My recent quiz on celebrity photographers failed to mention William T. Vollmann. Vollman doesn’t have a website or, for that matter, use the internet or email. Not surprisingly, he isn’t a big fan of digital photography. In a recent interview in BookForum, he says:
I dislike digital photography because there is no guarantee of permanence as of yet. A compact disc or DVD has a very limited life. When I was photographing the street prostitutes in Sacramento, I used my 8×10 camera and made some platinum prints that should last hundreds of years. It makes me happy to think that these poor prostitutes, whom no one ever gave a damn about, whom people spat on and did terrible things to, will have a certain amount of immortality.”
Vollmann has traveled the world (and continues to spend time as a train hobo), written around sixty books (including a seven-volume, 3300 page treatise on violence) has a wife and child and still has time to mix in some painting and alternative process photography. He doesn’t pursue any of it lightly. One example here:
Q: As part of the research for The Royal Family, you smoked crack, by your own admission, about a hundred times. Is something like that simply a matter of wanting to be able to write from a more experiential perspective, rather than simply observational?
Vollmann: That’s exactly what it is. Otherwise, you really don’t know what you’re doing. If you want to write about somebody who’s a crackhead, you better understand firsthand the effect that crack has or it’s really going to be hard to do it right. That’s the easiest, simplest, best way. It’s like if you’re doing printing-out process photography–the best thing you can do is expose your negative in the sun. If you want to, you can have an exposure lamp, and it can be calibrated, but it won’t be as strong as the sun, or as even. You won’t give as much UV radiation. Why not just stick with what’s already there for you, instead of having to talk to a hundred people about how crack feels? Just do it once and you’ll know.
I’ve hunted around the web and can’t seem to find any of his photographs (can anyone help?). The only thing I found were some examples of his artwork: