Silence & Time: An Interview with Steve Landeros by Nathan Wirth

“maxx and the tree” © Steve Landeros

Nathan: Let’s begin with an obvious question: when did you first become interested in photography?

Steve: My interest in photography came to me as a child– around the age of 5. At that time it wasn’t so much an interest in photography, but more about capturing a feeling I had when viewing a scene. I am not a painter, or very good at drawing, so photography seemed to be the best fit. It wasn’t until January of 2008 that I decided to actually pursue photography as a way of expressing my views of the world around me.

Nathan: Having looked at your photography over the years, I notice that the majority of your first photos from 2008 are color long exposures.  Tell me a little about your initial attraction to color and long exposure.

Steve: The feelings I wanted to capture as a child came to me when I first viewed the San Francisco skyline at night. When I finally picked up a camera, it was only natural that I try to recreate those feelings. Being that long exposures are generally needed for night photography, that was my path. I was instantly mesmerized by the  distorted images that the long exposure rendered. The waterfronts of the city became smooth like concrete. Cars and people became just a smudge or blur. The reduction of these elements was so intriguing to me that I started researching general topics of long exposure photography. I came across a few images on the Internet, and then found the 10 stop ND filter needed for daylight long exposures.

"untitled" (C) Steve Landeros

“untitled” (C) Steve Landeros

Over a short period of time, I experimented with day and night long exposures, but also became enthralled by slow shutter speeds and the low light of the early morning and evening hours along the local coastlines. I use the term “slow shutter speeds” in reference to exposures from the range of around 1/16 of a second  to about 1-2 seconds– and anything beyond that I see as a long exposure. Again I was mesmerized by the blurs and smudges these slower shutter speeds produced. Over time, I realized the true power of the daylight long exposure. Stretched clouds, smooth water, and the reduction of reality became more powerful to me than that found in the movement details of a curling wave or puffy clouds. The reality of seeing an extension of time within a single image was far beyond my comprehension. Reds and blues became purple and slow moving elements became delineated in time. With every image I made, I could see a scene reduced to its simplest form but– at the same time– also intensified by the merging elements.

Nathan: And, of course, this quickly led to your many great shots of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But I know, from conversations that we have had that you have consciously tried to distance yourself from becoming known only as that guy who takes great photos of the bridge.”  What was your initial draw to the bridge?  I know that like me you were born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it is difficult to avoid such a great subject, but it seems to me that the bridge offered you a great opportunity to experiment with sunrises and fog and those subtle movements that both a slower shutter speed and a long exposure can record.

Steve: Yes — recently I have stepped away from the bridge. I’ve done this for many reasons, mostly because I am trying to work on new things. I guess its more about pushing myself to try new things and move outside of my comfort zone. The bridge is an interesting subject to me for many reasons. When I first took my new camera out to the Spencer Overlook, I was almost overwhelmed with fear. Yes, fear! I can’t exactly explain it really, but as I drove along the Marina District, I just kept looking at the bridge. It was lit with lights, and the cold, grey sky above was glowing. I felt a tingle run through, and a bit of fear came over me. The enormous steel structure just seemed so powerful! The tingle and uneasy feeling stuck with me as I drove up through the Headlands. There I was.  35 years living in the Bay Area and that was my first trip up there. With a little time, that fear became a bit of an obsession. It didn’t take long for me to realize my ultimate goal: to witness the bridge at sunrise with the low fog converging around the towers. Well that day came in September of 2008. That day in September changed everything for me, truly everything. For my own reasons, I’ll keep to the subject of photography… So that morning in the fog I ran up the memory card full of foggy bridge images. I was thrilled by the images I captured, but there was something missing. As I have done from day one with my images, I looked at what didn’t work for me in each of them. I quickly found that the short shutter speeds didn’t fully express what I saw and felt up there in the fog. I had a vision of what I wanted to create, and with a few more attempts I finally figured out the formula … the long exposure.

