2014 – A Year’s Worth of Posts

Do you know what… 2014 was a strange year. It seems to have vanished rather swiftly and left me a bit perplexed to what on earth I did with the time. There were good times, some low, too many ├╝ber stressful bits but on the whole busy would perhaps be the best description. To be honest I struggled to even remember what I did, luckily browsing my iPhone stream fills in the blanks.

It also occurred to me that I also haven’t made a single update to this blog during the course of the year, I’ll blame this on the being busy bit. So to make up for my slacking here is a year in pictures of what I have been doing, plus a bit of rambling…

The year started with a similar theme to the previous one, building wet plate cameras. I’ve had a steady demand for these cameras throughout the year and have another batch sat on the workbench at the moment waiting completion and that’s before I start working through the waiting list for this year.

After building numerous tailboard cameras I decided it was time for a change so the crazy idea was born of making a 8×20 inch panoramic camera, again for wet plate collodion. The tailboard design isn’t really that well suited to a panoramic format so a different approach was needed in the form of a field camera. The camera has a geared triple extension base and is designed for wide angle lenses for landscape use, I’ve actually changed the lens three times and now have a Schneider Symmar 360mm which covers the 8×20 format and gives a nice wide angle of view. The only problem with the camera, I tested it but have never shot anything else with it (too busy, again).

Feeling like a break was needed I headed off to Anglesey and Snowdonia in North Wales for a few days, I took a 5×7 wet plate camera with a my portable dark box etc and managed to shoot a few plates.

In addition I also took my usual digital kit with me and while not the most productive of trips I captured a few photos I was pleased with.

Back from Wales and back to the grind, well back to the saw and the wet plate world. A couple of ULF plate holders and focusing screens for local customers to add wet plate capabilities to their existing cameras. One 15 inch square and a slightly larger 18 inch square with inserts for smaller sizes. In addition to cameras and plate holders I have also been building dark boxes, plate storage boxes, contact printing frames, silver tanks, tripods and more lens boards than I can count.

I was delighted to be selected by Ilford to be part of their new venture ‘House of Ilford’. They are offering a selection of my photographs printed as silver gelatine prints in a range of sizes and framing options.

Another small amount of free time and as a break from ULF cameras I built a 1/4 plate camera (3.25 x 4.25 inch), the first camera I ever built and intro into wet plate was this size and I decided it was time to build another. The camera was made from wenge hardwood which has amazing colour and grain however it is incredibly dense and hard work to machine but in the end it came out alright.

I’ve been shooting with wet plate collodion for perhaps 3-4 years now and finally got round to making some negatives, which can be contact printed to make salt or albumen prints. This process starts off on the same lines to making a positive collodion image (ambrotype or tintype) however the plate is re-developed to increase the density. Next thing on the list to try is dry collodion negatives.

During the summer, fellow wet plater Tony Richards and I organised a collodion event at Lacock Abbey. Despite torrential rain at the start of the event we managed two days of productive shooting in ideal weather and superb surroundings, well until the rain returned just as we packing up. Based on the success of the event this is hopefully going to become a yearly event so stay tuned for more on that.

Just a week later I returned to Lacock this time to be a participant on a workshop and learn Daguerreotypes from Mike Robinson and Roger Watson. This was my first experience with the daguerreotype and a throughly enjoyable few days. In the future I aim to start making dags on my own, I picked up all the required chemicals just need time to build various pieces of equipment.

One good thing, my GAS has improved… Gear Acquisition Syndrome before you think up any other ideas ;)
After years of buying too much gear I have actually sold lots of it, at least five cameras found new homes and perhaps a dozen or so lenses have been despatched around the globe. Ok maybe I did buy a few things, such as the lovely London Stereoscopic Camera above and a couple of rather large portrait lenses.

I must have been getting greedy as I built myself yet another camera, this time a 8×10 field camera. The design is based the 8×20 I made before but a bit more manageable in 8×10 size with a wet plate back and inserts for various smaller plates. The idea behind this cameras was to create one camera for wet plate collodion that would be suitable for portraits and landscapes. It did occur part way through building it that if I built the appropriate back it could also take 8×10 film darlsides…

So that’s what I did and here it is on the banks of Loch Lommond during a well overdue escape to Scotland in November.

I did go to Scotland aiming to shoot more on 8×10 however as plenty of walking was required on rather wet ground my usually digital kit came back into play for the reminder of the trip. A week on the Isle of Skye and then another week further north in Assynt became a rather productive trip, those of you who follow me on Facebook may have seen some of the results but I will be uploading them on here later this month.

A number of prints found new homes and I have started planning a new corporate exhibition, more details soon.

The last few weeks have been a little varied, I started to realised that I need to put some of the rooms in my studio to better use and so built a 8×4 ft workbench for mounting and framing prints. I ran a couple of platinum printing workshops which were well received and with a degree of symmetry back to making plate holders and cameras.

Apart from trips to Wales and Scotland I don’t seem to have been doing much in form of landscape photography this year so I will leave you with these three photos all taken locally (ish). Halifax and a view once know as Devil’s Cauldron, Black Dyke Mills (where my studio is) and just a week ago a trip to Flamborough on the Yorkshire coast.

