Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Los Angeles Tintype Trip

  Last weekend my girlfriend and I made a quick little bus pilgrimage to Los Angeles and thought it's deserving of a quick writeup. 

  The journey was prompted by my earlier experience - in the spring of 2016 I was invited to make tintype set and character portrait plates for an independent film production - https://www.aurorafilm.info/  
  It was a great experience and here are just two of over 100 plates I shot there. 




  Last weekend at a private gallery in Culver City the movie was premiered and there were some really nice displays set up with props from the movie and most of my plates, which I haven't seen in nearly two years. 




  We were actually invited to the opening in order to make tintype portraits of attendees.  It was a fun time (with me running back and forth between the gallery and Gilli's darkroom and Jozlynn being busy washing and keeping the plates straight).   I made 27 plates and here are a couple of those - the lovable monster Penge was a hit for posing with. 





  After that we spent the night in town and next day visited Getty Museum since Jozlynn has never been there.  There were some interesting exhibits, of which I'm sorry, but I don't have any pictures.  Not knowing if museums parking structure would accommodate 10ft tall and 35ft long Gilli, we actually parked on the street and walked up.  It was an interesting experience, since it made it feel a lot like a trek to the mountain to see some wizard of art.  Since there was a long line waiting for the electric trolley that takes people from parking area to actual museum grounds, we walked that part as well.  On the way back we were pretty tired, so we took the trolley back.  From its windows we briefly glimpsed Gilli as she patiently awaited our return.  Can you spot her in this photo?




  Los Angeles (and the surrounding dozens of smaller cities) comprise an impressive and chaotic sprawl of urban jungle that stretches seemingly infinitely when you're in it.   In fact, I bet there's a large percentage of residents who, after being born within the bustle and growing up knowing only the city, never set foot outside of that environment - after all, everything a modern human can want as far as civilization can be found in overabundance within the confines of the city.  However, surround this micro-universe is a beautiful mountainous area where San Bernardino and Angeles Nation Forests have been set aside as preserves.  It's amazing how small the number of visitors is to those scenic destinations considering that just below the hills, within 10-15 mile drive, there lives well over ten million people.  It wasn't totally empty up there, but still, this was a polar opposite of being stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway and it felt great.  We found a scenic overlook to stop for the night and in the morning I shot some plates there as well as at another location nearby.  I'm really starting to enjoy making panoramic compositions with multiple plates, so I shot one of those as well. 








  During the night before above plates were made a noteworthy story occurred. I thought I would try to make a night-time plate of Los Angeles since we had quite a view.  The lights were relatively bright, and the ever-present smog which hangs above LA was illuminated fairly well, so I thought I had a chance at capturing it in collodion.  It was about 65°F and 20% humidity, so I knew I couldn't go too long with the exposure or the plate would dry out.  First, because framing would have been perfect, I chose my trusty Tele-Fujinon 400mm f8 lens and tried a 15min exposure wide open.  Well, I got the lights of the city, but they were rather dim and appeared to be floating, because none of the foreground mountain outline or the fog recorded.  Then I decided to try a Voigtlander Petzval which I had with me, at f3.2 it's 2.5 stops faster than the Fujinon, so maybe with it I would have some trace of areal glow above showing.  I coated a 4x5 plate, dipped it into silver, and went to switch the lens.  After focusing I realized that on a 4x5 the image would be much too small because instead of the perfect framing that 400mm lens offered I was not shooting with a 175mm, so the next image would be much better tried in a smaller 1/6th plate size.  Skipping ahead I can tell you that even the 1/6th plate with Voigtlander didn't turn out - the lights were perfect, but again there was no trace of glowing atmosphere, however it was what happened before I exposed that last plate and went to bed that I think is more exciting. 
  Not wanting to simply waste that already coated and sensitized 4x5 I decided to make my first-ever collodion chemigram.   Chemigrams are made by combining various chemistry in a seemingly random fashion upon a light sensitive surface and seeing how things will turn out.  To make them really sing visually one would need to experiment a bit more extensively and be mindful of which chemistry produced which effects combined in particular order.   This being my first try I grabbed 4 things immediately within reach in the Gilli's darkroom and sprinkled and splashed them liberally on the surface of a plate still wet with silver nitrate.  Different chemicals made quite varied splotches and it was fun to watch them grow and mature.  After a while I poured on developer and in time washed that off.  After fixing this is what I was left with.  I'm definitely going to experiment further with chemistry and also with ways to control where each effect appears. 




