Tag Archives: Wet Plate Collodion

New Arrival – Storytelling by Alex Timmermans

I came home from work today to find a wonderful pleasant surprise on my doorstep: Storytelling, by Alex Timmermans. 

Alex is one of the modern masters of wet plate collodion technique. But far more than a mere technician, Alex is a true artist with a camera. His images are true creative narratives in a frame. 

As another nice plus, Alex personalized it to me. I’m one of the credited backers in the afterword. I’ve had the great fortune to know Alex through online photography forums like APUG and Facebook, and watch this body of work grow and evolve over time, and now I’m thrilled to have his book in my collection. 

Rendering The Spirit: Interview with Dan Schlapbach

Could you tell me your name?
Dan Schlapbach

Where are you from?
Freeland, MD (about a mile south of the PA border)

How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?
Since the first time I picked up my father’s Lordomat 35mm camera decades ago, I have experimented with the medium. As I advanced through schools and my education I considered various photographic careers, but ultimately decided that a career in photographic education would allow me to keep my artistic photographic practice tangential but not central to my vocation. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to use my photographic interests and skills to create art.

Which alternative processes do you practice?
Several (pinhole cameras, cyanotypes, palladium, etc., but wet-plate collodion is my passion). The particular process presented in this exhibition is relievo ambrotype. The relievo ambrotype process is a 19th-century photographic technique that incorporates multiple layers of photographs to create a single image. The foundation of the process is wet plate collodion. The wet plate collodion process is capable of producing different kinds of photographs: it may be coated onto a piece of black metal to produce a tintype; it may be coated onto a piece of glass to produce a negative from which it is possible to make positive prints; or if the processed glass plate is backed with a piece of black material the result is a positive image called an ambrotype.
John Urie introduced the relievo ambrotype in Glasgow in 1854. Relievo refers to a sculptural technique in which shapes project from or recede into a surrounding background. The relievo ambrotype achieved this relief effect by layering the glass collodion image plate over another image or background. This process was used almost exclusively for portraits between the 1850s and 1860s, and the backgrounds (usually fabricated) situated the subjects – e.g. identifying the Civil War soldier in his battlefield, indicating the sitter’s social status, or creating a potentially faux document of a visit to an exotic locale.

What attracted you to alternative processes in general?
Digital photography for me is too quick, perfect and sterile. I have always enjoyed playing with the photographic medium. While this is, of course, certainly possible with digital manipulation (e.g. Photoshop), I prefer to create handcrafted images. I love tactile practices.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?
I have always been interested in 19th-century photography, especially Civil War and Westward expansion photography. Wet-plate collodion was the dominant practice during those years. It still fascinates me to consider the fortitude it must have taken to use this process, which we now view is very cumbersome, to make images soon after battles, or after scaling to a 10,000 foot precipice. Moreover, the process makes truly unique images. While prints may be made from wet-plate collodion negatives, ambrotypes made from this process are one-of-a-kind. The relievo ambrotype allows me the option to play with and blend both 19th-century and contemporary photographic techniques and practices.

How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
I am trying to blend the look of the antiquated wet-plate collodion process with contemporary digital imaging. I will often photograph older or timeless objects with the wet-plate process and more contemporary subjects for the digital component.

In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?
It is critical to me. While I certainly fully appreciate and love all that digital imaging offers, for my personal practice, digital photography is less fulfilling. I have always loved working in the darkroom and would dearly miss the tactile process of image making. The process helps me to slow down and really study what it is that I am photographing.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
I think it is both a reaction and compliment to digital imaging. I appreciate the speed and flexibility that digital photography offers, but I love the meditative, methodical wet-plate collodion process. It may take me several days to complete a single work. But, the antiquated and contemporary processes complement each other in my works. The relievo ambrotype process allows me to blend antiquated, alternative process with contemporary digital image making techniques.

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
Not always, but yes with the digital relievo ambrotypes.

If so, how do you incorporate it? Is it limited to mechanical reproduction technique, or does it inform/shape/influence the content of your work?
Yes, it very much informs the content of my work. While wet-plate is still my passion, I do also love the options that digital imaging offers me. I can manipulate the images in multiple ways.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today? Where do you see yourself in that world?
In the fast-paced, Instagram world in which we live, I think it is important that some artists slow down and use their hands to craft images. Digital imaging, and all that it offers, is fantastic and should be embraced, but it is critical that we not loose sight of the slow, handcrafted image.