Nathan: Your response strikes me as a good place to discuss my favorite image from your series of long exposure Golden Gate Bridge shots: “Silk and Steel.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts about photographing and processing this image.  For me, it is beyond simply being a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge.  It also captures the mood and silence of a foggy morning in the San Francisco Bay.  I can hear the bellow of foghorns  when I look at it.

"Silk and Steel" (C) Steve Landeros

“Silk and Steel” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: “Silk and Steel” is actually one of, if not my favorite, from my collection of the Golden Gate as well. Making the RAW image, or capturing that particular moment, was just kind of instinct I guess. As I mentioned, the long exposure is my basic formula when working with the bridge and fog. There are so many reasons why I love the use of long exposures, but the freedom to observe and take in each event is what’s so valuble, and it also gives time to study and setup your next composition. In the case of this image, I opened the shutter and watched the flowing patterns of fog cascade down on the tower and around the roadway. As I stood and watched, I visualized an image that conveyed this movement in the final “print.” When I sat down to process the image a few days after that morning, I was instantly taken back to that moment, and the flow of the fog just worked its way through my work flow. We see in color, but over time I have been able to visualize the shadows and highlights possible in converting an image to monochrome. Not with very much detail, but enough to give me a direction. The highlights on the edges of fog and the deep shadows produced from the lack of reflected light were perfect to minimize the distraction of colors. Bringing this image to it’s most minimal range of tones was needed in order to convey the fogs movement properly. I’ve processed a color version, but it never had the same feelings. The fog and bridge have always reminded me of a symphony. Standing on the ridge of Hawk Hill looking down on the bridge shrouded in fog, you can hear several things. There is always a slight breeze that gives life to the fog, and you can hear this breeze flowing over the rounded hilltops behind you. The hum of vehicles can be heard from the roadway off in the distance and sometimes can be seen. There are several fog horns throughout the area, but the one located at the center of the roadway is the deepest and loudest of the bunch. With the combined sounds, and the visual impact of the sights, it is truly like watching a symphony perform. Even with the soundtrack of nature and city life, the silence you speak of is very powerful.

Nathan: I have a couple of questions about your response.  First– you mention instinct as being part of capturing that moment.  Many photographers are very calculating and plan out every detail they can before they go out for a shoot, and then once there, they are very methodical about every choice they make.  Many others go out and let the world happen before them and they capture what they encounter.  What’s your general approach?  My second question is about your vision as you take the photo and how that vision relates to your post processing.  In other words, do you already know what you want to visualize and express while you are composing the photo— and then take that vision to your post processing – or do you discover the vision as you post process?

"Fort Thirteen" (C) Steve Landeros

“Fort Thirteen” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: Well it’s simply confusing how I get to the final image most of the time. I say instinct, but I think a better way to describe it would be experience. From my experience, the long exposure works best to achieve my vision when working with the bridge. There is no way to plan fog patterns, density, and light. I’ve said many times before, I can witness a foggy sunrise around the Golden Gate over and over and none will ever be the same. How can you plan a natural event? You can’t. Experience has helped me pre-visualize a final image from what I see in front of me, but too much planning will get you nothing but frustration.  My process from concept to final image can be planned out, but oftentimes I simply go where I go and shoot what happens around me. When I plan, I REALLY plan. These days I have been spending more time doing research, calculating, and testing, but that’s due to my shift into the analog world. With digital, we have the ability to get instant feedback and correct the issues on the spot. With film, it’s a whole different thing. In the interest of keeping this to the point, I will just say that settings from a digital long exposure do not transfer over to film. There are known formulas to make the conversion, and it sometimes takes some careful planning to achieve an equivalent exposure on film.

