4x5 tintype of Kodak 2D 8x10 camera with Darlot lens
More about that later, let's take it one step at a time...
On Wednesday I arrived to Corvallis and stayed in a lovely company of Julia Bradshaw and her husband John. I met Julia at San Jose State University, where she was getting her Masters degree in Photography while I was a lowly undergrad. Now she teaches at Oregon State University and has invited The Photo Palace Bus to visit their campus in the role of a visiting artist. I was happy to have that opportunity and to reconnect with Julia. She is a wonderful artist and I admire that she works a lot with analog photographic means. Once, as a performance piece at a gallery, she even constructed a cardboard photo booth, hid herself in the and was processing images during the show! First off that project is not for claustrophobic people and it also shows dome serious dedication and love for gelatin silver prints. I highly recommend checking out her website and seeing the amazing amount of work completed over the years. Aside from being a prolific artist she is also a great host and her husband was a delight to meet as well. They are both originally from England and it was a relief to speak with someone who not only enjoys soccer, but also calls it by its proper name - football!
When I got to OSU on Thursday morning I had a full agenda ahead of me. There were 4 classes that were scheduled to visit the bus and see the history of photography exhibit and I knew that I also would get a lot of people wandering into the bus because of its prominent location - right in front of the Art building. As I expected, I barely had a moment of rest. The classes were full of eager students and a big yellow bus did in fact pull in quite a few other pedestrians. Her is a shot of one of the students figuring out the working of a stereographic viewer.
Among other memorable moments that happened during the roughly 6.5 hours at OSU, all of which I can not describe now as it is past midnight and I have a full day tomorrow, was my chance to meet Steve Anchell - the man whose book 'The Darkroom Cookbook' I have been using as reference for many years. Steve was very personable and down to earth kinda guy and even took me out to lunch. He did give me a very useful tip on how to cut down on the washing time for fiber based gelatin silver prints by using alkaline fixer and I believe I will do that as soon as I get my hands on that particular fixer. Steve is not only extremely well-versed in photo chemistry, but he puts that knowledge to use in making some great photographs. You can see those and a lot more information about Steve and his work on his site here. At the end of the day Steve's second class came in for a visit and he was kind enough to present me with a signed copy of the third edition of his famous Cookbook.
During the course of the day a small team of two student journalists were sent from the OSU media department - one recorded an interview with yours truly for the radio and the other one took some great shots. As I don't have too many quality images of Gilli and me I did ask him to send some over my way and here is one of my favorites.
After OSU was a Magic Lantern Show sponsored by Williamette Valley Photo Guild. I think it went well and I only hope to be able to post some images from that event on here soon - Mitchel (the OSU photographer) did make it to the show and I can't wait to see his photos. The room inside of an old brick building was very much in tune to the event and I think that added to the show's atmosphere. About 25-30 people attended and among them there was once again a member of the Rahill family. The grand-niece Faith Rahill lives in the area and blessed us with her presence. Her grandfather was John Rahill's brother and it was really cool to reconnect Faith with a part of her own family history.
I think the show went pretty well, there were many remarks and questions from the audience and I'm always happy to have an engaged crowd. I did my best to get the show to fit in under 1.5 hours' time and I think I barely succeeded in that goal. Also fewer slides were inserted backwards or upside down, so that's a step in the positive direction.
After yet another night in the comforts of Julia's couch I was off to Portland. There I met with another college friend of mine Perry. He graduated from SJSU just a semester earlier than me and the least time I saw him was in 2007, when he attended my little 'farewell USA' event during which I burned a large shark made from 100 paper plates before moving to Japan for a year. Perry is now in the middle of getting his MFA from Portland State University and he took me on a little tour of the little darkroom that is still in existence there. There are only 6 enlargers there and I don't know how a class can really work with that... Here is the man himself and about 2/3 of the darkroom all in one shot.