  We drove back to San Diego that afternoon and were blessed with there being no traffic due to it being a holiday.  When back by the darkroom Jozlynn decided to cook up the rest of the food we had with us on the trip.  She made steaks with Brussel sprouts and mushrooms a side of potatoes.  I strongly believe that this is the best looking and tasting meal so far cooked aboard The Photo Palace Bus and so here is the plate just before being consumed by a hungry and tired me.




  More adventures to come!

Anton

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Desert Ghosts - A Story of One Picture

  This was to be the last plate of the trip.  On the first day of the new year we were on the way out of the desert and I saved the last two glass plates for a house we saw on the way in.  The desolate flat landscape consists of low sparse bushes and earth covered with small vocalic rock bits.  This structure stood out like a sore thumb and what’s more, it was within stone’s throw of the freeway, so it watched everyone who drove by on the way from Florida to California and anywhere in between all day and all night for close to a hundred years.

 Not wanting to get too close and disturb any possible compositions, I parked the bus half-way from the dirt road which led us there and set up the chemistry.  By now it’s down to about 2.5min or so from when the engine stops till the tripod is up, so soon I was walking to the front door.  Right on the front porch there was a square well made of rough concrete.  It captured my eye until I was close enough to see that it was completely full of sand and gravel and my gaze shifted inside the house.  It was made of large grey local rocks slapped together with same rough concrete and only two and a half of the old walls were still upright. The floor was interesting.  Most of it was drab, concrete again with a rare inclusion of a flat rock here or there.  There was a short walkway though, just about 6ft or so, which led visitors inward for some reason at an odd obtuse angle.  It was lighter concrete inlaid with large bright pink quartz. Not something that would photograph well with collodion.  The largest remaining wall was crumbling on the northern end, but right in the middle of it was the biggest fireplace I’ve seen in a while.  It was like a gaping mouth eight feet across and four feet tall and the stones making up the top lip were all around a foot each, so it was jagged and misshapen.  One could still easily imagine a roaring fire on a cold desert night warming up many mysterious inhabitants of what must have been a populated establishment.  I paced the area for a good two minutes, bending down and back up and rising again and moving to left or right in search of a good perspective while making mental lens choices.  Nothing added up to perfection and having reluctantly settled my mind upon a normal lens from a high perspective with freeway in background I started to go for the exit to fetch my camera when a few bright white objects in the corner by the door caught my attention.

  Upon closer inspection, there was a small pile of well-dried fir and many fragile ribs and other skeletal remains of some poor creature.  The bones were so dry and riddled with erosion pockmarks that when I tried to pick one up it crumbled to dust in my fingers.   I did however find a pelvic bone about two inches across that looked sturdy and clean.  Figuring I’ll use it in some future still life I picked it up and blew off and walked outside the wall perimeter.  Immediately I was struck by a strong foul smell of rotting meat.  Right away I wondered how could I have avoided it on my way in as it was overwhelming.  I looked around and saw that to the right of me the two or three-foot-wide space between the well and the house was filled with fir that covered at least a 6-square-foot area a foot deep.  Out of that pile, which gently and rather peacefully swayed with each passing breeze, stuck out large parts of bones and meat and other ingredients of mammalian life.  It all couldn’t have been there long, what was left of soft tissue still had tinges of red to them.  Looking around with more attention now I realized that within inches of my left foot there was a large coyote skull with a frozen expression of angst upon it the likes of which I’ve never seen.  The nose and some bits of whiskers of what must have one day been a majestic and ferocious creature were still present.  His nose snarled in the last throw of a fight and whiskers raised up in their last futile warning to the enemy.  Most likely ambushed and culled by members of his own pack as he got old and became the weak link.  The jaw was open wide…  not wide enough.