"two seas" (C) Steve Landeros

“two seas” (C) Steve Landeros

I’ve recently started working with nocturnal long exposures– with and without moon light.  I can plan my exposure times before hand and make any adjustments when I arrive, but its tough to work some adjustments out in the dark with no paper to “map” everything. I plan exposures based on known facts. As for composition? That I leave up to the moment. I use weather satellites to determine the best options of light. Most of my best images have come from places that I’ve visited over and over, so I have knowledge of the area. Mapping software and Google Earth can really save time with getting to a spot or understanding the basic layout of an area. My general approach? Plan to go against everything I just planned. ,Really!  When it comes to the vision of processing, I again kind of follow my approach that I take with planning the actual shot.  I pre-visualize the elements, but I also keep the process open to take a natural shape. I start with a plan, but  quickly adjust as needed. Like Newton’s Law, for every action in processing, there is a reaction … and might I add … an interaction.  That reaction, or interaction, will oftentimes alter the entire image.

Nathan: I definitely want to get to your decision to fully engage the learning process of working with film long exposures, but before I do, I’d like to ask you more about your switch from color to black and white.  Your early work is mostly color, but even a quick look at the progression of your photography reveals that at one point you decidedly switched to primarily monochrome– and now you seem to rarely revisit color at all.  Why the change?  Many monochrome photographers tend to express either (a) that color does not express the mood they want or (b) that color — especially with long exposures — remains a mystery to them because they can’t find a way to use it to express the mood they want.  Do either of these explain your approach or your decision to switch to primarily monochrome?

"rodeo beach - color version" (C) Steve Landeros

“rodeo beach – color version” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: For me, if made correctly, a monochrome image has more impact. Whether it be a long exposure, portrait, or landscape, the monochrome tones just stand out to me. When I first picked up a camera, I decided to keep all options open: color, monochrome, landscape, portraits.  I wanted to explore all of it. The idea at the time was to explore all options– that way I would know what tools and paths would help me best express my intentions with each image. To be upfront and completely honest: at the very beginning, I almost made a decision to work exclusively in monochrome.  At the time it was not because B&W expressed a “mood” or my vision but because I was born with  a red / green color deficiency. Throughout my life, it was never much of an issue, but once I started to learn about white balance in digital photography, I was quickly frustrated by what my eyes see. I do obviously see in color, but my eyes have a reduced sensitivity to red, so anything with red can get distorted.  Most shades of purple look blue in my eyes, and brown is almost always green.  I am one that does not allow obstacles to stop me. I never accept defeat, and I never let anything stand in my way of what I want. When the thought of limiting myself came to me, I quickly moved to the most opposite of my thoughts. I was determined to make color work for me, and for the most part, I’d like to think I did.

"rodeo beach - monochrome" (C) Steve Landeros

“rodeo beach – monochrome” (C) Steve Landeros

Whenever I doubted a color tone within an image, I learned to use the histogram to help me through my questions.  As I mentioned earlier, blues and reds make a purple tone in long exposures. Combined with the magenta color casts from my first 10 stop filter and the graduated filters I used, both long and short exposures became a challenge to work with. Again, I was determined not to let this stand in my way. Once I refined my vision a bit, I started to feel that it was all too much. The colors expressed something that didn’t fit for me. I am sure you have heard other monochrome photographers mention that color seemed like a distraction to them, and I feel the same way. However, this was not my reason for making the change. It was never really a deliberate choice. I made a photograph of a minimal scene back in November of 2009 when it all truly started. From there I seemed to have found my vision. I had made a few monochrome “conversions” before, but doing a conversion and making a B&W photograph are two different things in my mind.  From there, it just worked for me. I do not seek to cast my moods or my feelings on a person who views my images. I seek to provoke thought. In my opinion, the absence of color leaves the mind open to run free within the space of the exposed. The long exposure seems to emphasize this even more. I want only for the viewer to form their own feelings and to then ask their own questions.

Nathan: So, in your work over the past few years, one does really see a progression from slow shutter speeds and color to long exposures and monochrome– all of which– to my eyes at least– seems to be a natural progression that has led to your decision to start working with film– and, in particular, the Hasselblad 500c/m, which you have used so effectively for some very long nighttime exposures.  Tell us a little about why you decided to pursue film.

