Wet Plate Collodion Photography In The Field … My Dark Box/Room

Wet Plate Collodion Photography requires that:

  • The plates be coated (“flowed”) and sensitized immediately prior to use.
  • The exposure, development, and fixing processes must be completed within 15 minutes of the sensitization. Otherwise, the collodion will dry out rendering the plate a failure.

When working in a studio the 15-minute window for processing is usually not an issue as the darkroom is generally located in close proximity to the studio.

However, when working in the field, the photographer must bring a dark box/room to the location in order to complete the entire  process in the field.

The field dark box/room must be portable, completely light tight, and large enough to allow processing plates in the size selected by the photographer.

There are several commercially available and DIY options for portable field dark box/rooms:

DARKBOXES have two basic designs:

  1. Designed to allow your hands and arms to be inside the darkbox while the photographer sits or stands outside the darkbox in the daylight and looks through a safelight window (usually red rubylith).
  2. Designed to allow the photographer to walk into or sit/stand in front of a three-sided box/cabinet and wrap a very large curtain of darkcloth around the box/cabinet and him/herself creating a light-tight fourth side to the box/cabinet.

XXX-Large film changing bags and bench top sand blasting cabinets have also been repurposed as darkboxes. Typically, the darkbox is set up on a three-legged stand, in the back of an SUV, on the tailgate of a pickup truck, or on a table. DIY wooden darkboxes are very popular … plans & photos are easily found on the web.

DARKROOMS can generally be repurposed vans, box trucks, trailers, camping tents, ice fishing tents, and grow tents with modifications to insure a light tight space.

After exploring these DIY and commercial options on various wet plate collodion web sites and forums I decided that a grow tent would be the best choice for me because I wanted to be able to be IN the space, move around, stand up, and sit down.  I did NOT want to reach into a box to work.

I chose the CoolGrows grow tent for its’ size, portability, price, and ease of set up.

Size:  4 feet x 4 feet x 7 feet 8 inches

Weight:  26.5 pounds

Set up time:  15 minutes

Price:  $91.00

My portable darkroom is large enough for me to use a 4×2 foot folding table inside giving me almost the same working area that I use in my home-based darkroom. Plenty of room without bumping into the walls when moving around. High enough with a flat roof so that I can easily stand anywhere in the tent and hang my safelight from the ceiling. All my chemicals, cooler (when needed), wash water, and waste container for liquids to be carried home for disposal, store easily under the table.

Drew Wagner

 

 

“CAN YOU STILL BUY FILM?”

This is the question that I hear most frequently when discussing photography with friends, family, acquaintances, and passers-by.

I have never had an issue getting the film type that I wanted. I shoot TriX, TMax, J. Lane Dry plates, and make my own wet plate collodion plates.

I got to thinking about how many other companies still make film.

A recent web search for BLACK & WHITE NEGATIVE FILM available in the US turned up 25 companies producing 62 types of film!

Below is my list of companies with the number of film types that they offer. (I am sure that there are more!)

Adox 2                                             Kentmere 2

Agfa 2                                              Kodak 5

Arista 3                                            Kona 3

Astrum 2                                          Liquid Emulsion 1

Cat Labs 1                                        Lomography 4

CineStill 1                                        Pictoriographica 2

Ferrania 1                                        Revolog 1

FilmWashi 2                                    Rerapan 2

Foma 4                                             Rollei 8

Fuji 5                                                Silberra 1

Holga 1                                            StreetCandy 1

Ilford 8                                             UltrafineXtreme 1

JCH 1                                                Xray (multiple manufacturers)

Drew Wagner

 

 

 

Carbon Transfer Printing – How It’s Done

Over the years I’ve been asked how I make my carbon prints. The key to carbon printing is patience! There are many steps one must do before you even make a print. It take a lot of time to understand the variables in play with this process and finding the “balance” as I like to call it is the key to success. I have developed my techniques over the years to allow me to print almost any negative. Once you understand how to use the controls it is amazing what you can do. I teach this process at my home studio in Vancouver Washington. When we get the Covid monster under control I hope to continue teaching as it gives me great joy to pass along what I know to others. The following is just a bit of what you need to do.