  The last image made during the trip now clicked in my head and I ran toward the bus to get the 90mm Nikkor-SW.  In order to get near-ground angle I reversed the tripod column so that the head was pointing down, set up the camera, went into the darkroom, dipped a plate into silver and went to focus.  Focusing a view camera is always a little challenging, though of course with practice it becomes almost second nature, but focusing while the ground glass is four inches form sharp little rocks on the ground is quite an experience in itself, especially when every time I breathed in the penetrating smell made me want to wretch.  It took a while being on my knees bent over under a cloth like in prayer, but after a while I managed to secure the frame I had in mind.  The skull was about ten inches from the lens and the walls rose like monoliths starting at about 5ft in the background and going back maybe 25ft.  In order to get most of the scene in focus I had to employ a strong rear tilt, bringing the back standard to an almost 45° angle to the front.  The theory laid out by our old pal    Even then though, wide open at f4.5 depth of field was too shallow and I stopped down to f32 to make things as sharp and vivid as I was experiencing them.  With such an aperture collodion exposure would be in the range of eight seconds, but nothing was to move in my composition, so that didn’t worry me much.  What I was thinking was the inverse square law and how bellows extension with me shooting that close this should be accounted for when calculating exposure.  On the way to the retrieving the light-sensitive plate I decided to give it twelve seconds and hope for the best.

  While developing the image I remember seeing the house appear quick and clear, but the skull and foreground detail were nowhere to be seen even after 25 seconds, which is never a good sign.   At forty-second-mark I started washing off developer from the upper half of the plate, gently feathering my flow downward so it won’t leave an obvious line. I kept pushing and pushing, but even by 55sec I could only see dim information within the milky murkiness of my wet plate substrate and at that point I knew I’ve carried development too far for comfort and so I rinsed the entire plate.  The cyanide fixer revealed a gradated likeness of the scene, with the house having excellent bright tones and the skull being dark and shrouded in a shimmering fog of overdevelopment. This wasn’t my initially intended visual take on the scene, so I knew it had to be redone. Still, something captivated me about that plate and for a while I stood inside the blacked out rear darkroom part of the bus staring at is closely. I did not wipe it off right away like I have done with so many test hundreds of plates.

  The next plate, which was literally the last plate I had with me, turned out great. Full of sharp detail and tones with the skull almost as frightening as it was in real life and also camouflaging as perfectly well into the busy pattern of a desert floor.  After all, the proud coyote to whom it belonged was once an integral part of the landscape, a dominant force whose sad demise on the steps of this crumbling abode was also just a slight turn in the greater wheel of life.  In the background, what remained of walls stood up as stiff and out of place, yet planted and enduring as they felt when surrounding me.  Their energy vibrated with lives lived harshly in perpetual chase of wild west dreams.

  Satisfied I quickly wrapped up, audibly thanked all the ghosts that may have oversaw our visit and we moved off on the last long leg of our return to San Diego.   When I got to the darkroom back home I quickly varnished all the plates done at the last few locations as I was hesitant to do it on the road in awareness of the amount of silty dust that invaded the bus throughout.  In one go I varnished about twenty-three plates, but the now-dry underexposed overdeveloped abortive of the skull now didn’t emanate the same glow as it did when fresh out of the fixer back 400 miles east and so I put it in a tray of water to wipe off later.  Unless I’m hard-pressed for glass while shooting I usually dry my glass test plates and then re-soak them later all together for a while, and if the glass was clean before collodion was poured the layer of nitrocellulose bearing the image almost (and sometimes completely) floats off the glass and up to the surface, making cleanup very easy – pick off the snot-looking trace of an image from the surface of water and lift the plate onto a drying rack, it’s perfectly clean at that point as collodion took with it all traced of grease or dust.

   Well, it took me two days to finally get to cleaning off the image and so I looked into the tray with a paper towel in hand and ready to destroy whatever was left of my photograph.  The image that stared back at me was not the same as when I lowered it into water.   The sides of it turned sky-blue, but the middle stayed sepia, so that created a natural duotone vignette with a highly haunting effect that pulled the eye through the house and out the other end into the desert. The skull was now almost completely obscured and hardly distinguishable from the surrounding terrace, but it’s K-9s were still bore a menacing shine and had in them all the power of its previous operator and his eye sockets seemed to still have in them the power of predator’s gaze.  All of the values dropped considerably too, but the detail was all there however dark and making the eye dig and discover it forcefully.  There was a glow around the building though.  It was bright and clean and the empty walls now seemed to emanate a long past warmth of it hospitality.  The fog inhabiting the lower portion of the plate had also turned iridescent and somehow holographic, shimmering with muted rainbow hues as the light hit it from various angles.   Only a small part of the collodion, a triangle by the skull about an eighth of an inch square has lifted off the glass and tore itself away, floating upward and waving back and forth like a capitulating flag.  I felt that now the plate was worth preserving.   Before drying it, I thought it would be a good idea to wash out whatever leftover chemistry that I could still coax out of the previously dry gun cotton emulsion.  Placing the plate face up I let a medium-strength stream of water run over it while hitting it smack in the center, I walked away giving it about 5min to wash.  By the time I came back, the little triangle of ripped emulsion has grown in the direction of the lowest edge of the image and now there was basically an arrow-shaped tear which pointed up at and ended at the base of the skull, but not leaving it along.  I got impatient to see how the image would look finalized with varnish and employed the use of a hair drier, which I keep for just such occasions, to force-dry the collodion.  First I directed the hot stream onto the image side and after a while started to see the brightening associated with a drying plate.   As the emulsion was drying and shrinking I saw small sections of it starting to frill up around the torn triangle and two distinct cracks started to grow outward like little arms.  I seized applying heat to the front and finished the job by heating up the rear first.   Varnish flowed nice and even as it usually does on black glass.   After heating a quick cure over an open flame of a small oil lantern I examined the now unchanging plate to see for the first time how it will be viewed who knows how many decades from now.   I was pleased to see that the varnish behaved well around the tear, I expected a lot more unevenness to show due to the frilled edges of said tear.  One minor detail upon the varnish, visible only at an acute angle to light and after careful examination, stood out to me as if it was the pivotal point on which the entire composition rested.   There was a short swirl of bubbles that seemed to burst from one of the little arms of the torn triangle-man and, like a visual effect employed by some Hollywood studio to convey a spell being spread, and curved in the direction of the center of the plate.  If analyzed closer and disposing of a preset notion that it’s a tear in the emulsion surrounded by bubbles in varnish one can easily see a figure with its left arm outstretched and releasing some sort of magical energy and behind the figure stretches a veil of golden powder, which hangs in the air as the mystical creature moves about within the setting.


  We got back to San Diego very fast.  As if recharged by desert energy the bus didn’t slow down below 25mph on the steep uphill stretch between El Centro and Descanso and when I close my eyes at night I can still see the desert ghosts wandering the landscape around a once welcoming structure, which now was reduced to a fate of fading away through eons as the concrete slowly yields to wind and heat and the menacing lifeless guardian of that uneasy edifice carrying on his unwavering watch.

Anton



Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Years Desert Trip

   There's nothing like the Southern California and Arizona desert to spend the time around Christmas to New Years around, so on Christmas day my girlfriend Jozlynn and I packed the bus and set out for a little photographic adventure.  With me I brought 4 cameras.  Zone VI 8x10 and 4x5, 4x5 Orbitar by Burke and James (it's a fixed 65mm lens super-wide) and a whole plate Scovill Waterbury that with just a slight modification I converted to be a stereoscopic camera. 

  We headed north to Joshua Tree National Park, which is located east of Los Angeles on a relatively high plateau with average elevation of 3000ft.  There's some great rock formations and it's very popular with rock climbers, plus it's one of the few places in the world where yucca brevifolia (Joshua Tree) grows in large numbers and that combination makes for a very interesting landscape. 