Index of Illuminations, by Dan Schlapbach
Index of Illuminations, by Dan Schlapbach

Reminder – Rendering The Spirit opens on Friday, May 18, and runs through April 11. The artists’ reception will be held March 26 from 6-8pm at Glen Echo Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Maryland, 20812.

Rendering The Spirit: Interview with Yugo Ito

Could you tell me your name?
Yugo Ito

Where are you from?
I am from Nagoya, Japan.

How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?
Since I was born as a son of the fourth generation of my family-business photo studio, it was natural for me to get into photography. I have completed PGdip in photography at the University of the Art London after completing BA in Management in Tokyo.

Which alternative processes do you practice?
Wet Plate Collodion

What attracted you to alternative processes in general?
Because I thought that I needed to experience the same amount of difficulty taking a photo as photography pioneers had.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?
Because as being one of modern photographers, I felt I must know and respect how photography pioneers invented and developed photography.
And also, I thought that photography would have lost its reliability and its power of assuring the referent’s existence in future if we keep taking photos digitally. It is because, as we all know well, digital photography allows us to easily edit a photograph. Our offspring might not be able to trust our photographs to be 100% like us. The age of that photography tells the truth is over. To be more precise, the age has been already over with the advent of film photography. Thus, I decided to learn Wet Plate Collodion process to restore its essential features.

How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
With a big influence of being as a son of the fourth generation of my family-business photo studio, I strongly believe that photography is ultimately a means recording our precious lives, times, things. So, that affects my choice of subject matter.

In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?
We feel we want to take a photo when we cannot digest occurrences going by too soon right in front of us. As a result, we are drowning in a sea of abundant photographs. It is a very tough work to pick up what we really want to keep out of them. Have you ever thought that how hard for family members to select which photo to keep or not after you passed away? I experienced such a situation when my grandmother passed away. I think that our impulse to take a photo is almost one of our instincts. Thus, we would need to think to add one more option to solve the problem, which is to create hand-made images. It would make it easy to select photographs for the sake of the future.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
Unfortunately, there were many victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake 2011 who lost their photographs taken over the previous ten years because they were only kept digitally. Although most of the photographs in their digital devices disappeared, many physical photographs such as prints and negatives were saved. This made me realize once again how important not to keep our photographs only digitally.

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
I appreciate digital media in that its easiness to record something. Also, being able to store them on a Cloud-based storage system is its merit. So, I don’t suppose that we should choice only one of media.

If so, how do you incorporate it? Is it limited to mechanical reproduction technique, or does it inform/shape/influence the content of your work?
If in Japan, for example, I would like to offer an opportunity to make a physical photograph such as alternative prints, ambrotypes or tintypes by using a digital photograph of customers in order to increase the possibility that their photographs survive on natural disaster such as Tsunami. There is a limit on how many photos you can store on a Cloud-based storage system, and also we can’t trust those digital stuff completely.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today? Where do you see yourself in that world?
Some say that uploading photos onto a Cloud-based storage system is the best way of preserving photographs. It is partly true and I agree with it only for the Tsunami case, etc… However, I strongly disagree with not leaving photos as tangible states. I sometimes wonder that the dignity of time passage mood mostly rising from old tangible printed photos itself would greatly contribute to the dignity of the photography referent. Japan has a unique aesthetics called ‘Wabi-Sabi’ (侘び寂び), which is described as finding beauty in imperfection and impermanent. It is very difficult to express in English. But, if I would translate it, Wabi (侘び) is a mind of accepting withering and lacking and the beauty of simplicity and commonplace things, not from luxurious, gorgeous or flamboyant things. Sabi (寂び) is the beauty from a withered state that comes with age. Wabi is the inner side and Sabi is the outer side. It is the beauty rising from negative sentiments. 侘(wabi) and 寂(Sabi), these Japanese characters are negative meanings. I think that this particular aesthetic represents the dignity and the affection toward aging printed photos. Due to that it has just been around 10 years since the digitized photography wave started, I’ve got questions. How much affection we feel toward old photos does time passage contributes to? Can we have the exactly same feeling by our old digital photos in future? The appearance of photos stored digitally never age.

If once people know the easiness to take a photo by a digital camera, it is difficult to teach them how important to keep physical photos, such as prints. But we learned how fragile digital photographs were from the Great East Japan Earthquake 2011 with a lot of victims. I suppose that hand-made/alternative process works appeal people better than just teaching people how important printing is. These old styles/techniques are new to them. It would be great if people could make a physical photograph in the end. Photographs do not exist for the past, photographs do exist for the future. As long as I treat photography in the art world, These are what I would love to share with people.

