new real estate investment and development. I was lucky to find another raw space, similar to the original one. Time for a reset.
The darkroom days were declared over, but I had films and prints to take through the next phase of creative process. I sold my 4x5 camera and bought a large format printer and a classic drum scanner that could scan up to 8x10 negatives and positive media. The scanner was the most dialed in piece of equipment that I had ever owned. The quality of imaging was unbelievable. It took me a few weeks to get it to speak with my old Apple G3 computer. The G3 became a designated scanning computer. The details in the scans were amazing. For the next several weeks (months), I would come in to work and choose a film or print to scan, and let it roll for 1-2 hours. It scanned one thin line in a constant, even spiral. I was hooked on scanning.
Now that a digital catalog of images was building, I had a great deal of digital image cleaning and digital darkroom work to do. Images became a subtle fusion of traditional photography with digital painting/airbrushing.
I began using the large format printer to test images at larger sizes. It was nice to have the capability to print big in house, but I admit that I wasn't so thrilled with the results of the pigmented inks. Back then, the Epson black ink had a burnt golden tone. All black/gray monochrome prints reflected a warmish hue. I tried to convince myself that it was ok, but ultimately, I didn't like the prints.
The photography project was kind of at a standstill. I did have images to process/clean, but didn't have a good way to print, so i lost momentum. I soon shelved the project to do other things. Hard drives of images and films were boxed away.
Commercial design work eventually became the main focus. Developing websites, corporate identity, providing print design and photography services. My clients were software developers, scientific labs, tech engineers, manufacturing companies and a handful of small businesses. There was always a nice variety of projects to keep it interesting.
Even though the work schedule was full, I still squeezed in a tiny bit of creative time. Art photography went to the wayside, but videography became an area of interest. I acquired a Nikon D600 DSLR camera which had video capability. I knew I wouldn't be making any independent films, but was very interested in seeing what the camera could do (quality wise).
Some nights, I would stay up late testing the camera, lighting, audio. I needed an actor to keep it interesting, so I took on the role of a swanky 1970s guy. The persona brought comfort in front of the camera. For fun, I edited clips into mini vids. This guy loved his martinis.
Bad Habit Rabbit Project
The VW Rabbit Jeep project was a collaboration between myself and a very talented and passionate fabricator / mechanic / plumber -- Matt Boucher of MetalWorx. There is really too much to say about this project. It was a blast to see it all happen from conception to manifestation! Thanks for the memories Matt! You Rock!
A longer video of the Bad Habit Rabbit is here.
Mod Creations is (Re)born!
20 years have passed since building the darkroom at the Duncan Street studio. The Mod Creations of today (1/10/20) represents the next phase of creating the art.
The art images have come a long way from first being composed on the cameras' ground glass. Film types were selected, exposures were darkroom processed, printed, master prints/films were scanned and meticulously digitally enhanced. And NOW, finally, after 15-20 years, final art pieces are being made available. The original conquest to produce large, premium art pieces required time to build a technological bridge to the printing processes of today. The end result is something far better than I ever had imagined.
Mod's art is perfect for large spaces such as office reception areas, hotel lobbies, restaurants, lounges, and homes with walls that crave something different. Some art production types require easy assembly. All art styles come with hardware for hanging or installing onto wall.
We currently offer the following art production styles at custom sizes:
Archival Photographic C-Prints
Acrylic Glass Mounted Prints
Metal Prints (bare metal or white)
Fabric Prints with Metal Frame
Backlit Fabric Prints with Frame
All Mod Creations art products are custom made to order. If there is an image that you are interested in, contact me (Chris) to discuss options.
All orders will include a proofing phase. You will receive a digital proof that demonstrates composition and trim line. In some cases, I recommend a printed proof to help you better understand the material, print resolution and color rendition. Once the proof is approved, art will go to final print production.
If you read this whole page and watched all the videos, etc, etc... I very much appreciate your interest in my art and story. Contact me with questions or comments firstname.lastname@example.org