Posts Tagged ‘wet plate collodion’
Oh, I am so happy with this dark-box I’ve done in the last few days. In October 2014 I’ve bought a Land Rover Series 3 from year 1972 and it took me more then half a year that I started to trust the car and foremost my ability to fix it, or more often then not, recognising I need a help from a friend to do the maintenance of the truck.
I so much love photographing outdoor, especially documentary photography and you know how annoying is to do it in wet plate collodion process. Sure I’ve done it many times, you can get to a location, set up a tent and you work whole day at the location, clean the stuff and go home with bunch of plates. In the last four years that I do wet plate collodion photography, only twice it happened that I’ve set up a tent, took few plates, cleaned the place up, move to another location, set up the tent, do another bunch of plates, clean it and go home. It is so exhausting this moving. And moving a dark-box or a tent is not a problem, it’s to pour back all the chemistry, prepare it for transport… ARGHHH!!!
I had in mind for a long time a wet plate collodion mobile, a car that it will have a dark box and most importantly all other chemistry prepared in such a way that I would stop the car, set a camera, pour the plate, develop a plate and move to another location. I know few people have camper vans or even trailers, which is fantastic, but not suitable for my environment, not suitable for motifs I want to photograph.
Land Rover, Series 3, 109 LWB, Station Wagon, an old-timer from 1972 is perfect for my needs. It’s cheap to buy, it’s cheap to maintain (parts are cheap, but you have to do the mechanical work by yourself or go bankrupt), it’s almost free to insure and foremost it looks good on you! Sure it’s not cheap to drive, it burns 13 litres of petrol per 100km (USA: 18 mpg), but it’s not a car for daily use, it’s a tool! I drive it about once a week down to the river or up into forests, near my house, to bring all the equipment, I rarely make a trip longer then 100 km. You don’t want to drive long time with this car!
Anyhow now I’m happy with my dark box. I need to make another shelf beside the dark-box on which I will have a bath with fixer or humectant and a box to store clean and exposed plates. On top of everything I can make a bed in my car! I can easily make a bed size 135cm x 180cm. OK, if I will have a dark box inside, it will be 50 cm narrower, but still plenty of space. When I was in Vienna PhotoBook Festival, I was camping inside the truck and had also a cooker for making soups, tea and other tasty meals. The dark box can be used also on the roof rack as a crate for storage.
Today I’ve made a quick test before lunch to see if window is properly filtering daylight and I’ve made this wet plate collodion negative. It’s done with Kodak Folding Brownie 3A, from year 1905, it was one of the first compact cameras in the world! Amazing camera, I love it so much. The most important is that I’ve made the plate in about half an hour with all the setting up and going back home to catch the lunch. This Land Rover and the dark box is the most important tool I have! It will make a wet plate collodion process natural and easy. So happy!
Last but not least, my new year’s resolution is to make more videos and blog posts. I am amazed how many people are following me trough social network! The Ebay auctions are going good, the last one reached about 230 EUR and then I’ve sold another copy of the print to an Italian bidder that lost a bidding against a bidder from USA. Of course the second albumen print from the last auction was sold for slightly higher price then the wining bid was. If I add up the support from my patreons and the commissions that I receive in Slovenia and workshops I have, I must say it’s going great. I want to thank you, by revealing my craft secrets, that I have none, inspiring others and being inspired by others.
Thank you and remember topshit 2016 happens!
This post will be more Tips&Tricks kind of content, but I’m already uploading new video, so although my audience are not only wet platers, please bear with me.
This tip is not the basics of wet plate collodion photography, it’s a tip that might save a month of your life and potentially a lot of money. It’s a technique that you do not need to use very often, but if you do need it, it’s your only friend, it’s an emergency exit. What do you usually do when your silver bath is contaminated and it fogs like English morning? You sun it, right? If that doesn’t work, you add baking soda and leave it for a long time to settle down, I prefer not to wait that long and I rather add baking soda so the pH is about 5-6pH and then I boil it, so 2/3 of water evaporates. Then I add water, filter it and sun it again for a day or two. Then I have perfectly pure silver bath with which is a joy to work.