Self-Portrait, Yugo Ito
Self-Portrait, Yugo Ito

A reminder: Rendering The Spirit runs from March 18 to April 11. The opening reception will be held March 26 from 6-8pm at Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Maryland 20812.

Rendering The Spirit: Selectees Announced!

I’m very pleased and thrilled to announce the entrants whose work has been accepted into the Rendering The Spirit: The Personal Image in Alternative Media exhibition at Glen Echo Photoworks. We accepted twelve artists showing a very diverse range of subject matter and technique, from wet plate collodion to photogravure to lumen prints. The exhibit is also very geographically diverse – works are coming from Texas, the Washington DC area, Switzerland, Germany and Japan.

The honored artists are:

Atalie Day Brown (Maryland)
Barbara Maloney (Maryland)
Bruce Schultz (Louisiana)
Dan Schlapbach (Maryland)
Erik Larsen (Colorado)
Eddie Hirschfield (Virginia)
Hendrik Faure (Germany)
Ian Leake (Switzerland)
John Sarsgard (New York)
Leena Jayaswal (Maryland)
Marek Matusz (Texas)
Yugo Ito (Japan)

A few featured works from the exhibition:

Causes of the Seasons - Dan Schlapbach
Causes of the Seasons – Dan Schlapbach

14×17 inches, digital relievo wet plate collodion ambrotype. There is a digital print behind the glass ambrotype image, creating a relief like a traditional relievo ambrotype

Portrait of Jared - Atalie Brown
Portrait of Jared – Atalie Brown

8×10 inch tintype (direct-positive, wet-collodion on aluminum plate)

Venus Rising - Ian Leake
Venus Rising – Ian Leake

11×14 Palladiotype on Herschel paper

Indian Bride Barbie 3 - Leena Jayaswal
Indian Bride Barbie 3 – Leena Jayaswal

11×14 inch lumen print

Faces of Photostock 2013

Last week (June 19-23) I was in the upper upper corner of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan (troll land – why? because it’s under the (Mackinac) Bridge!). The event was Photostock 2013, a very loose, casual gathering of photographers to hang out, shoot, share work, talk photo, and just relax. The event was held at the Birchwood Inn in Harbor Springs, Michigan, which is on Lake Michigan, not far south of the Mackinac Bridge. The bridge spans the strait that separates Lake Michigan from Lake Huron. It’s the second longest suspension bridge in North America, and the fourth longest in the world.

Here’s a photo of the bridge in the morning fog:

Mackinac Bridge, Morning Fog
Mackinac Bridge, Morning Fog

To clarify some confusion, Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw (why I don’t know, but it is). If it’s a transliteration from a Native American word, then you’d think Pontiac should have been pronounced Pontiaw. But it’s not. Go figure. Anyway, you’ll sometimes see Mackinac written Mackinac and others Mackinaw. And same with the resort island of the same name.

Back to Photostock- it’s an environment where you don’t feel like the odd man out for being a total photo geek for bringing TWO Rolleiflexes with you (that was me, and in comparison to some folks, I was highly under-geared!). Here I am having fun with my Rolleiflexes- they’re wearing my Ray-Ban Wayfarers:

Me And My Rolleis
Me And My Rolleis

The coolest thing about it for me was getting to meet a whole bunch of folks in the flesh I only knew virtually, from participating on APUG (http://www.apug.org), Large Format Photography (http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum), and Rangefinder Forum (http://www.rangefinderforum.com). Some of them I’ve known as virtual beings for nearly a decade. Everyone attending was just terrific, and I can’t think of a single conversation that was anything other than interesting or a person who was anything other than energizing to talk to. We had some really fantastic photographers give demonstrations of their work, like Judy Sherrod showing off her homemade 20×24 wet plate pinhole cameras and the accompanying alumitypes she made with it – WOW. Talk about inspirational – here was someone who was told “no, it can’t be done”, decided that no was not an acceptable answer, and proved the naysayers wrong. She shot wet plate pinhole photos of the beach and ocean at Pass Christian, Mississippi, coating her giant plates at home, driving to the beach, setting up, exposing, driving back and processing the plates all within a half hour span – pretty amazing considering that her exposures were 7-10 minutes each!