  With the bus it's a 4hr drive from San Diego and we got there by early afternoon. After seeing a bit of the town we drove into the Joshua Tree Park itself right around sunset and found a parking lot where I thought it was good to park for the night started making tea.  There was already an RV with an extended Chinese family of tourists and in an oversized converted van a very nice Australian traveler with whom we chatted for a while.  Right as the tea was being consumed a couple of park rangers stopped by and politely informed us all that in fact it was not ok to stay in the park overnight except at designated camping areas and all of those were full.  We had to exit the park, find a hotel and come back the next morning.  Through the day I made plates in several locations not far from the main road that traverses the park form north to south.  The whole park would probably need more than a month to thoroughly explore, so I'll have to come back again some other time, but here are the fruits of my labor, all made with 4x5 Zone VI and various modern and vintage lenses. 











  While I busied myself with camera and chemistry Jozlynn painted a few scenes using watercolor.  She's actually a rather talented artist and I truly hope she finds more inspiration and time to dedicate to the craft as perfection comes with practice. 
  The southern part of the park is a lot less picturesque and the road gets rather monotonous with long straight sections, so everyone tends to speed up.   There was a curve after one of such straightaways and, well, I guess I forgot that my 4x5 Zone VI was still set up on a tripod behind me and took it at a speed that made the camera topple over and hit the floor pretty hard.  I heard a splintering sound and knew it wasn't good.  When I pulled over I saw that both of the standards have broken off from their geared base rails and basically now instead of a camera I've just been using all day I now had an accordion with a lens on it.  The situation was especially worrying because this was the beginning of our trip and many more locations were yet to be photographed...  Here's the picture of the base and all the pieces I managed to collect form the floor of the bus. 



  I didn't have wood glue or clamps onboard, but luckily the sun goes down pretty early this time of year and so we were near the exit of the park at around 4:30, which meant that we can get to the nearest town east where a hardware store could be found in time before it would close.  
  Taking apart the gears to the point where it's serviceable turned out to be easier than expected.  I had to apply the glue and let it set under pressure in two stages, but the operation was successful and in the morning the camera was functional again.  Here's the picture of the patient back and ready to make images. 


  Now it was on to Quarzsite (a small town just east of CA border on the intersection of highways 8 and 95) and then a bit south.  There's a spot between Quarzsite and Yuma where I've been going camping for just about 20 years, probably been there a dozen or more times over that period.  I've made some great memories as well as images there and so I've wanted to make some wet plate it for a while now.  The landscape consists of an open flat desert with a mountain range on the edge of which an extinct volcano with one side of the caldera wall collapsed.  You can park at the bottom and hike in through that opening and go all the way to the rim.  It's rather spectacular inside, but unfortunately it's much too far of a hike for collodion plates to stay wet, so I'll have to go back there with a setup I can carry and make plates further in some other time.  We arrived at sunset and took a bit of time soaking in the view, it's just too nice and so below are a few quick phone captures. 





  A slight tangent here on topic of field mice.  They are hungry creatures in general and in the desert I'd imagine it being even more so.  Not long after we finished supper, watched the ambers of the fire go out, climbed into beds and turned off the bus lights we heard a slight rustling on the counter.  After a few seconds it turned into a sound of little teeth gnawing on a plastic bag.  It only went on for a few seconds before I was up and turning on the light. I saw a tail disappearing behind the edge of the counter, already 3 of the bags left there had little holes in them.  The culprit worked fast. I made some noise hoping to convince our visitor to vacate the bus, but to no avail.  Five minutes after I settled back down he was back.  This time I was armed with a flashlight and wooden spatula, the best weapon I could find to fit the occasion. I was quick, but the mouse was quicker and I only managed to smack the table a couple of times a few inches away from the furry scampering ball zigzagging between cups and boxes.  Even that close encounter did not deter him and in 10min he was back on the surface.  After his last appearance I put all easy targets, like cerial and bread, in the cooler and refrigerator and grouped the rest of the food toward the center of the 10ft counter so there would be more room and better visibility for my late-night assault.  I also now was more cautious and didn't turn on my flashlight until I was within striking distance.  The result was a successful ambush and there was one less field mouse in the desert.  I'm sure they aren't endangered and I do feel bad about it, but this was the the little guy's third offense and he was plentifully warned.  Filled with a blended feeling of sad accomplishment I went to bed again.  It was very late and the sudden periodic disturbances made it hard to fall asleep, so I laid and tossed and turned in my sleeping bag.  Maybe 30 minutes later I was enraged to hear familiar sounds of little nails on wood!  My guess is the neighbor of the previous mouse realized that the bounty of food was now unclaimed and moved in on the territory.  I moved with similar stealth as during my last mission, but this time my opponent was way faster.  I did manage to smack his tail as he was rounding the edge of the counter.  That seemed to drive the fear into his heart and for the rest of the night he gave up.  He was back the next night though and I was waiting and ready.  This time I got him in the first round and no more of his brethren dared to invade The Photo Palace again.

