It’s a “nice, sunny day” in Paul Kozal’s region of Northern California today; that means it’s a good darkroom day. “I go out to shoot on the foggy days,” he says.
Many black-and-white photographers aim for the perfect exposures and razor-sharp negatives of Ansel Adams and the ƒ/64 school, hoping to make large prints from them. Paul Kozal has a different viewpoint. He draws his inspiration from the earlier Pictorialists, such as Alfred Steiglitz. “I like my photographs small and soft,” Kozal relates from his Northern California home. “I don’t subscribe to the ‘bigger is better’ philosophy. Often, someone sees a grandiose landscape and tries to imitate it by making a huge photograph. Most of my photographs are 5×7 inches; I try to draw viewers in, get them up close to explore a print’s subtleties.”
In many of his photographs, Kozal’s softness comes from photographing in foggy conditions in the area around his home in Northern California. To get the right atmosphere, he returns again and again, hoping to be in the right place at the right time. “A lot of the moments that I capture are fleeting,” he explains. “I admire Henri Cartier-Bresson, so I’m happy that people have told me that I capture the ‘decisive moment’ in the landscape.”
To capture these moments, Kozal eschews view cameras in favor of the speed and flexibility he gets from using 35mm and medium-format cameras. (His primary cameras are a 35mm Nikon F100, with 70–300mm, 24–120mm, and 80–400mm lenses; and a Mamiya 7II with 85mm and 150mm lenses.)