Last week I’ve done all of the above, but after filtering silver bath still looked muddy. Strange, strange, very strange, I thought. What do you do when you see something like that? I know what you’re thinking and you are WRONG, you do not publish it immediately on FB with a caption: What’s that?!? NO, that it’s not how you do it! You go back and investigate what went wrong.
I cleaned the pot to see if the coating of the pot chipped off somewhere and UAU, it was a massive corrosion and the metal part of the pot was in contact with my silver bath. Do you know what metal is a developing agent in a wet plate collodion developer? It’s iron, a sulphate of iron! So that means the silver bath reacted with the pot and it contaminated throughly!
In this case, all the sun in the world will not help to clear the silver bath, so you need to call special forces, you need a bad-ass called Kaolin! It’s a fine powdered clay, that is used for china making. It is known to bind on itself all sorts of stuff, but in our case, it will clear the silver bath.
So I’ve added few spoons of Kaolin and the cleansing started immediately. After a minute it was much much better. I left it sunning for a day, so all the clay sedimented down and clear silver was ready for more wet plate photography. The contamination of the silver-nitrate with iron took a fat toll, but at least I saved the remaining silver. If I wouldn’t had kaolin, I would have to dispose it.
Talking about disposing silver-bath. Mark Osterman told me, that when he started with the wet plate collodion process in 90’s it was a habit that photographers were using silver bath until it got contaminated and then they disposed it and mixed it fresh! He have learned from ancient books about sunning, baking soda, boiling, kaolin and all this witchcraft that we do today. I can imagine that us wet platers hurts the thought that we would need to mix new silver-baths every month or so, but there is one nice method how they’ve disposed the silver bath. They used it for painting of wooden fences and apparently it offers fantastic protection! I also read in Osterman’s Collodion Journal that silver nitrate was popular for dying hair. Imagine how permanently black hair were! My hair is getting kind of gray, I might spare some silver nitrate :-)
Back to the topic. Kaolin can be used also to clean your silver bath during wintertimes, when there isn’t much available sun, I use it to cleanse my silver bath for albumen printing. The only way to get albumen out of your silver bath is, you guessed it correctly, Kaolin! I also used a table spoon of kaolin with some baking soda to help my digestion problems. Seriously, it really helps! This is pure classic medicine, it’s not alternative mambo jambo! But all the methods above are alternative usage of Kaolin. Today it’s mostly used in beauty saloons, for facial masks, since it also cleanses skin. So the bottom line is the same as the title:
Kaolin, the best friend of a wet plater and his wife!
Dear readers of my blog, I’m back! Not that I’ve left anywhere, but I was working really hard to make my workshop happen. I organised a five days workshop, two days working outdoor and three days working indoor. We covered wet plate collodion negatives, albumen printing, salt printing and collodion chloride printing. After that I had another two days of individual workshop on carbon printing. Very intense indeed!
I’ve decided to set up our headquarters in Sitarjeva hiša, a house from 1886 and was abandoned for last 17 years. It did not had a running water or electricity, but with the generous help of Anže Grabeljšek, Sanja Gorišek, Nastja Frey Gorše and municipality of Dolenjske Toplice, we sorted things out! I had many concerns and I had two back up options, but the house with it’s charisma is destined to host more art events! In fact I’m exhibiting new work there, so let me invite you to the exhibition of my panoramas on 27th of August at 7pm.
Expect more topshit events like this! For now I’m going to organise a workshop with a theme: Tribute to Ansel Adams. I’m planning a workshop on analog photography, with medium and large format cameras, for about 8 people. We will do rafting, camping, off roading and developing contact prints. We will explain the zone system, have a talk in the middle of forrest about Adams’s work and legacy… It will be 4th and 5th of September. The price for it is 250 EUR and includes cameras, films, paper, chemistry and food while camping. (Če razumeš slovensko, si avtomatsko zaslužiš konkreten popust) I know it’s short notice, but I have friends who already booked, so only few spaces are available, so we will not wait for you, but don’t worry, I will have more workshops. More topshit workshops is what we need! I will make an official notice in the following days. My email is email@example.com
I’m talking also with Nikon, we might make a photo-safari trip on digital photography during wine picking season. And I’m thinking to organise a collodion new year celebration in some cottage deep in the forrest of Slovenia (or is it properly written Slovakia?!?) What do you think, is it topshit enough idea?
