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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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/.
The weekend before last I took part in the European Collodion Weekend in Riethoven, The Netherlands. The weekend was organised by wet plate photographer Alex Timmermans and pulled together 40 photographers from across Europe and even one who made the trip all the way from Tennessee, USA. It could well have been the largest gathering of wet plate photographers, ever.
The idea behind the weekend was for like minded photographers to meet and discuss the wonderful world of wet plate collodion, shoot some plates and demonstrate the process to the public. It was an enjoyable and successful two days, the weather was great and there were plenty of visitors interested in learning about the process, it was also a valuable experience to to watch other collodion photographers work and discuss our methods.
As large wooden cameras, heavy brass lenses and a variety of chemistry are not really an option for air travel the best bet was to drive the 550 miles each way. The journey to Riethoven began rather on the Friday morning at a rather unearthly time of 5am to be precise. Joined by fellow wet plate photographer Tony Richards we made out way south to Folkstone, then across the channel via the tunnel and journeyed across France, Belgium into Holland.
The journey was straight forward and we managed to avoid any major traffic problems, in fact there were only two minor problems (1) we stopped in France for lunch and were confused that the menu wasn’t in French, turned out we had already made it to Belgium and therefore it was in Dutch and I cant speak or read any Dutch and (2) an overzealous border control operative on the way back seemed a bit suspicious with our camping and photography reason for being in Holland but in the end he let us back in the UK.
As there was going to be 40 of us we had been arranged into small groups sharing our mobile darkroom facilities, 40 dark boxes or darkroom tents would have been a bit manic. A few months ago I picked up a Eskimo Quickfish 3 tent, which is essentially a popup 6ft red cube which with a few modifications works well as a mobile darkroom, although this was it’s first test outside in the real world.
Given that I am normally used to working in my own darkroom with plenty of space it was certainly a different experience sharing the small tent space with 4 other photographers. You quickly learn who is tidy and who is a messy worker, there were no major problems or accidents so that was a good thing but it was a bit more stressful that normal when you find trays full of waste water and fresh water left out side when you are trying to work. In fact the trickiest thing perhaps is working without running water which felt like a luxury when I got back to the studio.
The weekend was also the first time I actually shot and sold plates there and then, varnishing them in the field ready for the customer to take them away with them. The first one I must say was a little daunting but the end result was excellent and the customer was delighted with her purchase. After that the stress dissipated and at one point I felt like a production line juggling shooting new plates and varnishing others but at the end of the day everyone went away happy with their portraits.
Rather foolishly I didn’t take any photos of the plates I was commissioned to do, I must remember to do that next time however I did shoot some portraits of other wet plate photographers over the weekend, some of which can be seen below. All of them are half plate size (165x120mm) and were shot using on of my cameras and a Dallmeyer 3B portrait petzval lens.
I hope to be at next years event too as it was all in all a brilliant weekend with a great group of people.
A selection of my black and white prints are going to featured as part of a group exhibition at the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, Wiltshire, UK. The exhibition features a small group of UK photographers working in the black and white medium and runs from 12 April to 22 September 2013.
A new portfolio of architecture photography from Venice. Working under the cover of darkness and the early hours of the morning to create an in depth look at both the well known tourist hot spots and the quiet back streets and canals that capture the true spirit of this amazing metropolis. View the new work in the new Venice Portfolio.
I am pleased to announce that one of my photographs ‘Over the Rooftops’ has been commended by Network Rail and has been featured in this years book and exhibition.
If you would like a copy of the book you can pick it up from Amazon