Trying to simplify this complex process is not easy but I will try. First one must have a negative to print in contact with a pigmented gelatin substrate. Mine are 8×10, 8×20, 11×14 and 14×17 negatives.

I manufacture what is called tissue” which is a substrate coated with a pigmented gelatin. This process takes an entire day. Once dry, generally 4-5 days of curing is needed, the pigmented tissue is coated with a light sensitive liquid, Ammonium Dichromate. This is allowed to dry for 3 hours.

A negative is placed in contact with the pigmented tissue and exposed to ultra violet light. I use a graphic arts plate burner. The negative is then separated from the tissue and the tissue is brought into contact with a final support medium under water in a cold-water transfer bath. This sandwich is then squeegeed together on glass then covered and weighted and allowed to mate” for a half of an hour.

Developing the image is done in a tray of warm water. Once the tissue is softened it is removed from the final support and the image is developed in the warm water to completion.

Each handmade print is unique unto itself and no two are identical. Some may exhibit a beautiful “relief” visible texture and some a subtle relief. Many variables come into play and some of them can cause failure. Still carbon transfer prints are considered to be some of the finest and most archival prints any collector can own. It is considered the Process of Royalty.”

Jim Fitzgerald

My Journey to Carbon Transfer Printing

So how does one decide to go back to 1864 and learn an obscure (at the time) hand made printing process that so few photographers practice?

I have always been a person who is curious. As a large and ultra large format photographer and camera builder (that is a whole story in itself) I decided that contact printing was the way to go for my work. I printed silver gelatin and silver chloride with Azo for years and when I built my first camera, my 8×20, my friends said I was now a Platinum printer! Hell I had two of my sons at the finest universities in California. Stanford and USC are not cheap and there was no way in hell I had money left to by “noble metals.”

I was reading some posts on the large format forum, image posts I think, and I happened on an image that just floored me. It was a carbon transfer print. Knowing that Google is your friend I found everything I could read about the process. It wasn’t until I met Vaughn Hutchins, the one who posted the image, that my life changed forever.

I sent a message to Vaughn and told him I’d love to see a carbon print. He was in a show in Yosemite called “The Yosemite Renaissance” and we decided to meet. I will never forget sitting on the steps of the Ansel Adams gallery next to Vaughn as he showed me print after print. I was speechless.  I think he asked if I was okay? I told him that the images he showed me were the type of images I had seen in my mind for a long long time. It was how I had to present my work. At that moment, my life was changed. I was a carbon printer. That was thirteen years ago and I have done nothing but print carbon ever since.

I owe a lot to my good friend Vaughn Hutchins for his inspiration, friendship and love of traditional carbon printing from our film negatives.

I now co-instruct the carbon workshop with Vaughn at the Ansel Adams Gallery through their workshop programs. I have come full circle and I am fortunate to have found my true voice for my work through carbon printing. The process is not for the faint at heart, for it is very time consuming but so so rewarding. My journey is still evolving and it is so much fun!

Jim Fitzgerald

Postponed: Inaugural Monalog Collective Photographers Outing

Due to the continued danger posed by Covid-19 our members have determined it necessary to postpone our Inaugural Monalog Collective Photographers Outing that was to be held on September 10th – 12th until sometime in 2021 when it is safe for all of us to get together.  As much as we were looking forward to this event and the opportunity to make new friends, the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases makes postponement the responsible thing to do.

As soon as the health situation becomes clearer we will determine a date to reschedule this event, but in the meantime we hope you will continue to visit us here and stay in contact. Even though we are postponing the outing, we have met some wonderful photographers, some who are now members of Monalog!

For those interested in learning more about our collective please contact us and let’s talk about what we love so much!

Stay safe and best wishes.

For more information contact Michael Marks at:

info@monalogcollective.com or 215-348-9171

What Equipment Do I Need for Wet Plate and/or Dry Plate Photography?

We are in the midst of a resurgence of many alternative photographic processes. These processes date back to the mid-19th century and are capable of producing exceptionally fine prints. This post deals specifically with wet plate and dry plate processes and answers the question: “What equipment do I need for wet plate and/or dry plate photography”?