"Hitchcock" (C) Steve Landeros

“Hitchcock” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: My decision to work with film just seemed like a natural choice. The long exposure works great in the digital world, but it also seems to have its limits. (Laughs) I guess everything has a limit. My choice to work with film was about a few things really. I wanted a “process” that was beyond anything that digital could offer me. I could have taken on the tedious work of digital printing, but film seemed more of what I was looking for. I know it may sound silly, but I’m sure you are familiar with the old adage, “You don’t know where you are going until you know where you’ve been.” Well that’s a big factor in my choice. It wasn’t until after my interests sparked in B&W photography that I found the works of long exposure masters like Michael Levin and Michael Kenna. Though their workflow and final images are completely different, they both made their images on film. Levin made the choice to work in a hybrid work flow, and Kenna in the more traditional setting of a darkroom. Each have been inspiring to me, so understanding the history of photography has become important to me as well. I can’t really explain the feeling I get when I expose a roll of film, develop it and then transfer the negative image to a positive silver gelatin print. The process is slow, sometimes messy, and not for the impatient. The images are never as clean as a digital print, but at the same time there is a realness to a silver print that I have yet to see in a digital image. I guess that realness comes from handcrafting an image from start to finish. I am sure there are digital photographers that print their own work that get this same feeling, but film is just my choice. As for my night exposures? I wanted to really push my long exposures to a new level …well … new to me that is. I love the surreal quality of a daylight long exposure, but filters seem to alter most films performance. After doing a bit of reading on the subject, I made some reciprocity, light, and exposure calculations and then made an early morning trip to the coast. My first attempt was a 70 minute exposure, and from there I just had to push my limits. The nocturnal long exposure is still very new to me and a great challenge. There is no true way of predicting what will show on such long exposures. Light becomes brighter and darker. Weather comes and goes. Tides roll in and out … I guess I find my peace when standing alone in the dark, wondering what will come from the passing time.

Nathan:  Thinking about what you have just said about the “process” and “experience” of film, it seems to me that you are speaking about a particular state of mind, or, perhaps, more precisely, a different sense of experiencing time. In other words, photography, for you, clearly seems to be much more than just finding a place to compose a photo and then later processing that image. I’m specifically thinking of “Two Seas,” ”La Luna-II” and “Thirty 3 & 1/ Third.” At the risk of getting a bit too abstract, these images seem to reflect a relationship between time and silence (and perhaps all long exposures do this). I mean, certainly, there is the very real reality of you finding a place and setting up a composition and then waiting for quite some time. These very long exposures freeze that experience—and then you later “develop” that place and that passage of time, but you are also developing something very much “other.” Am I making sense? In other words, your work in 2011 and 2012 is really much, much more than just taking photos or just learning how to do something. Yes?

"LaLuna II" (C) Steve Landeros

“LaLuna II” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: In a simple answer, yes.  The experience while making the images you mentioned is much more than just making a photograph. I wish my answer could be as simple as only a “yes,” but of course there is more to it than making a photograph. There is a learning element to each image that I make. Learning has, and always will be, a constant in my images. It’s hard to put into words everything that I experience while making nocturnal long exposures. Most of the time there is not enough light to read or to see much around me, so my mind roams around a lot. In fact, my mind roams constantly throughout the day. I travel an hour in each direction to and from work, and I am a long distance runner. Both of these give me time to think of past images, the science of analog photography, and future images / ideas. Though not intentional, there is a difference in my thought patterns between running / driving, and photographing. When I am standing next to the camera, I find myself in an almost catatonic state at times. My vision is narrowed to almost nothing in the dark, so my hearing takes its place. If on the beach, I have found myself counting waves and wave patterns. Depth perception is as good as lost in the dark, so seeing the incoming surf isn’t there. It’s a bit ironic if you ask me … making visual art from what you really can’t see that well, passage of time where sound becomes the main stage. With the finished image, there is no sound, just a two dimensional image of what you never really saw in the first place. It’s a wormhole of thoughts really. These experiences are related to the the nocturnal side of the long exposure; daylight is a completely different– but just as powerful– experience for me.

