Laszlo Layton was born in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. Raised in the shadow of the Phoenix Zoo, summers were spent studying animals and natural history there. After moving from San Diego to Los Angeles, Laszlo worked in the motion picture industry for over 20 years while his art gestated. After the day’s work at the studio, his nights and weekends were spent making paintings. Early works in acrylics, oils, watercolor, and encaustic focused on stark desert landscapes. Then he read a piece about contemporary photographers reviving 19th century photo printing processes.
Ever the autodidact, Layton became fascinated by the oldest formulas for handmade photographic prints. The modern revivalists led him to early proponents of fine art photography, The Pictorialists and the Photo Secessionists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Works by F. Holland Day, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Gertrude Kasebier and Clarence White stimulated more research. What cameras and lenses provided their impressionistic images? What inspired their choice of subject matter?
Layton acquired a huge Deardorff studio view camera constructed of mahogany. Laszlo then painstakingly restored many of its worn parts. The Deardorff produced enormous eleven-by-fourteen inch negatives for the contact printing method required by early photographic processes. Laszlo also hunted down vintage soft-focus lenses from Boston’s long-defunct Pinkham & Smith Company. The Pictorialists preferred “Smith” lenses, and often had them custom made to create the modeling effects and light diffusion specific to their concepts. As the equipment was restored, Laszlo developed his own vision. Moved by the spirit of the Photo Secessionists, his inspiration came in rediscovering his youthful interest in zoology.
Laszlo found a treasure trove of natural history books in antiquarian bookstores. Some were the same titles he pored over in the grade school library and his boyhood bedroom. Building up his library seeded the idea for a photographic series. The first image was of a blue morpho butterfly, ordered online, attached to a dried passion vine plucked outside his apartment. Tentative about his own composition skill, the butterfly’s pose was drawn from a painting by Martin Johnson Heade from 1864-1865. With a fully functional camera, a box of sheet film, household light bulbs in hardware store reflectors, and a singular vision, Laszlo began to create his Natural History series.
Still with an eye on the past, Laszlo is keeping abreast of the digital technologies in photography. This synthesis of old and new tools helps Laszlo Layton realize his vision.