Anyway, please check the images bellow and read captions and remember…
Topshit does happens!
Dear topshit readers,
Here are some updates. I’ve just came back from family vacations and I don’t have a habit to post that my house is empty. Not that is anything to steal from it, but still.
What do you do for a living people are very frequently asking me. Hm… Not so easy to answer. Well, I do have two regular clients that all together make three to four monthly salaries per year but everything else is freelancing. I’ve been fortunate enough that I’m freelance photographer from 1998 and ever since I have burned only handful bridges, so people know me and I do not need to promote myself as a commercial photographer. The other Friday it was a crazy day. Three clients wanted to do the shoot in one day. Good, three flies in one stroke.
In the morning it was Janez Bršec, a poet. He wanted that I make a portrait of him for a cover of his book. I’ve done as he imagine it, but then I’ve made one more as I’ve understood it. He picked my version :-)
Next it was Corcoras quartet with and without actor Branko Jordan and then a solo portrait of Branko Jordan. At 3pm it was really hot, but we’ve met beside a river that offered some fresh breeze. I didn’t had any problems, aside some oyster stains on the edges, which I like in the first place.
The last shoot was in Ljubljana, that’s an hour drive from where I live. We started at 7pm and finished at 11 pm. Maja Smrekar is a contemporary artist dealing with futuristic visions of humanism. Or at least that’s my interpretation of her work. Nevertheless she explained me her new project. It’s a survival kit for 21st Century. It has many features, it could be a weapon, a tool, or protective gear. So my task was to illustrate her using the set. I was using Balcar studio flashes, a Profot Flash Feeder, some “nothing special” gadgets, excellent Nikon D4 and three lenses. Interesting thing is that the last picture was taken almost at midnight with full moon behind. I had to illustrate that the kit has also a feature to offer a shade, so I’ve used the moon as futuristic sun. I was asked if I could have a workshop on these kind of creative lightning, but with – pardon my French – digital photography. Of course we will, stay tuned.
here is a video on location scouting around my town of Dolenjske Toplice, Slovenia, EU. I’m planning to make two collodion workshops, a basic and advanced one. Please check the link on my site for detailed program.
I’m embedding also a video from the workshop that I had in Berlin, about a year ago where I’ve explained the content of the workshop.
A month ago I was in George Eastman House in Rochester on a workshop of glass negative retouching. I made a personal resolution to do a pilgrimage to GEH once a year, as it’s was very inspiring experience to learn from fantastic mentors, Mark Osterman and Nick Brandreth . Furthermore at these workshops you are invited in the GEH’s collection where examples from history of photography are presented.
Retouching basically means drawing and I do not know how to draw or better I have still much to learn about drawing. Nevertheless I’m satisfied with the results presented in the video. Of course, retouching of eyes is the most difficult thing, but my clumsy retouching is what makes the image scary. If you look at the albumen print from a retouched negative, you would never guessed that it’s retouched, if you would not see it doing and if you were not an expert in retouching. I trust my wife’s opinion, she is very cruel in her judgement toward my work and she said it’s OK. And her opinion with all due respecte overrates Mark Osterman’s opinion, which I know it’ll be critical. I totally follow his teaching, but on the aesthetic point of view we often respectfully disagree. I love his work, perfect in any view, but you see my character is different. I’m not a tidy person, I don’t find my plates messy. I could make them totally technically perfect, but I welcome some stains on corners of my plates. Like my sink, it’s not dirty! It simply isn’t! Yes it does has many silver stains and I will not clean them with aggressive chemicals, because that would just be Sisyphus’s work! So under topshit doctrine, cleaning a sink basically means irresponsible pollution of environment and consequently burning in hell! Ha!!!
Where was I?
I learned a lot at this workshop. Like I’ve down hundreds of salt prints already, but observing Mark making salt prints I’ve learned many small tricks. One of it is the following. For sensitising salt paper we usually use cotton ball and then we trow it away. What Mark does is after senzibilisation he squeezes the remaining silver nitrate into a jar and then recover this polluted silver. How brilliant is that?! Just think how much silver nitrate is thrown away with filtering, sensitising and so on? In a month time with this practice I saved almost one decilitre of silver nitrate! I can’t write all the tips & tricks I’ve learned from Mark, since that would be more suitable for a book, then a blog :-)
Let me finish this blogpost with a very comforting information that if with retouching you screw up the negative, you can undo it! For instance. If you add too much graphite on your negative, you can wipe it away with fine powder of a cuttle fish. That’s the white powder I was using in the video. With it you can remove unwanted retouching. You can also do the more drastic measure like removing whole varnish from the negative and with it the mistake you’ve made. Remember, the retouching is not happening on the collodion, but on the varnish.