Nathan: I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on the difference between daytime and nighttime long exposures.  How does the daytime experience differ for you (other than the obvious fact that you can see!)?

"Thirty 3 & 1 Third" (C) Steve Landeros

“Thirty 3 & 1 Third” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: Besides the obvious, there seems to be a reversal of detail in night long exposures. As you very well know, daylight long exposures seem to have a reducing effect on details within a composition. Water becomes smooth, people disappear, and everything becomes a bit simplified to the eyes. With night exposures we do not see most of the details around us, but over time the camera does. Rocks that were not there to your eyes become visible. Light in the sky becomes clear. Sure, there is also the reduction of many elements, but I think there are far more details added.  For me, the night exposures seem a lot more lonely. Its dark, you can’t see much, and they take a lot longer to produce. Then there is the reality that you truly are alone out there.

Nathan: You have more or less touched on the issue of what you are trying to communicate with your work, but I’m still interested in hearing a little more about your thoughts on this matter.  I ask this knowing full well that if someone were to ask me what I was trying to communicate in my images, I would likely smile and politely and graciously excuse myself and start to walk away.  But, then, not wishing to be entirely rude I would turn around and say “solitude and silence” and then continue on without explaining myself.  I only mention this to you because I often feel a similar sense of solitude and silence in your images.  And after talking to you a few times now– I sense that you seem to have a similar feeling/expression in (a) how you approach taking the image, (b) how you process the image and (c) what you end up with.  I guess my question is: do you have anything to add to this?

Steve: Well… I guess I am successful in expressing the silence and solitude in my images that I wish to pass on to the viewer. As I have already said, whether composing or processing, my main objective is to leave each image as open as possible for the viewer to make what they want from it. I do try to emphasize certain elements, but overall I want each person to have the freedom to roam within each piece. Silence and solitude are needed in order to fully free your thoughts, so I try to provide as much of that as possible. For me, as the creator, I look at the windblown sky in a long exposure, and I can hear the breeze trapped within my memory. I see the smooth surf, but I remember the violent crashes that formed the white water. I wish to give each viewer the freedom to hear, and see what they want … in silence, and solitude.

"P R E V A L E N T" (C) Steve Landeros

“P R E V A L E N T” (C) Steve Landeros

Nathan: I’d like to shift the interview to a series of more general questions. First of all, who are some of your influences (and how have they influenced you)?

Steve: I would have thought this to be an easy question to answer, but how do I explain so many? I’ll try to keep it as simple as I can. The obvious … Ansel Adams. Not so much for his style, but more for his knowledge. When he was out there testing, exploring, and shaping the way photography would forever be viewed, there was not a lot of information to be had at that time, so he took the time to learn. His knowledge and ideas are still — and will forever be — used by photographers. Alfred Stieglitz, Imogen Cunningham, Henri Caritier-Bresson: though their work is completely different from what I do, all of it is a big part of why I work with black and white.

"Inspired by Kenna" (C) Steve Landeros

“Inspired by Kenna” (C) Steve Landeros

And then, of course, there is Michael Kenna. I never fully understood the power of a silver gelatin print until I saw his work in person. I am taking my own path in photography, but those images are a big part of why I have taken up traditional darkroom work. Then there are the more contemporary photographers such as Chip Forelli, Edgar Angelone, Bishop Bastien, Denis Olivier, and Hakan Strand. Each of these photographers has a modern direction, but they also retain a quality of the traditional side. Then of course there are what I consider the digital masters of the future. Michael Levin‘s  earlier work is what I call a hybrid work flow– film to digital through hi res scanning– but it is probably some of the most recognizable and influential long exposure photography today. I certainly have to mention Joel Tjintjelaar‘s unmistakable architectural and seascape long exposures, which are a giant inspiration to me.  Jeff Gaydash is yet another that falls under the digital masters. Jeff has a style that is clean and dark, darker than most photographers out there today, but so very powerful in conveying his vision. There is also Brian Day and Jon DeBoer, who both harness the power of street photography. I don’t do as much street photography as I’d like, but I hope my recent pinhole explorations will change that. There are so many that influence and inspire me! Your work of course is very special to me. You and I have met only three times, but we photographed so many of the same subjects. Your work reminds me to keep my mind open and to just let things be. Your style is unmistakable as well. There is also Grant Murray, Ivan Makarov, Jim Patterson, Patrick Smith, Andy Brown, Noel Cleggcome on, the list is endless! I guess its best to say that I am inspired by everyone around me, but I definitely follow my own direction.