One thing I have been looking forward to on this trip was taking a wet plate collodion workshop with Ray Bidegain. I met Ray on Facebook through another wet plate shooter by the name of Ted Mishima. Ted shoots tintypes using a Rolleiflex TLR camera and posts some of them in the Rolleiflex users group. Seeing that he lives in Portland I asked him if he was able to show me the technique when I'm in the area, but he referred me to his mentor Ray. Ray is a platinum printer as well and offers workshops, which I very much recommend. You can find the info about them on Ray's website.
I could not wait to try my hand in that historic and beautiful process and when Saturday came around I was at Ray's door at 10am. After a little bit of shuffling some cars out of the way of Gilli, I entered Ray's basement where a very efficient darkroom and photo storage area have been set up. Here are a couple of quick shots to give you an idea of what a darkroom of someone heavily invested in alternative photography looks like.
This is the actual 'dark' part - in the sink you can see the slanted
silvering tank that is used to sensitize plates.
The room right next to it has a large assortment of chemistry for
both of the processes, in the right bottom corner you can see a
well built UV exposure unit for platinum prints.
Wet plate process is by far easier to do than daguerreotype, which is why most photographers switched to it quickly after it was introduced in 1853. That said, it is still a VERY demanding process and it takes quite a bit of attention and skill to get a 'perfect plate'.
First an aluminum or glass plate has to be coated with a viscous substance called 'collodion'. That step is tricky in that the action has to be smooth and flawless and there are certain movements and motions that have to happen rather precisely in order for the final result to be of any significant quality. After about 10-15 seconds during which one must keep swinging the plate in a vertical position to break up streaks the colldion sets (not dries, but becomes more viscous). It is then submerged into the tank containing silver nitrate for 3 minutes. That sensitizes the plate and so the red lights are switched on before it is taken out, wiped off to get the residual silver off and placed in the holder. You don't have much time at that point as the image must be captured and processed before that collodion dried out. In order for that to happen you must have your view camera set up and the model patiently waiting. At first I was using the 4x5 camera and training my skills on the large, but beautiful model that is Gilli-the-bus, so there were no problems with the model getting impatient. After the plate is exposed in the camera it must be taken back into the red-lit room and flooded with developing solution - again a motion that will likely take me a few more tries to got good at. Developer acts quickly and you must judge the process by eye and only after 15 seconds or so, just as you see the milkiness of the shadow areas start to yield detail, rinse the developer off with water. Then the plate is placed in ordinary thiosulfate fixing bath and there the image is finally revealed in its positive form. Here is one of the very first plates from the workshop at the half-way point of clearing by fixer.
Luckily Ted Mishima showed up right as I was starting to work with a larger camera and he was willing to guard the camera and even posed for a couple of pictures. Here is Ted leaning up against Gilli for support and my Kodak 2D with a 5x7 back on it.
After a full day of work I succeeded in getting a few relatively good plates and here they are in the drying rack.
Ray helped me mix my chemistry kit, sold me a few plates to keep me going through this trip and helped me fill up Gilli's water tank for the next day, so I can practice what I just learned.
In the morning I woke up to a rather rainy skies, but that sis not deter me from trying my hand at this new-to-me process on my own. I set the Kodak 2D up on the table in the bus, pointed a 4x5 camera at it and went on to make 4 exposures in the course of about 1.5 hours (3.5 if you count this newbie setting up and breaking down all the needed equipment). Exposures with this process, which has an emulsion with ISO rating of approximately 1, were 3 minutes long - partly due to the fact that I was parked next to a wall and the light from an-already grey sky had to bounce off that wall to enter the bus window and possibly partly due to the fact that wet collodion works better in warmer temperatures and it was 48°F in the darkroom while I was working.
Now it is time for me to seep and I will finish the rest of the story of Portland, it's wet plate community and yet another Magic Lantern Show that I will give at Newspace for Photography this evening (in about 16 hours) some other time.