Photo Weekend in Connecticut

This past weekend I went up to Rocky Hill, Connecticut (just outside Hartford) to attend a two-day, three evening seminar and get-together, sponsored by the New England Large Format Photography Collective (NELFPC). The main theme of the weekend was to learn about digital negative making and carbon printing. The side benefit was most people brought examples of their current work to share and show after hours. What a terrific weekend! Our instructor for the weekend was Sandy King, an elder statesman for the chemical wet darkroom. A specialist in carbon printing, he is also the inventor of Pyrocat-HD (and its variants), a film developer with special benefit for people working in antique and historic photo processes.

Day one began with displays of some of Sandy’s carbon prints, and a discussion of digital negative making. Sandy does still use ultra-large format cameras from time to time (he has a 20×24 with 12×20 and 10×24 reducing backs), but he mostly travels with medium format gear and then scans his film to enlarge it digitally. He demonstrated the Precision Digital Negatives system for making digitally enlarged negatives, and discussed the benefits and flaws. He then discussed the QTR (Quad Tone RIP) method which has significant advantages over the PDN system, but is far more user-unfriendly to configure. We then scanned some film and made digital negatives to print from the next day.

After all the computer wonkery was finished for the day, dinner was served and the prints to show came out. I showed my two bodies of work, the platinum/palladium travel shots and the male nudes in gum and platinum I’ve been working on. Both series drew a lot of comments and praise, which was very nice. I was especially tickled when certain individuals who I hold in very high esteem made a point of complimenting me in private.

The next day we got down to the business of printing. Carbon is water-activated, like gum bichromate, and uses the same dichromate as a sensitizer. To make a carbon print, you first coat a gelatin and pigment (india ink mixed to taste with other pigment(s) to adjust the tone warmer or cooler) layer on a thin, flexible but non-absorbent medium (mylar or other similar material). This is your donor tissue. You then sensitize it with an ammonium dichromate and alcohol mix, dry it in a cool, dark place, then sandwich it with your negative, emulsion to emulsion, then expose to UV light. After exposing, you put your receiver paper (it can be anything from art papers to fixed-out silver gelatin paper) in a water bath, allow it to swell. After a minute, put the exposed carbon tissue in the water and sandwich it to the receiver paper. continue for another minute and a half or so, then take it out of the water. GENTLY separate the two, then place the receiver in another bath of warm water. You’ll see the image come up in the water bath. You can use a clearing bath as well, but it is not required. The clearing bath will greatly reduce washing time though, so it is a good idea.

To me, while learning carbon printing from a master printer was an awesome reason to travel 400 miles, the bonus that made it worth the effort was meeting the people who attended. Steve Sherman (the beyond generous host – we used his gigantic and brilliantly designed darkroom for the printing sessions and his living room for the show-and-tell sessions, general hanging out, and consuming all the amazing food), Gene LaFord, Dave Matuszek, Jack Holowitz, Glenn and Marie Curtis, Sandy King, Jim Shanesy and Diwan Bhathal (fellow Washingtonians and my travel pals for the trek up and back), Alex Wei, Armando Vergara, Robert Seto, Tim Jones, Paul Paletti just to name a few all made the weekend a really enjoyable experience and I am dying for the next one!

In the group photo, the one on the right, Sandy King is the one with the rolleiflex in his lap – which happens to be my rolleiflex. When I can get the negatives from the trip scanned, I’ll post some shots here.

The new and improved studio

Well, after much hemming and hawing and consternation, the new storage locker for the studio is done! All my stuff is now safely stowed, and the studio looks a thousand times neater and more professional. Here are photos of the locker under construction:

One of the big challenges was the fact that the floor is far from level. The building was once a taxi/livery dispatch and maintenance facility. The floor has multi-directional slopes to it to allow for cleaning of spilled coolant/transmission fluid/oil. In one corner (opposite where the locker is) there’s even a covered-over maintenance trench for greasemonkeys to get under the cabs to change the oil.

Upcoming collectors show in New York

For those who might be interested, here’s a link to The Photography Collectors’ Show in New York next Saturday, March 19. I’m toying with the idea of going up to see it.

Here is a list of dealers who will be in attendance:

Steve Yager
Adam Forgash
Casey A. Waters
Christopher Wahren
D. T. Pendleton
Dennis Waters
Erin Waters
Greg French
Henry Deeks
Maria DiElsi
Thomas Harris
Stacy Waldman
Arthur Dristiliaris
Brian Caplan
David Chow
Dr. Stanley Burns
Glenn Vogel
Jack Domeischel
Julian Wolff
Larry Berke
Lisa Taos
Richard Hart
Richard Silver
Stephen Perloff
Stuart Butterfield
Susan Davens

In the spirit of past images

After digging up the stereoview of the Lehigh Valley Railroad station, I did a quick peek on Ebay to see if I could find any others. Whaddya know, my first search turns up another in the series. It’s in pretty rough condition, but I bought it anyway because it was going cheap. This is one case of a stereoview set that I’ll actually try to complete – there’s only 24 in the set. I have a casual interest in railroad memorabilia, as my grandfather was a conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited between Altoona an Chicago in the first half of the 20th century. I’m also a roller-coaster fan, so finding a photograph of the first roller-coaster is pretty cool (first roller-coaster you say? see the blurb below).