CAMERAS: The good news is that you do not need to purchase a special camera for wet/dry plate work. You can use just about any modern or vintage camera that accepts modern or vintage film/plate holders.

PLATE/FILM HOLDERS: You need a new or used modern plate holder, a vintage plate holder, or a modern film holder modified for plates.

COLLODION WET PLATES: Since collodion wet plates are no longer commercially manufactured you will be coating your plates. This applies to tintypes, ambrotypes on glass, and glass negatives. You can cut the plates to whatever size fits your holder.

DRY PLATES: You can purchase ready-made dry plates or coat your own. If you are purchasing ready-made the plate sizes will be determined by the manufacturer. J. Lane Dry Plates provides many standard sizes and will build to order many sizes. If you are coating your dry plates you can cut the plates to whatever size fits your holder.

MODIFYING A DOUBLE DARK SLIDE FILM HOLDER THAT FITS YOUR CAMERA: Modifying an existing double dark slide film holder is a great option that will save you $200 – $400, vs. buying new, depending on size and supplier. Double dark slide film holders with a METAL septum work best. I have used Fidelity with great success. The modification took me less than 90 minutes. If you want to modify a double dark slide film holder but do not want to DiY or do not have the time or tools required, Lund Photographic can do it for you. I cut my first two and Lund modified two more for me. All four work great. There are many tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere on the web so I will not go into details here.

BE AWARE OF TWO LIMITATIONS WHEN MODIFYING A MODERN DOUBLE DARK SLIDE FILM HOLDER: Only one side of the double dark slide film holder can be used for the plate. (One side is used for loading the holder the other side is for exposure.)  The plate size must be ¼ inch smaller on each of the four sides to allow for the installation of corner brackets to hold the plate in the proper position. So, a modified 8×10 double dark slide film holder can take a maximum plate size of 7.5×9.5 inches.

Lund Photographics      Film holder modifications

Pictoriographica            J. Lane Dry Plates

Pictoriographica            Double Sided Dry Plate Holders

The Light Farm              Dry plate coating

Drew Wagner

Inaugural Monalog Collective Photographers Outing, September 10-12, 2020, Easton, Pennsylvania

The Monalog Collective Photographer’s Outing is a chance for black and white analog photographers to meet, make photographs and have a great time.  It is also an opportunity for photographers that are not members of Monalog to interact with and learn more about the Monalog Collective.  The Outing is limited to 25 participants and will be based in the picturesque town of Easton, Pennsylvania situated on the shores of the Delaware River.  Easton is nearby beautiful Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley and is close to many small river towns, as well as Bethlehem and Allentown Pennsylvania.  This means that there is an abundance of diverse subject matter to satisfy every photographer. It is easily accessible from Philadelphia, New York City, Allentown and Newark. There are a number of local hotels and bed and breakfasts, along with plenty of restaurants in the area.

We will begin our event with a group “get to know you” diner at a local restaurant (TBD) on Thursday evening.

Friday will be devoted primarily to making photographs. We will all meet at 8:30am at a central location and take it from there. No pressure and no expectations. The idea is to be with other photographers, have fun and be mutually supportive.  We will have a number of locations scouted out where participants can meet up, or you can go your own way freestyle, as there is no shortage of subject matter to be photographed.

On Friday evening at 7pm we will all meet for a talk by Monalog Collective member and analog photography historian, Chris Karfakis. The talk will be held at the beautiful Stirner Modern Gallery located in downtown Easton.

On Saturday we will meet again at 8:30am, then depart for more photographing. At 2pm we will reconvene at the studio and darkroom of Monalog member and working photographer Ed Eckstein located above the Stirner Modern Gallery. The concluding session will include a tour and discussion by Ed about his work, as well as participant feedback, thoughts on possible next steps, upcoming events and how to get involved with Monalog.

We will adjourn at 4pm so participants can begin to head home or stay in the area for dinner.

Come join us and be part of this exciting Monalog inaugural event! There is no cost, but you will want to sign up early to ensure participation.

We look forward to seeing you in September!