Judy Sherrod's Pinhole Camera
Judy Sherrod’s Pinhole Camera

EDIT:

I received the following note from Judy Sherrod clarifying the information about the wet plate pinhole work:

The 20×20 pinhole cameras are made to shoot wet-plate collodion plates in a collaboration with S.Gayle Stevens. Gayle is the collodion artist. I am not. I make the boxes.
I live in Texas, she lives outside of Chicago, and we work from a darkroom in Pass Christian, Mississippi. It’s a long commute for each of us!
We coat the plate in the darkroom, put the plate in the camera, put the camera in the car, jump in and drive to the beach, where the exposures are made. Most exposures are about three minutes. Then we put the camera back in the car and return to the darkroom for processing.
Thank you for writing about this project. It has turned into a dream come true for me. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

looks like I got a couple facts turned around in my head! Thanks, Judy for the clarification!

This is a preliminary set of photos of the people attending Photostock – there were nearly 70 people participating throughout the week, and I’m sure there were some I barely saw let alone got to meet and talk with.

Alex L and Friend
Alex L and Friend
Alex L and Ken Johnson
Alex L and Ken Johnson
Andrew Moxom Making a Wet Plate Portrait
Andrew Moxom Making a Wet Plate Portrait
Bruce Barlow, with a Richard Ritter Camera
Bruce Barlow, with a Richard Ritter Camera
Dorothy Kloss
Dorothy Kloss
David (Ike) Eisenlord and Jamie Young
David (Ike) Eisenlord and Jamie Young
Kerik Kouklis at Lunch
Kerik Kouklis at Lunch
Kris Johnson
Kris Johnson

I’ll have a whole lot more to show once I get all my b/w film developed.

Patterson House CDV

Here’s an anonymous CDV, labeled on the back “View of Patterson’s House, from the N. Yd” I take that to mean North Yard. It must have been an industrialists home, built on the grounds of the factory.

Patterson House CDV
Patterson House CDV
Closeup, Patterson House
Closeup, Patterson House

This is only the second architectural CDV I’ve found. I did some cleanup on the scan of the close-up to make it easier to view. If anyone has any idea where this is/was, I would greatly appreciate feedback. The cdv was purchased in south-west Virginia, near Staunton and Harrisonburg. This is perhaps the poorest condition CDV I own, as it has separated into its various components – the albumen print has separated from the card backing, which has separated into two separate, very thin and delicate layers. This is actually interesting because it gives you an insight into how these were assembled, and the various weights and qualities of the paper components. This is also the first CDV I have that the glass plate negative shows a crack in the print (note the lower left corner of the image). I’ve seen plenty of other larger wet collodion images shot on glass plate that show cracks, perhaps the most infamous one being Alexander Gardner’s last portrait of Abraham Lincoln where the plate cracked right through his head. But I’ve never seen a CDV sized image with a cracked plate. Either it just didn’t happen all that often, or the plates that did crack were re-shot and discarded, or both. In any case, this must have been a very important image to someone to have survived the damaged plate.

*ADDENDUM*

Patterson House was the home of one of the first commandants of the US Navy Yard in Washington DC. So N. Yd. stands for Navy Yard. This would also place the image in the 1860s, perhaps inter-war or possibly pre-war. Given the location, it is quite possible this image came from either the Brady or Gardner studios, or perhaps even Timothy O’Sullivan. It is impossible to say as there is no identifying imprint on the recto, and the original verso layer of the card is missing. Further research is merited. Because there is no imprint on the front, I would suspect Gardner over Brady, as Gardner did not print his name on the front of his CDVs, and he had a strong relationship with the US Military (he was the one called to photograph the Lincoln conspirators after their capture and incarceration aboard US Navy ironclads anchored at the Navy Yard and the subsequent execution, held a scant few blocks away on what is now the grounds of Fort McNair). So I may well have another Gardner image!

Melissa Cacciola- Mohawk Iron Worker tintype portraits

Old Man, 2012, 8×10 tintype
Norman, 2012, 8×10 tintype
Martin, 2012, 8×10 tintype

I discovered Melissa’s wet plate collodion work through a link someone posted on APUG, and I felt it was worth sharing. She has done a beautiful seet of wet plate portraits of the Mohawk Ironworkers who for the last century have been responsible for building the skyscrapers of New York City. The inspiration was the 9/11 10th anniversary last year, and the construction of Freedom Tower on the site of the old World Trade Center. I just felt her work was worth sharing. Please browse her website linked below to see more of her work and to find out more about her.

Melissa Cacciola: Mohawk Iron Workers