  Now that the above side story is done here are the plates I made during the two days we were there.  On both days I managed to use all 4 cameras at my disposal. 





8x10

8x10

8x10

  In the morning of the first day Jozlynn and I took a nice long hike and managed to make our way to some of the few palm trees that grow in the crevasses of the calderas interior.  It's really both a lot of fun hiking around that place and also a bit challenging at parts.  To get to some places you have to either climb on the side of a cliff like a mountain goat or pass under a crack beneath a boulder the size of a small apartment building, which makes you feel like a small lizard. I made a few plates in the afternoon (they are shown above with ones made on the first day).  Then we moved on from that amazing spot and spent a night in Yuma before going a bit further east to another very special location.

  The desert has been home to waves Native American populations stretching back many thousands of years and some locations were recognized as spiritually significant by various tribes through time.  At locations like that petroglyphs can be found dating back over ten thousand years and at the place which was our next destination had layers of them dating back to 12.500, 3000 and 1.500 years.  It is a truly sacred space with deeply moving presence and I was honored to find out about it about a decade ago.  Back then I went there alone in a small car (a Chevrolet Sprint - two door hatchback with tiny wheels and a 3-cylinder engine in which one of my cylinders was out and so apparently I was running on two for a number of years).  This time I was navigated only by that distant memory, but I felt somewhat confident as the directions were pretty simple - get off the highway in the middle of nowhere, go under the overpass on northern side and immediately take a meandering sandy dirt road for about 7 miles north.  Don't get stuck in the sand and avoid ravines in washes and you'll be all right.  Well, the all right part was a slight optimistic exaggeration conjured up by my imagination.  While Gilli-the-Bus handles the sand beautifully and was able to squeeze by a few rather sketchy points where the road was eroded pretty deep, the last pair of turns however lead you through the lower part of a dry river wash that is densely vegetated and even a small car would touch the hardy bushes on the sides... It was no good.  Jozlynn tried bending back the branched a bit, but they were too strong and plentiful and the futility of such effort was quickly evident.  The turns are literally within 50ft of the parking spot and having come this far and with visual reward being so close and so great turning back was not an option.  I decided to power through.  Gilli didn't like it a bit.  The branches made of symphony of high-pitched noises as they dragged and clawed along the sides of The Photo Palace and when we emerged on the other side of these two quick turns the paint on her sides were far from the pristine state in which it have been for close to 40 years...  And then of course there was the way back two days later and so now I'm sitting here writing this and thinking of what I'm gonna do about it.  They aren't terrible, but even with the thickness of the paint which was put on on school buses in a few instances some of the scratches made it all the way through.  Most of the damage will probably buff out, and I'll be sure to dedicate some resources to doing the buffing right, but sadly, Gilli is going to bare the marks of this heroic effort until she's ready for a new paint job.   Here's the first of those two quick fateful turns - try to imagine a 35ft-long bus making it though there...