Well ok, this post ended up a bit longer than expected but at least I now know where the year went :)
And last but not least… I wish you a Happy New Year.

New Work Added

With the year drawing to a close and the rather inclement weather outside I thought it was the ideal time to update some of my portfolios. In the last few months I have managed a couple of productive trips north of the border photographing the Isle of Skye, Glencoe and Loch Lommond. In view of this I have now created a new Scotland Portfolio which includes this new work plus a selection of photographs from the last few years.

That said not all my photographs have been taken that far from home, in fact I have enjoyed exploring some new locations much closer to home and have found a few more to explore in the new year. As I usually get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t spend some time by the sea I had few trips to Redcar and Cleveland. There are a number of wonderful locations on this diverse coastline from the monumental industry contrasting the sand dunes and fishing community at Paddy’s Hole to the seaside town of Saltburn which still boasts some of its wonderful Victorian architecture. This work can be found in the new England Portfolio which again pulls together lots of my recent work.

Well I think that’s all for now so I wish you all the best for 2014.

Merry Christmas

Lines in the Landscape Exhibition

Last week I attended the opening of the Lines in the Landscape exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York. The exhibition includes a large selection of railway themed photographs from the last few years of the Landscape Photographer of the Year awards which is sponsored by Network Rail. I am delighted that my photograph ‘Over the rooftops of Halifax’ which was featured in the 2012 LPOTY awards is included in the exhibition.

The opening event was a most enjoyable evening, it is always nice to talk to like minded photographers and see the excellent selection of work exhibited first hand. It was an absolute delight to meet Charlie Waite and Diana Leppard responsible for the LPOTY awards and the NRM employees who helped put this exhibition together.

The exhibition is on until the 5th May 2014 at the National Railway Museum, Leeman Rd, York, YO26 4XJ. It is open 10:00-18:00 daily and along with the museum is free to enter. I highly recommend a visit.

Iceland *Revisited*

I’m sure this year is disappearing at a rather alarming rate. It’s hard to believe that 7 months ago I was in a somewhat wintery Iceland braving 100mph winds, ice, snow and sub zero temperatures, it doesn’t feel that long ago and what is even worse is that until a week or so ago I hadn’t started looking through the shots from the trip.

I think sometimes it helps to add some time between shooting and processing work as it allows the emotion you felt at the location to on the whole disappear. When processing the shot, if the memory returns and the photo conveys the original emotion you felt while on location then it is successful. Maybe 7 months was a little too long but when browsing through my haul from the trip I realised it had been a productive trip.

I have now added this new work to the Iceland portfolio. However since this was my third trip and on each trip I have had slightly different working methods I have arranged the photos in three groups. I feel this shows how my approach has changed between each visit, however the fundamentals stay the same.

You can view the Iceland portfolio here…

UK Collodion Weekend

Last weekend lurking deep in the wild untamed woodland of the Scottish Borders were a group of determined photographers wielding cumbersome wooden cameras, toxic chemicals and dark tents… and what could be better. This was the UK Collodion Weekend organised by Tony Richards, essentially an informal gathering of UK photographers working with the wet collodion process with a spot of camping thrown in for good measure, OK untamed is perhaps the wrong word but the camp-site was called Rubberslaw Wild Woods camping so at least the wild bit sounds impressive.

The aim was to leave for the borders Friday morning so this involved getting everything packed up Thursday evening, you would think given that I have taken wet plate collodion out of the studio a few times now it would be a streamlined affair but nope and it turned into a rather late night. The chemicals are not that bad yet I always seem to have a couple of different blends of collodion and developer with me but it all gets packed into a rolling tool box with trays, silver tank, plates etc etc, the problem seems to come about when selecting camera gear.

For this trip I took one of my latest creations a 10×12 tailboard camera pictured above right, this camera was actually finished a month or so ago but I hadn’t even shot a plate with until last Thursday, I thought I better test it before I took it into the field. To accompany the 10×12 were two rather large portrait lenses and just in case I didn’t want to be stuck shooting just large 10×12 inch plates I also took my whole plate camera too which again had a rather heavy lump of brass and glass on the front. Lots of bubble wrap later the cameras were bundled into the car along with my Eskimo Quickfish darkroom, a rather monstrous tripod and of course my camping gear.

The journey up was without drama, OK I missed the turning to the camp-site as I am far too dependent on satnav rather than road signs. There were a few fellow wet plates there when I arrived so after getting acquainted, my tent was pitched and it was nice to sit down for a few beers before heading off to the pub. The following morning it was time to get to work and setup the darkroom tent, get the cameras unpacked and ready to shoot a plate.

