phone picture of drying contact print made from glass negative
I have a person doing work practise with me until March. It’s proven the best way to get productive! Monday we packed the bike trolley and ventured down the beach to do wet plates. It was very wet indeed. The air was so cold and clammy that the glass plates kept steaming up but we managed some good plates in the end. Back home we warmed up in the darkroom and made contact prints from the wet plate glass negatives that I made in the studio over the weekend. One is a definite keeper, I think I’m becoming addicted to tulips.
Phone picture of the drying contact print made from a glass negative
Today the plan was doing more prints in the darkroom but the weather was just irresistible. Sunshine and everything covered in frost. So we went down the beach and the nature reserve with some old cameras and my favourite pinhole camera. Just stunning! I got my mind set on a picture I wanted and ended up getting my feet wet. Haven’t developed the pinhole negatives yet but I’m sure it was worth the pain. Happy, sunny and hungry we returned to develop some rolls of film in Caffenol. This is my favourite way of developing using only coffee, washing soda and vitamin-C, no bad chemicals. Even though I enjoy working on my own it felt great to share the day and also having an assistent on hand. I have a feeling February will be a very productive month!
“Man tager vad man haver”, which means You use whatever you have. The expression comes from Kajsa Warg who wrote cookery books and also author of “Guide to Housekeeping for Young Women” published in 1755. It’s an expression I like to use a lot and I also use as an excuse for my hoarding, saving whatever and whatnot just in case it might be useful one day… My big wooden camera that I use for wet plates is falling apart and so are the holders. Sick and tired of having so many plates ruined by light leaks I’ve decided to let it retire. Until I can afford to buy another one I’ll have to make do with the smaller format and fished my Sinar 4×5 out of the closet. Oh, it was such a joy to work with! Not having to pull and tug the holders and worry about the bellow or lens falling off. Now only problem was that I didn’t have any plates the right size. I decided to sacrifice some old picture frames and used the glass to cut glass plates the right size. Glass cutting is not one of my finer skills I must admit but at least I managed to cut about 15 pieces, raggedy and sharp, but usable. I was planning to use the negatives for printing and toning but released that I was out of fixer so I chose Cyanotype instead. Cyanotype is also great because it can be exposed in the sun which means hanging with the chicks at the same time!
really cool to watch the wet plate negative turn positive in the sun as the cyanotype coating darkens underneath!
Pidgey is such a lap-hen
another note: do not wear clogs carrying a large format camera on rocks…
looks very much like my first wet plate, very fogged…
Once my wet plate box was done I realised that I needed to mix more chemicals thus I didn’t get to go out the day after and with a busy schedule it wasn’t until yesterday I finally made it. Last time, after trying out my first box, I promised myself that I would try the next one out in the garden but hey memory’s short! I only had two hours but got everything packed on my bike and went down the seafront. For the last box I used red ruby with plastic, which failed after a light test so this time I had doubled it. Next time I’ll quadruple it. The box worked fine but it felt like daylight in there and the plates came out foggy. BUT there were some pictures, not great but I’m happy with having done the trial. Things to remember for next time: Don’t splash silver everywhere, use smaller bottles(I planned on this and even built a shelf for them but was too much in a hurry) and last but not least do not pour developer up my sleeve. Apart from the window the box worked just fine it’s just working inside it that needs some fine-tuning. I didn’t think about it at the time but before next excursion I will pour a plate and develop without exposing just to make sure that it’s not my plate holders acting up. Maybe third time’s the charm?
Charlotta giving her model directions
my old camera is really on it’s last legs
Ambrotype group shot. Keeping still is not my strong side…(Photo by Charlotta Gavelin)
varnishing the plates (photo by Charlotta Gavelin)
Now when the gallery is ready I finally have time to do some photography again. I’ve really gotten into the wet plates again lately and over the weekend I held a wet plate workshop. In the old days it was all hush-hush about the technique even up until a few years ago most wet plate photographers didn’t want to share their secrets with anyone. It all changed with the wet plate boom, suddenly people all over the world wanted to do wet plates and in a day where you can order anything online most of them succeeded. I just think it’s much more fun sharing and also important to hand the knowledge on so it won’t die out.
It was a very grey, cold windy day so we used the barn as a studio and developed the plates in the basement. I wonder what people think of me when they see my basement/darkroom. This time I had actually tidied for the occasion, well “tidying” consists more of putting things on top of each other or in front or behind. There is so much stuff! Anywho we had some really great portraits and finished off with a group photo on glass. That’ll be a new tradition. Then I can make some prints using it as a negative and send to the participants as a moment from the weekend.
First time eating grass
seen through the camera lens
A very catching subject
Got up early this morning to make the exposure that I’ve been thinking about for the last week. Not the first time, I’ve taken the same picture many times but keep coming back to it. The old apple tree and the red tulips that go black on the wet plates are irresistible. There is usually no wind in the morning, later it picks up. With an exposure of a couple of seconds it’s best with the tulips not moving in the wind. Only made two plates and ran out of developer. As I mixed fresh developer I thought I’d might as well make some cyanotype chemistry at the same time. Can’t hand it over before testing it though so I took a little break for cyanotypes and hung them in the pear tree to dry. Now I’ve done my last plates for the day, very happy with one plate and a few ok ones. Usually I get bored very easily with the same subject but for this one I want perfection, which for me means the perfect imperfections. Tomorrow they say it will rain and the tulips are on their last legs so I’ll try again next spring. As usual the hens were very curious and Oggy the cat came to keep me company. I’ve trusted Oggy, last time we had chickens he was even in the henhouse with them but yesterday I caught him tensing up ready to jump them. I quickly chucked some water at him, haven’t seen him run that fast since he was a little kitten! Otilia and Bugget brought all the chickens out to eat grass but only for a short while, they choose to stay in the safer hen yard most of the time. I’ve widened the ladder to the hatch so now they can find their way back inside easily. A nice distraction fuzzing with the chicks while waiting for my wet plates to dry.
My most modern large format camera
Wet plate on fire!
Finally I got some time to do more wet plates and try out my new glass plate holder. With the chicks running around my legs and interesting conversations with the neighbour I completely lost track of exposure but still had a few “keepers”. My neighbour told me about the photographers in the old days who walked around, using the same technique then as I do now, offering portraits on metal for 75 Swedish öre(0.75 SKR). It made me think of a picture I got from my aunt a while back. It’s a tintype of my mammas farfar (my mums granddad) Hildor and my morfar(granddad) Eskil. The photo was taken year 1920.
Tin-type year 1920
Note: Maybe I should add…this is an analog technique where the picture needs to be taken while the plate is wet, there of Wet plate. If it’s made on metal it’s called Tin-type, on glass Ambrotype.