"Daedal" (C) Steve Landeros

“Daedal” (C) Steve Landeros

Nathan: The last time you and I got together to take photos, we talked about our influences and their affect on how we have learned to create our own photos.  We also talked about the fact that neither one of us has had any formal training, and then you said something that really interested me.  You mentioned that we both have been through a “kind” of training – and that that training came from studying the works of others.  If you have any, I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on this subject.

Steve: Oh yes … I feel very strongly about this subject. We learn from all that surrounds us. If we truly study the works of other photographers, we will learn from them. My training has come from studying what I liked, what worked, and most importantly, what didn’t work. Some may see that as a “glass half empty” way of thinking, but for me its being true to myself and my vision. In today’s digital age, photography is a simple process really. We can see camera settings on most images shared online. If for some reason the information is not there, the photographer will most likely post it in a write up of sorts. Cameras, lenses, filters, and software, its all there. It really is as simple as that.  If I  saw something I liked, I worked with those bits of information until I was able to create my own vision. The biggest challenge, however, is to understand the technique while staying true to your own vision.

Hasselblad 500 c/m (Stock Image - Creative Commons)

Hasselblad 500 c/m (Stock Image – Creative Commons)

Nathan: Let me shift direction again and ask how important the right equipment is to you? I am going to make a confession. I often wince when people (a) talk over-enthusiastically about equipment for their “kit” and (b) make harsh, unyielding judgments about the excellence or inefficiency of cameras and lenses and other equipment. I’m not sure why I do this, but—knowing that it is, on my part, very much a gross and unfair over-generalization I think it is because it implies that one might be far more concerned with the material stuff than actually honing one’s craft (knowing full well, of course, that many just like to talk about “photography stuff”).  Do you think this question sounds too judgmental/harsh?

Steve: First off … no this is not harsh at all. There is a lot of truth to what you mentioned. I will say this, however … I do feel that having the right “tool” in order to create your vision is one of the most important elements of photography or any craft for that matter. If you were a musician, wouldn’t having the right instrument for the piece you’ve written the music for be important? A carpenter wouldn’t use a chain saw to make fine detailed mill work, right? To be honest, I see these as true, if somewhat unfair comparisons. Saws have different uses. Just as different kinds of digital cameras or even an X-ray machine. Saws cut, but in different ways.   Cameras and an X-Ray machine both make images, but they serve different purposes and have different qualities. My point is this … if you want to make a

"untitled" (C) Steve Landeros

“untitled” (C) Steve Landeros

giant digital print, then there are cameras out there that will help in creating that vision. If clean, smooth lines are what you’re after, then you don’t want to use a pinhole or most film cameras. Digital just outperforms film in the architectural field.  In the spirit of offering a more simple answer– and I may catch some heat for this– I think there are a lot of talented people out there that would benefit from focusing more on honing their craft than worrying about pixels and thingamajigs …

A good example of working with what you have can be found in Joel Tjintjelaar‘s earlier work. He used a 10 mega pixel camera up until a year or two ago. The big buzz at the time was how great the 5D II was.  Joel still used that 400D “Rebel,” yet his images from that period are still among some of the highest quality. I must admit: I jumped on the 5D bandwagon right away, but it was because I wanted the full frame digital camera. But I’ve seen so much great work that has been created with a “point and shoot” digital, and I’ve seen a $40 Holga make a better image than my Hasselblad. I must stress that its about having the right tools for your vision. Whether it be medium format B&W film, large format color, or the freedom of choice that the digital cameras offer. Select what will free your mind to create your vision.