I didn’t shoot many plates over the weekend, spending much of the time talking with the other wet platers. I managed three portraits I was happy with on Saturday morning, all three were shot with my new 10×12 camera using black aluminium as the substrate in rather overcast conditions…


Alastair


Gaia


Zackery

The weather on the whole was kind for the weekend, a little bit of rain and sunny intervals which lead to some tricky exposure choices as the world got 2 stops brighter when the sun came out and contrast levels went though the roof, I much prefer working under an overcast sky even though it extends the exposure the results are more pleasing. On Sunday I turned my attention to the trees and buildings around the camp-site but had some problems with plates drying while walking to some of the locations, oh well lesson learned I did a couple of tree studies that came out well just need to scan them. Come the evening of Sunday and the pack everything back up operation began, again just as much of a nuisance as before, on future trips I am going to simplify what I take and how I transport what are essentially cameras more at home in the studio.

Overall it was a great weekend and a pleasure to meet fellow wet plate photographers, while I knew pretty much all the attendees through Facebook it is so much better meeting them in the flesh to discuss ideas and the process. A big thank you to Tony for organising everything and hopefully this is going to become a reoccurring event.

Taking Collodion Out Into The Real World

Up until recently I have only been using the wet plate collodion process in the comfort of my studio or in a field in Holland as part of the European Collodion Weekend. However since I became interested in the wet collodion process a couple of years ago my idea has been to take it into my usual hunting ground, the landscape.

This poses a number of challenges as each plate (either glass or aluminium) has to be prepared and sensitised one at a time and then shot, developed and fixed while still wet within about 15 minutes. To enable this you have to take some form of darkroom with you. I have recently been working on a new portable dark box for exactly this purpose which has been been fashioned from a folding storage box, in Holland I used a bright red 7′ square ice fishing tent so not that discrete in busy places but will be fine in more remote locations.

With the dark box finished and ready to roll I headed up to Redcar and Middlesbrough on Sunday and met up with fellow photographer David Tarn to take collodion out into the landscape. In the studio I shoot up to 12×10 inch plates however my idea with this project was to work with something more manageable and easier to transport so 5×4 was my desired choice. The photo above right shows the camera and dark box setup looking towards the steelworks from South Gare.


Plate 1 – South Gare

When I arrived at South Gare the light was incredibly harsh, the above plate was shot almost straight into the sun so there was a lack of contrast however it proved that my dark box and everything was working as it should. To use the dark box you place you arm through sleeves and then look down through a red panel to see into the box, the sleeves are a little bit restricted so pouring the developer on the plate was a bit messy on this one resulting in the dark unexposed areas on the ends of the plate.


Plate 2 – Paddy’s Hole

I have photographed this spot once before at night and felt it would be a good candidate for a wet plate shot. The sun was now providing more side lighting and there was now plenty of contrast so the final plate had a lot more punch than the first one. Exposure times were a lot quicker than I was expecting this was just 1/2s at f16.


Plate 3 – Teesside Steelworks

Heading away from South Gare I stopped to shoot another plate looking towards the blast furnace at Teesside Steelworks. I’ve always liked this angle as it captures the wonderful almost chaotic and other worldly structure of the blast furnace.

Redcar itself was absolutely jammed packed with tourists so any idea of doing shots around the town quickly dissipated and instead after a spot of lunch, well ok an all day breakfast we headed up to Middlesbrough and the iconic Transporter Bridge.


Plate 4 – Transporter Bridge I


Plate 5 – Transporter Bridge II


Plate 6 – Transporter Bridge III

As the day progressed it started to become rather cloudy and there were some great clouds to add as a nice backdrop to the industrial subject matter. The above three plates were all taken in the area around the northerly end of the bridge. The last plate in some ways like the first was shot straight into the sun, the sun is actually in the shot and has solarised to become a dark grey circle in the top left of the plate.

All in all it was a long but productive day, it was a good learning curve and the dark box and rest of my mobile equipment worked well. I think next time it is this warm I will use a different collodion recipe as Lea Landscape 7 doesn’t seem at home in warm conditions and more alcohol in the developer will help too. Oh and I even managed a tan, well ok sunburn :)

Arrangements in Black & Grey – Private Viewing

Last Friday there was a private viewing for the Arrangement in Black & Grey exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock Abbey. The exhibition has been up a few weeks but this was my first chance to see it in person. It was also the first time that I was able to meet fellow exhibitors Deborah Parkin, Katie Cooke, Nettie Edwards, Trevor Ashby and Anthony Jones. It was an absolute delight to meet them all and spend some time talking about each others work.

It was a wonderful evening and with over a hundred visitors it was certainly busy in the gallery space. The main theme behind the exhibition curated by Roger Watson was to discuss if black and white photography still has a place in the saturated multicolour 21st century. Looking at the variety of work on show and from the feedback received from the guests it is reassuring that black and white photography is certainly not in decline.

The work on show was wonderfully varied and combined polaroid, digital, mobile phone and film capture printed in either traditional silver gelatin or the latest inkjet technology. I was firmly in the digital world for this exhibition as my chosen photos were both captured and printed digitally.

Roger and the National Trust staff had done a wonderful job arranging the exhibition, all the work was immaculately presented and worked together as one body of work which is a great achievement when working with six different artists. Upon arriving at Lacock Abbey I was rather impressed to see that one of my photos had been used to advertise the exhibition on the doors to the museum.

The exhibition runs until the 22nd September 2013 and more information can be found at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock/things-to-see-and-do/events/exhibitions/.