John Nanian – Art and Caffeine

John Nanian

And to think it all started with a Mickey Mouse camera. John Nanian was born in 1965 and is a true photographic explorer. From that first Mickey Mouse camera as a child, to his first serious high school camera, (Pentax K1000), to probably one of the most esoteric of cameras floating around,…the Graflex 3A. Even if he has to make his own cameras, the images will come.


RC Paper
© John Nanian – Delmar Box Camera


A Graflex 3A and Expired Everything

I guess people would like to pigeon hole him as an ‘alternative process’ guy. But he does on occasion use regular film and regular cameras. But his real love is the image, formulating new and exciting chemicals, and blending this seemingly hodgepodge of positions into one directive. Combining both old and new processes,…some even older than the Daguerreotype, and some totally experimental in their applied chemistry.


Alternative Process photograph
© John Nanian – Homemade Dryplate


In fact, I have to admit, I didn’t even know what a retina print was until stumbling onto his site. He puts a sheet of expired photo paper inside of a camera. He then leaves the shutter open for a few hours. When the image appears, he scans the “un-fixable” image it to preserve it. A perfect storm in the melding of the old and the new. His knowledge of processes that even pre-date the Daguerreotype is quite astounding. He talks about the retina print as one of the first photographic processes, discovered by Nicéphore Niépce. Who? And I thought I knew everything. Guess not.


Graflex 3A
© John Nanian – Tinted Retina


Combining the Old with the New

Well, there was one small issue with the retina print process, besides the very long exposure times. However, there was no way to “fix” the image. (at the time) Hence, Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre became famous and Nicéphore Niépce did not. Unless you “fix” it with a scanner! Brilliant. Using modern technology to negate any shortcomings of “ancient” photographic processes.


Graflex 3A
© John Nanian – Dektol and Coffee


While he sometimes will actually build a camera and use antique barrel lenses, he has no aversion to use any and everything in his commercial arsenal, from a Pentax ME Super to a Toyo 4×5. And the esoteric Graflex 3A. He’s also big into photograms. (sun prints) While all this would appear to place John dead center into the “art realm”, he is actually a freelance photographer living outside of Providence, Rhode Island. He’s done documentary work, editorial/newspaper photography, events, weddings and even things for the Guinness Book of World Records.

Quest for the Organic

But there is no doubt that his inherent experimental nature is opening old doors in new ways. Including his own light sensitive formulas and a continuing effort to delve further into an organic, camera-less  world. (developing in coffee) He’s also experimenting more and more with cyanotypes to inject color. While many of his processes are transitory in nature, his quest towards originality and perfection are starting to pay dividends in understanding the roots of photography. And organic works that live only in our souls.


Graflex 3A
© John Nanian – Homemade Tinted Dryplate


John Nanian is currently working on a “reversal developer” to make ”silver gelatin tintypes” using homemade developer made from coffee.

Graflex 3-A and Toyo 4×5





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