For more information contact Michael Marks at:

info@monalogcollective.com or 215-348-9171

Sometimes Even The Most Stinging Critique Can Have A Silver Lining

Like most 20-somethings, at 27, I was ready to take on the world! After three years of my first newspaper job as a photojournalist for a small-town daily paper, I was positive that I was ready to move up.

I managed to finagle an interview with the Director Of Photography at a very large, photo-oriented, metropolitan daily newspaper. I was very confident that my winning personality along with my portfolio of work, about 10-15 mounted Black & White prints, would seal the deal.

The DOP stoically, and rather quickly, looked through my work, saying nothing other than occasionally muttering, “hmmmm”. And of course, I frequently offered why such-and-such image was an important photograph. It didn’t take very long for him to finish with my very important work. As he sat back in his chair, I waited for him to offer me a job. Finally, he asked, “Mel, do you know what this work shows me?” I didn’t know.

“This shows me that you had access to these events,” he said matter-of-factly. I was crushed.

But I got over it and for the next 39 years, I often thought about that statement. And I tried to make images that offered a reader more than I merely had access.

Then there was the photojournalist friend, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, who was named Photographer Of The Year by the National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA). (Long ago, I attended the judging at the University of Missouri’s Columbia School of Journalism of about 23,000 mounted prints submitted by approximately 1,500 photojournalists.) His work is spectacular. -And once he told me that all of the photographs that got him those accolades were taken within about a 50-mile radius of his newspaper. Traveling around the world to exotic foreign locales didn’t help other journalists out-gun him.

So, what’s my point?

First, let me say that I’m in love with photography. For most of my first decade professionally, I worked in Black & White. I also did work in chromes (slides) for freelance magazine assignments. But newspapers were all Black & White all the time. By the early 1980’s, color was showing up more and more in newspapers for competitive reasons. It often looked like color was used just for the sake of color.

Now, with the welcome resurgence of Black & White photography, I feel as though I’m seeing the same thing. Much like early color in newspapers often seemed solely for the sake of color, I think that some Black & White photographs that I have seen recently have much more invested in the Black & White process than in the quality of the imagery. Otherwise pedestrian photographs seem to be elevated by the fact that it is a wet-darkroom print from B&W film. And an average photograph from a far away land seems to hold sway over a beautiful image from the ‘neighborhood’. Contrary to what your loved ones and friends might tell you, access, or the ability to visit exotic places, doesn’t automatically translate to exceptional photographs.

Sorry if this sounds harsh for a medium that is clawing back from near-extinction. Maybe in current Black & White photography, people feel a connection to digital, as though Black & White evolved from digital photography. I don’t feel that way, because it didn’t. For me Black & White is the basis of photography…color and digital followed and are a sort of extensions. But maybe now, for many people, digital is the basis and film, color and Black & White followed.

In some ways, I’m new, again, to Black & White. For the past two years, I have returned to the B&W darkroom working in large format. I still do quite a lot of editorial assignments digitally, but more and more, I’m shooting B&W film. It is such a magical experience. I wish everyone would try it!

And remember, it is NOT shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, look.

But it IS, look, look, look, look, shoot!

Mel Evans

Old Dogs

With all of us having to stay locked down and practicing social distancing, trying to make any camera art may seem like a far reach.  The whole reason for the self-quarantining is to keep ourselves healthy and getting outside for fresh air and sunshine is a big part of that.  After my mother’s passing, my wife and I were blessed with one of her two cats.  Like all of us, “Fat Cat” enjoys getting outside for a breath of fresh air.  This has led me to daily walkabouts in our yard, offering me the opportunity to exercise my visual eye and to practice my camera work.

While he prowls the yard, I prowl beside him with camera in hand.  He is described as a tuxedo cat, mostly black with a patch of white on his nose and breast; very little light reflects from his fur.  He is a light meter’s worst nightmare and a real challenge for film to record detail properly.

As Michael Marks has written in his blog (www.michaelmarksphoto.com), the important thing for us as artists is to “stay in the game”, and Fat Cat has allowed me to do that.  While images of the cat are not art – regardless of the fact that everyone on the internet seems to think otherwise – they have kept me in the game.  These exercises have allowed me to practice and experiment.  I’ve been able to practice handling my 35mm camera while sharpening my eye’s perspective by playing with different focal length lenses, plus this affords me the chance to experiment with different ISO film and developer combinations.  This outdoor camera work is giving me practice visually seeing, composing, exposing, processing film and printing.

Taking us around the perimeter of the house, these little walkabouts are usually no more than an hour long.  He has to sniff, scratch, chew and rub up against almost everything.  Then, there are the ten thousand-foot stares out into the void he does that can last as long as ten minutes or more; he can be a very patient dude.  During these slow random willie-nillie walks, I’ve found new and interesting “stuff” that I can go back to and explore more deeply.  Leaving the 35mm camera in the house with the cat to nap, I find myself packing up the view camera and trekking back outside to focus my lens on subjects I never would have seen sitting on my couch.

So, in the end I’m finding myself outside with my view camera getting the fresh air and sunshine while composing images which have the potential to be more meaningful than the fluffy, cuddly, creature snaps which brought me outside in the first place. (Note, Fat Cat is anything but fluffy and cuddly.)

My neighbors (and my wife) think I’m insane for taking walkabouts, camera in hand with an old cat, but to use a bad pun Fat Cat has shown me that old dogs can be taught new tricks.

Paul Strand once wrote:

“The artist’s world is limitless.  It can be found anywhere far from where he lives or a few feet away.  It is always on his doorstep.”

James A. Kipfer

Intentions and Techniques

In twenty-four years of teaching intro to analog photography at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania my students and I have never been without the darkroom.  Fortunately they were able to leave campus with cameras in hand and the knowledge to use them.  I’m looking forward to the results when I process and proof their film.

Lacking the ability to critique their personal images on a class-by-class basis, and having to wait for the results is a challenge.  To keep them engaged and thinking I’ve been emailing a jpg or two of an image for them to write about; what do they see, how does it make them feel and why. Builder Levy’s photograph Osage Window, Scotts Run, Monongalia County, West Virginia, 1970 shown here is an example.  I’ve included a student’s response and his request.

“For this photography, in my understanding, photographer wants to depict a contrast between the reflection of the outside world and the three children’s smiling faces inside. And through the window, our sight can be limited by the frame and feel the contrast between inside and outside world. 

And if it’s possible, may I ask you to write your understanding of this photography. I just want to learn how to analyze a photograph like a professional.

My answer: The success of this photograph revolves around three beautiful pair of eyes and teeth.  The children and photographer did their jobs at just the right moment together.  But lets explore the different layers of the photograph beyond the smiles to see why it works.

First, the reflections because they seem to function on three separate levels or layers.  The glass creates the reflection but also allows us to see through and is a physical presence as well. The reflections provide clues to the surroundings but do not compete with what is inside because they are out of focus. The out of focus landscape alludes to a place and time for everyone.  The glass divides how we perceive the space inside and out but puts the distance between on an equal two-dimensional plane because that’s how photography works.  I think the tree branches make the kids look like Wilson the soccer ball from the movie Castaway, and the snow like Cheshire cats from Alice in Wonderland, for example.

The frame is as important as the subject, it defines limits and sets the stage, directs attention.  This photograph has more than one frame going for it.  The borders of the photograph are the first, the window is the second, but with two sash frames that makes three.  And then there is the framing of the house that holds the window in place, number four.  The point being that all parts of the whole work together to complete the experience.  Sometimes the frame can hold an attraction right up to the very edge but still keep you in.  Here they work together, with subtle details, to bring you back to the eyes and teeth.  Frame number five, maybe the most important, is the bright high contrast painted window trim that lights up like neon around the three smiles.  The actual print was gold toned to add warmth and richness, deepen the blacks and enhances the contrast.

When I was eight and lived at 411 North 23rd Street, just off the east side of campus, our neighbors at 413 included three girls around the same age as me.  Photographs can mean many things to many people.  Unlike putting pencil to paper, with film sometimes you only get a fraction of a second to record a universal experience.

I would hang this one in my kitchen next to the backdoor.

David Haas