Going big IV: Virgil Hancock


About 5 years ago I was visiting Los Angeles, and browsing through the photography books at Hennessey and Ingalls. I stumbled across Virgil Hancock's book, Open Range and Parking Lots. I have continued to come back to this book quite often. I'm interested in photographing modern ruins, and Hancock is masterful in his subject selection, composition, and subtle humor. The accompanying essay by Gregory McNamee is also quite good. You can usually pick up a used copy of this book for about $10.

I later purchased Hancock's two other books, Chihuahua: Pictures from the Edge, and American Byzantium: Photographs of Las Vegas. Great images, and also wonderful essays, again by Gregory McNamee in the Vegas book, and by Charles Bowden in the Chihuahua book. In all three books the images seem to have an incredible amount of detail. They really leap off the page.

The essay in the Vegas book briefly talks about Hancock shooting large format. I suppose a middle age guy with a big wooden tripod and a sheet over his head isn't the strangest thing you'll see in Vegas. My fully loaded photo backpack weighs in at 30 pounds. Hancock's 8x10 camera, a few lenses, 20 sheet film holders, and wooden tripod weighs in at about 80 pounds. I hope he has a good chiropractor.

Of the three books, Open Range and Parking Lots is my favorite. While I'm not a big fan of Las Vegas, the essay in American Byzantium is quite insightful. Used prices on Amazon for all of Hancock's books are quite reasonable.

I also wanted to point out an outstanding article on the large format question by The Online Photographer's Mike Johnston. This article was written for Camera & Darkroom magazine, and posted on Luminous Landscape -- it's called The Craft Approach: Is Large Format Really "Best"?