Incline, Lehigh Valley Railroad

This is a picture of the switch-back gravity railroad, which was originally built to aid in bringing coal from the top of the mountain to the railroad. It quickly grew into a tourist attraction, and then became the first roller-coaster in the United States, when it became dedicated to passenger service. The car would be towed to the top of the mountain on one track, then switch and fall down the other track propelled by gravity alone. There was a driver/brakeman in the car to prevent it from flying off at the bottom out of control.

The town is Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, now known as Jim Thorpe, PA, named to honor the Native American athlete. Ironically enough, Jim Thorpe was from Oklahoma, and his sole connection to Mauch Chunk is that he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and that Mauch Chunk was a Native American name approximately meaning “Bear Mountain”, because the mountain in whose shadow the town was built looks like the back of a bear. After he died in 1953, his surviving wife sold his remains to the town, which hoped that his grave would be a tourist attraction.

This next image is another recent acquisition – another Washington DC carte-de-visite. This one, if the inscription on the back is accurate, is a self-portrait by the photographer, or at least the inscription is by the photographer – “Your Friend – From Mr. Arthur(sp?) Woodley”. I’m curious if the Woodly on the card is a typographical mistake, as the signature really does look like it says “Woodley”. I’m also curious if the Woodley/Woodly is any relation to the Woodleys for whom Woodley Park was named. Given how small a town DC was in the 1860s, I’d say the odds are in favor.

K.C. Woodly CDV, Washington DC

The address on this one is a mystery – 181 Pennsylvania Avenue would put the studio on the Capitol lawn. Furthermore, he indicates that the studio is located between 17th and 18th Streets, which would make 1781 Pennsylvania Avenue a more likely actual address. I wonder if the printer was short on E’s and 7s when he ran these off.

Getting back into the studio again…

Yesterday, in a fit of activity, I got in to the studio and shot a few still-life photos. I’m participating in a print exchange through the Large Format Photography Forum ( and I needed to shoot some images for the exchange. The final images will be platinum prints. I decided to use a lead crystal cut glass decanter I have as a subject – I wanted something challenging to photograph and that would create some striking images. I got the inspiration seeing the decanter on my coffee table with the sunlight coming through it and casting a shadow. I brought it over to the studio and set it up on a sweep of white seamless paper, and lit it with just one light, as it would be in the real world (there is only one sun!). It casts a beautiful shadow on the seamless, especially the way the crystal is cut with these random little scallops out of the body. I used the Century Master portrait camera, which after having been hauled around a bunch is starting to get a bit loose. As always, the lens on it is my Seneca Portrait f5. I put the whole plate back on the camera for these shots, as it’s about my favorite format. I indulged in my film choice and used some of my remaining stock of Arista.EDU Ultra 200 (aka Fomapan 200). Arista.EDU Ultra is Freestyle Photo‘s house-label film, made for them by Foma in the Czech Republic. Foma discontinued the 200 a year or two ago when their source for one of the critical components dried up, and just started re-making it but only in roll film. It’s one of my all-time favorite films, not only because it was dirt cheap (1/3 the price of Ilford), but because it produced beautiful results – it has this old-time feel to the image quality from a reduced red sensitivity. Here’s a couple of shots of the setup (pardon the poor quality- they’re taken with my iPhone which is not the best in low light). I’ll post some scans later of the finished prints.

Studio setup #1

Studio setup #2

Katherine Thayer passes away.

Katherine Thayer passed away this week. She was a major figure in the alternative process photographic community, and a great source of wisdom and knowledge when it comes to gum bichromate printing. Her loss will be felt around the world. I never met the great lady myself, but we did have several exchanges online and via email about alternative process printing, and I know that I miss the opportunity to have met her. Fortunately, her website is still up, and so even though she is gone, her knowledge does not vanish with her. It can be found at

Two from the vaults

I was doing some clean-up in my office the other day and ran across these two images. Absolutely nothing to do with each other. I don’t remember where I found the doctor’s office photo, but I got the Lehigh Valley Railroad stereoview (I know, here I go again with the stereoviews I “don’t collect”) in Sacramento, California, and I suspect that’s a large part of the reason I got it – curiosity as to why something so regionally specific ended up on the opposite side of the country. The doctors’ office photo I bought because my father is a (now retired) physician, and it was interesting to see what a doctors’ office at the beginning of the 20th century looked like. I love the pillow on the sofa that says “Here’s to the world, for fear that someone may take offense” – proof that cheesy knicknacks are not a late 20th century phenomenon. The stirrups on the chair make me wonder if it is a gynecologist’s office, and the relationship of the subjects of the photo is odd – the doctor seemingly asleep in the chair, and the man in the suit facing the camera – is he a patient, a friend of the doctor, the photographer, or a combination of the above?

Lehigh Valley Railroad, Mauch Chunk station

Doctor's Office, early 20th century

Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

%d bloggers like this: