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Holladay Journal

Holladay Artist of the Month David Hyams intersects art and science in his 19th-century photography

Sep 30, 2019 01:58PM ● By Sona Schmidt Harris

David Hyams is Holladay Artist of the Month. (Robert Miller).

By Sona Schmidt-Harris | [email protected]

With a backward baseball cap taming his curly brown hair, artist David Hyams discusses photography. He seems at home in his studio, Luminaria, on 800 South.

“We got a shop dog,” Hyams said, emphasizing his embrace of the studio lifestyle.

With a bachelor’s degree in fine art photography from Montana State University and a master’s degree in the same from Leslie College of Art and Design in Boston, Hyams sought the artistic life early. He accepted that he might not always have a steady income.  

“I was always drawn to science and chemistry as a kid. And I originally went to school as a geology and chemistry major, and then I've also always been a very visual person. So, for me to be able to create work and work in bodies of work that visually communicate things that I'm passionate and interested about is really awesome,” he said.

“When I was in high school, I took a darkroom photography class and just kind of fell in love with that magic of the print coming up in the developer and the alchemy of it all.”

  “For me photography is the perfect intersection of art and science,” he said.

Hyams is not a typical, modern photographer. In fact, he embraces and helps preserve photographic styles from the past, including cyanotype, which was invented in 1842. Cyanotype photographs have a deep blue hue. Other media in which Hyams works include gelatin silver (invented in 1871), wet plate collodion (invented in 1851) and platinum palladium (invented in 1873).

Hyams’ favorite media are wet plate collodion (also known as tintypes) and platinum palladium.

Artist of the Month David Hyams is inspired by local images in Holladay. (David Hyams/Holladay)


“For wet plate collodion portraits, which I've been doing a lot of for the business, it's a great experience because it's so collaborative with the model. It's not just like firing off hundreds of shots and then giving them or sending them a link,” he said. Hyams takes only up to three shots an hour during the process.

“It's almost like being a painter where you know your model is committed to that. If you're painting a portrait, it's hours of work for both parties, and with photography that's really rare,” he said.

The process is meticulous and requires relationship building. 

“It’s still quite rigorous and there is trust that you build through that that is really hard to do when you're just autofocusing and auto-exposing and shooting lots of images.”

“I feel like with digital technology today, we're becoming more and more of an instant society and we're losing that tactile relationship, especially with the photograph.

 “With the techniques that we do and that I specialize in, everything is very tactile. You have a hand-coded sensitizer on top of a fine art piece of paper, and you have a lot of time with that object creating and taking it through the various phases,” Hyams said.

“(That time) also gives you the opportunity to really contemplate what you're printing and what you're photographing because you know you don't have a thousand frames to edit down,” Hyams said.

“You work very methodically and very consciously of what you want to communicate as an artist, and I think that is really powerful to have that time and that connection with the work.”

He also works with digital technology. “My specialty is bridging those analog technologies with digital methods,” he said.

Much of Hyams’ work is focused on western landscapes.

Hyams is very pleased with his business. “We met some really awesome people and we've had people flying in from all over the world to come work with us and learn with us.”

Hyams has lived in Holladay about six years, with a trip to China punctuated in between. He lives and works with his partner Christine Baczek.

For more about Hyams’ business, Luminaria, please see his website: