My name is David Kakuei Chao and I am a documentary film photographer. I shoot with all types of film (35mm, 120, and 4×5) and love to use the medium of film as I find the process continues to endure in the 21st century.
After graduating from Stanford University in 2018 with a degree in Engineering–Product Design, I set out to capture a project I titled the “Hiroshima Legacy Project”.
Using a 4×5 View Camera the goal of this project was to document the people of smaller towns all around Hiroshima prefecture.
Given the urban migration and the ageing population, lots of small towns and even small cities in Hiroshima prefecture are starting to slowly die out. Each portrait was taken after an extensive 20-30 minute ethnographic interview of a subject who I would spontaneously meet during my travels.
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The inspiration for this project began in the summer of 2017 after my grandmother Toshiko passed away in her home.
Toshiko was born in Watsonville, California and during World War II the government imprisoned her family in concentration camps – first in Poston, Arizona, then in Tule Lake, California.
After the war, the US government repatriated the Morimoto family to Hiroshima. In her memory, I wanted to create a photographic essay capturing stories and faces of Hiroshima.
The gear I am showing off today is my 4×5 Camera Kit. This is what I traveled with over the course of a month in Hiroshima, Japan.
I cannot say enough good things about having a good backpack. While the $300 price tag might seem steep at first, I believe it is worth every penny.
The peak design backpack is listed at 30L, but with its magnetic clamp design it can easily expand to fit more gear.
It also contains numerous side and bottom straps that allow me to strap on extra gear that cannot fit inside my bag (tripod, changing tent, film holder cases).
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This flexibility is a must when carrying as much gear as one needs to when using a 4×5 View Camera. It also has great side and top pockets, along with adjustable dividers to rearrange my gear however I see fit.
The Gitzo tripod series is truly the ultimate in tripods. They are both sturdy and lightweight, with a great travel ratio.
I love the Series 1 tripod as it fits into most carry on luggage suitcases, as well as being a perfect ratio of reliable and lightweight.
While my view camera weighs 4 pounds, the tripod even in windy conditions has enough weight to not let vibration affect the photograph.
The 4×5 Camera body I use is the Chamonix 45 F-2. It is a dedicated 4×5 camera that has front tilt, back tilt, rear axis tilting, and front lens movement. This is the ultimate model from Chamonix as it also folds down, and includes a ground glass with lines to help ensure a perfect shot.
Furthermore, the knobs are easy to use and it has levels to make sure things are in balance.
I shoot with the Rodenstock 150mm f/5.6 Apo-Sironar-S Lens, which is one of the sharpest lenses made for the 4×5 camera system.
It is a normal viewing lens (around 40-50mm equivalent for full frame/35mm film) and allows for versatile use cases.
I tend to only like carrying one lens with me at a time, and this has become the lens I carry 99% of the time when I am using a 4×5 camera. I can do portraits, landscape, and urban photography all with one lens.
Toyo-View 4×5 Sheet Film Holders (2 Pack)
I am a big believer in the Toyo-View 4×5 film holders. Not only are they built the last, but they are also extremely easy to use and the slides pull out seamlessly. Not all of my holders are brand new, as I tend to get lots of my camera equipment off eBay. Even ones from 10-20 years ago work without any flaws.
Harrison Silver Classic Classic Dark Cloth (54 x 58″)
The dark cloth I use is the Harrison Silver Classic Dark Cloth. I have used many different brands of dark cloths in the past, but I find this lightweight and simply designed cloth to be the best.
It uses velcro that allows you to wrap it around the back for the 4×5 view camera, as well as being big enough to cover your shoulders when under the hood to view a shot.
I am a big fan of the Gepe cable release for its bright red color. It makes it easy to spot and the 12 inch is all I need to get my hands well out of the way of the lens for my shots!
The Peak loupe is both pricey and big, but well worth it. Whether it is getting precise focus while looking through the ground glass, or scanning developed negatives, this loupe allows you to see every detail and find out where exactly your focus is. This is crucial when shooting with 4×5 negatives, as every shot counts.
This is a perfect little dust blower to get rid of pesky dust on the lens, the camera, and inside the film holders. I carry this in my bag just to make sure dust isn’t a factor in making a good or bad photograph.
Harrison Pup Film Changing Tent (26 x 19 x 12″)
The Harrison Pup Film tent might be pricey, but it’s a worthwhile investment if you plan to shoot lots of 4×5.
Dust and fingerprints are your number one enemy when handling 4×5 film, and I have found that nothing keeps dust management better than this film tent. It is easy to use and set up, and fits into a compact compression sack.
While there are nicer models of light meters made by Sekonic, I love this model as it’s simple and priced right. It takes incidence light readings and while it does not have a spot meter built in, for general everyday use its smaller compact size allows you to easily keep it around your neck or in your pocket.
I was an early adopter of Analog book when it had initially launched on Kickstarter. For $7 it allows you’re to keep and record detailed information about your film shots. This is extremely important as it helps me go back and look at what I shot and why I exposed each frame the way I did.
f.64 FH4X5 4×5″ Film Holder Case – Black
I use the f.64 film holder cases as I find them to be lightweight and also easy to strap onto my backpack. Each one holds 5-6 holders and is a perfect companion when traveling.
2019 & The Future:
I am currently processing my recent project in Hiroshima and plan to create a photobook later this year. Furthermore, for anyone in the bay area, I am finishing setting up color RA4 darkroom printing and hoping to start teaching some workshops.
To follow more of my work or reach out to me you can go to my Instagram page or visit my website.