Nathan: Now let me completely contradict myself and ask if there are any cameras, lenses, or equipment you want add to your “kit.”  I am guessing that you, inevitably, will end up with a large format camera someday! 

Steve: Large format? I thought about it … for a second. For me, the 6×6 medium format negative is as perfect as perfect can be. So maybe some day, but for now I’ll stay with medium format. If I could add anything I wanted to my “kit,” I think it would be a good ‘ol Rolleiflex, a 40mm for my Hasselblad, and probably a 50 megapixel digital back for the 500 series Hasselblad. If I had the digital back, there would be no reason for me to keep the Canon I now have. There are all kind of little things I’d like to have, but these are really the only things I’d spend money on if I had it right now.

"An Ocean Between Us" (C) Steve Landeros

“An Ocean Between Us” (C) Steve Landeros

Nathan:  Let me contradict myself even further and ask what cameras and lenses (and other equipment) you currently use?

Steve: Most of my work is either with a Hasselblad 500 C/M with one of two lenses: the 80mm &  150mm.  For digital work, I use a Canon 5D Mark II. For the Canon, I have a 17-40mm wide angle,  a Lensbaby Composer, and a 70-200mm telephoto. I have a few sets of Lee Graduated ND filters, but the 1 [.3], 2 [.6], and 3 stop [.9] Lee Hard Edge Grads are all I’ve used in the last three years. I also have a Lee 10 Stop Solid ND [The Big Stopper] for those daylight long exposures. The B+W ND 110 looks better in my opinion, but the convenience of the Lee filters outweigh the cons. On the film side, I sometimes use a light red or red filter, but that’s rare. I also have a Mamiya C33 TLR camera that doesn’t see as much use as it should, a Lomo Sprocket Rocket, and now a Zero Image 6×6 pinhole camera. Though not really “equipment,” so to speak, my film choices are (not in order) Kodak Tmax 100, Ilford Pan F Plus, Kodak Tri-X 400 ( I love it rated at 200), and sometimes Fuji Acros 100.

Nathan: Where are you hoping to take your photography in the years to come?

Steve: My goal is to become more proficient in creating my vision in the darkroom. It’s a completely different world in there, and a lot more work than I have ever put into anything before in my life. I won’t give up on it. I also want to show my images in a tangible setting. The digital displays that we see each others work through are great, but they are in no way a replacement for viewing a tangible print that has been framed and displayed on a wall.

Nathan: Obviously you are working hard on producing the film print in the darkroom, but do you have any plans to pursue the digital print?

"Apparition" (C) Steve Landeros

“Apparition” (C) Steve Landeros

Steve: I guess a nice Epson printer would also fall on my list of things to add, but it’s not really part of a kit. I think that printing your work, whether digital or traditional  is very important to realizing your final vision. I often wonder how many photographers actually see their images in print. Even the best monitors out there today will not show the detail that can be seen in a high quality print. ( I had to stop and laugh a little… ) When you and I first met, I remember you saying that you felt  your job got in the way of your art. I too feel that way but would also include money. Its a sad thing really.  We must have the job to make the money that goes into buying the tools we need in order to create our art. A printer is on my list, but for now I need to prioritize my needs. I looked at getting a print setup a year ago, but decided film was where my vision was. So the short answer is … yes … I’ll be printing digitally at some point.

Nathan: Do you think that you will ever stop experimenting with long exposures?

Steve: Probably on the same day I give up photography all together. Seal rocks Afternoon

Nathan: Do you listen to music while you process?  If yes, (a) what do you listen to and (b) how, if at all, does it shape your processing?

