Three River Sonata is a project I undertook during the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Instead of locking down at home, I grabbed my large format cameras and started exploring three rivers in Western Montana: The Clark Fork, Bitterroot and Blackfoot. It wasn’t the first time I had considered doing a project about Montana rivers, but the circumstances compelled me. Not only had the pandemic made all the other projects I was working on impossible, it literally cleared the rivers of almost all people.

Montana is famous for its rivers. It is also unique in the Continental US: unlike other western States through which the Continental Divide passes, Montana has rivers in the Western watershed (flowing to the Pacific), the Eastern watershed (Flowing to the Gulf of Mexico) and the Laurentian watershed which flows north into Hudson Bay.

Like the glaciers of distant ages, rivers have continued to shape and define this landscape.

During 2020 and 2021 I shot roughly 800 4×5 and 8×10 images on a specific x-ray film I had found. Early in the project, I developed these films in Adox Rodinal at dilutions of 1:100 or 1:150 in dip-and-dunk tanks. At some point, I even tried mixing my own Rodinal substitute. Ultimately, I decided that because I was doing a project about the rivers, I needed to make sure I wasn’t using and dumping any chemicals which might find their way back into the rivers. So I started experimenting with Caffenol. By December 2020, I had developed my own recipe for Caffenol suitable for X-Ray film similar to the Caffenol-C two-step “Caffeafine” developer described on

The result was a series of about 110 images that I felt worked.

In June 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in a polymer-plate photogravure workshop at Lightbox Photographic Gallery in Astoria, Oregon led by artist Karen Hymer of Light Art Space in Silver City, New Mexico. During that workshop I printed one of the images from the Three River series, and I realized immediately that this was the process for this project.

I quickly started looking for opportunities to work on printing. I applied for and received a two-month residency as the Laura Grace Barrett Printmaking Studio Resident at the Zootown Arts Community Center in Missoula and I started printing in October. There were many set-backs. Supply chain issues made sourcing plates a challenge, and several plate shipments arrived damaged. Because I was sourcing plates in mixed orders from different places, I found it very difficult to calibrate exposures. Most of my work was done using a two-step exposure process (exposure with an aquatint screen followed by exposure with a transparent image positive) on Dan Welden’s Solarplates, but some were done with Toyobo KM 83 and 73 plates in the direct-to-plate process.

I finally found a solution from printmaker Silvi Glattauer in Melbourne, Australia who I worked with over Zoom for a couple days, and who provided me with a direct-to-plate methodology that reliably worked for plate calibration.

At the end of my residency, I was able to select 13 prints to hang in a solo show.  The show opened with a very well-attended First Friday event on December 2 and will remain on display at Zootown Arts Center in Missoula, Montana through the month of December, 2022.

A book about this project is still in the works.

For more information see the announcement on the ZACC’s website. If you missed the opening and would like to see the show, you can find information about gallery hours and get directions here.