  Anyhow, paint loss aside, our experience there was overwhelmingly satisfying and there's no regrets.  The first night we spent there was the last full night of 2017.  I'm not much of an early riser in general.  Even when I travel in Gilli I prefer to sleep in until the heat or huger wake me up.  On the morning of December 31st though something made me open my eyes at the break of dawn and I saw the white drawn curtains being very bright pink color.  I felt that this was deserving of investigation and stepped out to see what was shaping up to one of the most astonishing sunrises that I've ever witnessed.  I woke up Jozlynn and we watched the sun peek from behind the bushes on horizon while the sky kept changing like a scene from Daguerre's diorama show.   Here are a couple of images I took with my phone, but nothing can relate the stillness of the cold fresh desert and nothing can quite capture the 20 seconds or so which happened just as the sun broke through the distant patch of clouds seen there and was first visible.  During those 20 seconds a pack of coyotes, which must have spent the night within half a mile of us, woke up and called to each other with howls of hunger and cold mixed with what seemed like joy of greeting another day...  Maybe they knew that this was the last sunrise of 2017 and marveled at it's magnificence, but I somehow seriously doubt that.  Whatever made them do their quick roll call is superfluous to the story, but it sure made for a magical moment.





  Amazing sunrise or not, it was still very early and so we went back to sleep and after waking up around 10 I made plates all day until the sun touched the horizon in the west.  
  Petroglyphs are a lot harder to photograph with collodion than I have expected.  They are etched on the sides of heavily weathered rocks that over time have turned almost black from the heat and the sun and that black is rather shiny and reflects blue from the sky more than one thinks.  Images themselves are of various shades of orange with older ones having faded closer to the black base color over the period of 12.000 years.  Wet plate emulsion is UV-sensitive, which makes blue register lighter than it looks to the eye and at the same time anything in red or yellow spectrum comes out a lot darker.   So some of the scenes that were vivid and stood out brightly even from a hundred yards came out a lot duller on my plates no matter how I varied exposure/development ratio.  In the end I think some of them are rather acceptable.  I spent a good portion of the first day making a series of stereoscopic views, which I plan to finish by mounting them on good mat board and present for sale in hopes they will interest a collector of stereographica. 
  We were also blessed by excellent weather - the day was slightly overcast with the sun being thinly veiled by high clouds and so I had time to run up the sides of the cliffs surrounding Gilli to where the petroglyphs were and back before the plate dried up.  Each run/climb-over-boulders was about 2-3min each way and by the end of the day after 18 plates made my quadriceps, not being used to serious workouts, were starting to really make me aware of their existence.  Even 3 days later as I sit here typing it hurts a bit to get up or walk downstairs.  It was all worth it though. 











  New Years night was spent around a campfire with an excellent dinner of chicken soup by Jozlynn and a variety of items prepared on coals (potatoes, Brussel sprouts, bacon and for a bit of a desert dessert marshmallows and baked bananas stuffed with chocolate and nuts - YUM!).  If you haven't spent the night staring at the fire and listening to the desert silence I highly recommend it. 


  The next morning I again made a few plates.  I'm really glad I retried the last scene I made before sunset as my first plate of 2018 turned out to be one of the best  This time the morning sky was perfectly clear and the sun made the patten on the rock show up a lot better.   Not wanting to leave too late and with a location to shoot on the way out in mind I only made the following plates on that second day. 






  During both days I made images with the now-stereoscopic Waterbury whole plate.  Afer quite a bit of hunting and trading lenses I managed to find two 4in Darlot Petzval lenses that matched perfectly.  Working with that camera and a set of lenses is cumbersome and slow going and so very rapid shooting is not possible.  As far as making the plate it's not different than making a 2-D view, but after that making the actual 3-D cards that fit into a stereoscope viewer and look nice in the meantime is also very time-consuming.  In the end it's very much worth the effort though because once aligned correctly they do look fantastic.  I made a total of 9 stereo pairs of petroglyphs over two days.   I decided to offer toss one of them (petroglyphs didn't even really show) and keep two for myself.  The rest 6 are going to be offered for sale as a set - it should be ready sometime in early February.  I want to make it really nice as the images are fantastic.  In order not to have the images all over the web and preserve their uniqueness even further I decided to present all 6 of them uncut and in a little collage.  If you think you might be into buying this hand-made set please let me know via email on my contact page. 