Steve: I love music… If I was better at making it, I may have never picked up a camera. That said, music is life to me. I always laugh when I hear people say ” I love music”… to me, that is like saying I love to breathe.  Okay, now I’ll answer the question … I listen to music about 50-60 % of the time while in the digital domain. Most of the time it will be classical piano or guitars. I also listen to a lot pieces by a band called Mogwai. For some reason, their music reminds me of the ocean’s surf. I also love to hear the classics of James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Sharon Jones (she is a bit more modern). If I don’t have music playing out loud, then I am writing something in my mind, but that never materializes. The list could go on and on. I don’t think music changes my images; they are going to be what they need to be regardless of what I am listening to. The darkroom seems to always have music, but very light. There is a lot more involved in darkroom work, and a clear mind is essential.

Nathan: Do you have any tips for those that really like your work?

Steve: Tips? Hmmm .. take the time to understand why. Think about it … If you know why, you’ll know how. Besides that, take the time to understand your vision, which kind of falls back on understanding why.

Nathan: Finally, what is the significance of “maxxsmart”? I am assuming you are referring to the TV show Get Smart. Yes?  [Note: on Flickr and other photo sharing sites, Steve uses the name Maxxsmart]. 

Steve: Yes the name Maxxsmart is taken from that TV show, but there is a little more to it. When I was a kid, my mom would call me Max. I believe it came from a TV commercial that aired around that time for a product called The Max. I couldn’t stand the guy in the commercial, so as a joke, she started to call me Max. Also around that time I remember watching the TV show Get Smart. It was a silly show but fun. Over the years my mom would address me as Max on cards, notes, and voice mails, so the name kind of stuck with me. I later signed up my email account under Maxxlanderos, so I decided to sign up my Flickr account under Maxxwell Smart. Never thinking photography would take me this far, I just left it. Over the last two years, I’ve thought of changing over to my name, but I think its just part of my work now.

View more of Steve’s Work on the InternetWebsite | Art Limited | Flickr | 500px

E L E VE N 20 FOUR.jpgLa Luna II.jpgtwo seas.jpgThirty 3 & 1 Third.jpgHitchcock.jpgApparition.jpgCalculating Infinity.jpgDaedal.jpgkenna tribute.jpgP R E V A L E N T.jpgSeal Rocks Afternoon.jpg-----.jpgSilk and Steel.jpgKehoe Beach 2009.jpgPainted Foggy Sunrise.jpgThen and Now.jpgStinson Reflections.jpgTTT.jpgUntitled (Bowling Ball Beach).jpgUntitled (Golden Gate Fog).jpguntitled (Rodeo Beach).jpg

All images on this page– unless otherwise noted– are protected by copyright and may not be used for any purpose without Steve Landeros’ permission. 
The image “Vanishing” is protected by copyright and may not be used for any purpose without permission from Joel Tjintjelaar
The image of the Hasselblad 500c/m comes from creative commons stock.
The text of this interview is also protected by copyright and may not be used without the permission of Nathan Wirth or Steve Landeros.


  1. pelvimax October 8, 2015 at 8:18 am #

    The effect of the sun in those photos is amazing. It has to be a huge job take the photo in the right time. Congratulations.

  2. Sascha Hojzakowa May 6, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Hey Nathan,
    just a stunning “wow”!!!
    I just came back from SF where I “discovered” – totally by chance the 4×5 Gallery on Haight Street – Steve Landeros’ works.
    I had a long talk with one of the owners and it was very friendly and kind talking to him, he even invited me to a vernissage,
    which I couldn’t attend due to my travel arrangements.
    And now I found your complex and enlightening interview you did with him, thank you for your passion and displaying his vision,
    this is a fueling my fire to push our Project “Jack the Flipper | Artwork & Photography” further.
    Again I’m thankful for this interview and the insights and backgrounds of Steve’s outstanding composed works.
    Best regards from Germany, take good care & wish you always good light, yours,
    Sascha Hojzakowa | Jack the Flipper

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