Rural Missouri Magazine
Catching the light
William Blunt makes photographs with traditional methods and subjects close to home

by Jeff Joiner

William Blunt patiently and carefully sets up an 8-inch by 10-inch view camera to make a photograph.

William Blunt stands out like a sore thumb on the deserted sidewalk of the central-Missouri town of Bonnots Mill.

With his head covered by what looks like a black cape, Blunt stands behind a large wooden tripod. A moment later he emerges from darkcloth, grabs a camera shutter release and takes a picture. In the time it takes most people to shoot an entire roll of film, Blunt makes three or four photographs of an old storefront.

In the age of digital cameras and instant images, Blunt and his bulky view camera seem old fashioned. In fact, nearly everything Blunt uses to make a photograph is dated, from the camera to his printmaking techniques, which were developed more than a century ago.

Blunt is a member of a small group of large format art photographers who keep alive traditional methods of making black and white pictures using film, photographic paper and chemicals rather than digital images stored in computers and spit out of ink jet printers. After more than 30 years taking pictures, he’s not about to change now.

“I know digital is here and there is nothing you can do about that,” says Blunt, “but I enjoy the old processes and way of doing things.”

Blunt makes platinum and palladium prints using techniques developed by masters of art photography in the late 1800s. Rather than prints made on photographic paper coated with light-sensitive silver particles, Blunt makes his own photographic paper by mixing solutions containing platinum, palladium, or a combination of both, with a chemical containing a light-sensitive iron compound. He brushes this photographic emulsion onto a piece of paper.

Collectors value platinum and palladium for their beautiful tones and ability to maintain subtle details lost in modern photographic papers.

Blunt, 53, began taking black and white pictures with a 35mm camera in the late 1960s while in the Navy. As many American servicemen did, Blunt bought his first 35mm camera in Japan while stationed there. Blunt got out of the Navy in 1972 and returned home to St. James where he went to work as a civilian welder at nearby Fort Leonard Wood, a job he’s held ever since. Over time Blunt became more and more involved with photography, eventually buying equipment to develop black and white film and print pictures.

That was a turning point in his hobby.

The brush strokes on some of Blunt's pictures come from the emulsion he mixes and applies himself.

“Once I saw that first photograph come up in the developer, I guess that did it for me,” Blunt says.
An avid reader of photography books and magazines, Blunt studied the benefits of making photos from negatives larger than 35mm. While at a St. Louis photography swap meet he bought an old Burke & James 4x5 view camera for $75 and he began taking large format photographs.

The Burke & James uses film that creates a negative 4 inches by 5 inches in size, several times larger than a 35mm negative. Because of its size, a 4x5 negative produces photographs of higher clarity because it doesn’t have to be enlarged as much as a 35mm negative.

Next, Blunt began attending workshops and meeting the photographers whose work he studied in books and magazines.

“You meet these people and learn their attitude and it makes an impression on you,” says Blunt.

Another turning point for Blunt occured when he sent a portfolio of his pictures to nationally known large format photographer Fred Picker, who offered to critique the pictures of subscribers to his newsletter. Blunt says he had nothing to lose.

“Picker is very opinionated in his writings, but I thought what’s the worse that can happen,” Blunt says. “He had nothing but good things to say.”

Blunt also traveled in the western United States shooting pictures. Despite many trips west, Blunt says his most meaningful pictures are those he finds back home. He began to realize that by taking pictures of well-known western scenes, such as Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

“I came home and decided that’s not my place out there. I think I’ve been forcing myself on this other stuff — it’s got to be good because everybody’s photographed Chaco Canyon. But around here I can get up early and go down to the Meramec when the fog’s coming up and do a lot better.”

One Missouri scene Blunt photographed was the old St. James grade school. He printed several portfolios of platinum prints of the school and advertised the portfolios in a photography newsletter. A gallery owner in Monterey, Calif., bought one of the picture sets.

“He was hanging the pictures in his gallery and a woman bought one. I ended up sending him several photographs and he sold several of the portfolios and individual prints.”

Today, Blunt spends much of his free time traveling around rural Missouri photographing churches, cemeteries, old mills and nature.

Blunt has had photographs exhibited throughout the United States and in Great Britain. Though he has had only modest financial success (sales don’t even cover film and darkroom supplies), Blunt says he doesn’t take pictures for money.

“I just enjoy it. I don’t take pictures to sell. If they sell, fine, but if they don’t I’m still going to do the same thing I’m doing now.”

To see Blunt’s photographs visit Legacy Art & BookWorks at 1010 E. Broadway in Columbia, or view his pictures on line at Contact Blunt at (573) 265-8874 or e-mail him at

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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