  I showed Jozlynn the basics of collodion a while back and she wanted to make an image of a particular petroglyph.  After a rather prolonged break without pouring any plates she did great - perfect collodion pour and very near perfect developer spread, which she corrected momentarily.  The contrast of that particular crop was good too, so it turned out.  Here she is during the 3-second exposure and the resulting 1/4 plate image.




  We drove back out through the bushes and sand and stopped by an abandoned house that's visible from highway 8 right by the exit.  It looked interesting and old enough when we drove by it on the way in and so I wanted to make at least one plate there.  By then I was actually out of all of my 4x5 aluminum plates and only had two pieces of black glass left.  On the way from the bus I saw the remains of a water well in front of the main door and not paying much attention to it went inside the crumbling stone walls.  Aside from the short stretch of a walkway leading in from what was the front door, which was cement inlaid with very colorful local rocks, and a really neat oversized fireplace there wasn't much there actually.  Slightly disappointed I started to look at things closer and in the corner saw quite a few small bleached out bones of animals eaten there by coyotes.  I picked up a 2in pelvic bone that is sure to show up later in some of my still life images.  I decided that the fire place was the most picturesque subject available and headed back through the front door toward the Gilli to get my camera.  While passing the well again I noticed a foul foul stench of rotten meat and wondered how I missed it on the way in.  Wondering where the smell was emanating from I looked to the right as to my utter surprise saw a pile or coyote fir with bones and skulls in it that was at least a foot tall and covered about 5-6 square feet.  How in the world did I miss that?  Not only that, one of the skulls, still fully intact and even with the nose present, was laying upright within inches of where I must have stepped while passing last time.  I found it to be too gritty and symbolic to pass up and so the two plates I made there was a 4x5 ambotype with a 90mm Nikkor-SW and a stereoscopic view of those remains of what must have at one time been a fierce and beautiful animal, most likely killed and eaten by his fellow troop members after it aged and became the weak link in the pack. 




  The drive back was long, in a bus it would have taken about 6-7hr to get to San Diego, and I don't like driving that far in one stretch as it does a number on my back, so I wasn't opposed when Jozlynn suggested we get a good night's rest at a hotel somewhere around half way point.   That point happened to be the town of El Centro, California.  El Centro is a small agricultural town located about 5 miles form Mexico border.  It's got a character of its own of which I will not elaborate here.  Suffice to say that from my perspective the only true attraction there is the excellent Mexican cuisine and we treated ourselves to a great authentic meal at Guadalahara's restaurant, which I can not recommend enough if you happen to passing through town and are hungry.  Easily some of the best Mexican food I've ever had and I've been living in Southern California for close to 25 years now. 

  As a quick summation the trip went great.  Gilli behaved like a true champ with not a hiccup along the way and even for some reason took the last mountain pass between El Centro and San Diego at 25mi/hr when previously she slowed down there to 18 and sometimes 15.  We saw a whole two excellent instances of cloud iridescence - one of my favorite natural phenomenons to witness, which up until now I thought was called a sun dog, but now after a quick reference with wikipedia I see that that's a whole different optical light effect and now I want to go to some insanely cold place sometime in hopes to at least once witness a true sun dog...  Many plates were made and among them I think a there's a few real keepers.  The weather was great and Jozlynn and I worked well as a team on her first prolonged Photo Palace trip.  Basically good times were had by all and I look forward to taking Gilli out again soon, so stay tuned to learn about more Photo Palace adventures.  

  By the way, if you wish to be part of a photo outing aboard Gilli-the-Bus or even help planning one, be it short or moderately long, please feel free to contact me.  I'm currently working out a system by which I can create customized packages for individuals or small groups where traveling around the landscape folks could either simply have a fun time making images along with me or have an immersive wet plate workshop completed with sightseeing and making plates on location.  That plan is still very much in the beta stage and I'm still crunching the numbers as far as cost (and unfortunately no matter how you try to turn it travel in Gilli is not economical, but I truly think it's worth it), but I'd be glad to discuss my thoughts and present various possibilities to you.

  Also I should mention that almost all of the plates seen above are for sale.  Should you be interested in purchasing one or more plates please do contact me and let me know which ones struck your fancy. 



Thank you,
Anton