That’s the main difference between dry silver-gelatine negatives and collodion negatives. Silver-gelatine negative can be scratched into emulsion whereas collodion has very very thin layer of silver (that’s what it makes it the sharpest photography medium ever) and if you would try to scratch silver from collodion negative, you would scratch it right trough.
So, Mark gave me also information on collodion-chloride paper and when I was at home, I try it, but I haven’t dry the paper sufficiently and the collodion-chloride paper got stuck on the collodion negative. I basically ruin it, the negative can not be used anymore. Then I took alcohol, diluted it to 85% and start washing the negative in the alcohol. The varnish dissolved and with it also collodion-chloride emulsion. This is not the work for light hearted one, because you can easily ruin the negative, especially if the collodion used for the negative was old. Old collodion is fragile and lost it’s flexibility and therefor it’s very fragile. There was a small chance that Mark was using very old collodion, so I washed the varnish away and revarnished the plate again. Now I can retouch it again.
The two photographs that I’ve made are available for purchase on Ebay. I added also the third one, but this one is from unretouched negative. I made it later then the video, my wife says that it’s my best photograph and so it is. You don’t want to argue with my wife, OK? Trust me on this one!!!
Please follow the link bellow. I’m blogging for already nine years, I’ve wrote more then 1000 blog posts and I’m receiving emails to publish more, make more videos. I would love to, that would be my dream job, but as a professional photographer, I need to make a living and support my family first. That said, if you would consider to give me a tip for the videos I make and the information I share, it would be most appreciated. You can tip me via Paypal and my paypal account is firstname.lastname@example.org
In this video I’m presenting my creative process how am I approaching a motif conceptually and also physically. Wet plate collodion is so slow process that an hour or two of thinking is nothing in comparison how much it takes to make one photograph.
Before I start making an image I always play a devil’s lawyer with myself asking myself annoying questions; Why are you photographing that? Who have done that before you? Are you adding something new and fresh? What would Ansel, Edward, Josef, Sally, Mark & France and others would say if (when) they will look at it? Is it worth it? Don’t you have something better to do?
If I successfully manage to defend a concept, only then I start with preparations for the shoot. And this was the case also with this tree trunk. I’m running every day trough this forrest and I have a long list of trees, valleys and few roots that I need to photograph.
In the video I haven’t talked about technical details, although I did left few educational tips. Like pouring collodion. Please take a look three small details. First when I pour collodion, I tend to make a perfect circle in the middle. That means my plate is levelled and I can pour a lot of collodion on the plate. Then I slowly, very slowly move collodion from edge to edge and on the end I slowly pouring collodion off. Yes, you got it, the key word is do it slowly, no need to hurry. This is the speed I usually do it indoor. Outdoor it’s usually drying faster, but that day was pretty cold and my collodion for negatives has more alcohol solvent then ether solvent ratio, because alcohol opens collodion pores and allow more silver to bind, causing denser negatives. That’s just the opposite that you want for ambrotypes.
Nevertheless the negative that I’ve got was very thin and almost an ambrotype. I’ve done everything correctly, but the day was cloudy and in the forrest there was very diffused light. I’ve exposed the plate correctly, meaning that my blacks didn’t had any information, but although I developed for three minutes, the negative was still very thin, almost ambrotype like. This is what Mark Osterman calls a foundation negative.
The mistake photographers often do is that they add another one or two exposure values and when they develop a plate, the negative looks much better on the first glance. Whites are dense, middle tones are denser, but blacks are gone! If you overexpose a negative, blacks are not empty, but they have information, meaning that blacks aren’t black anymore but they are dark grey! Now, if your blacks aren’t black, you can’t redevelop! Let me explain why.
Redeveloping is a process that is done at home and it’s done after fixing. Let me describe the process in plain language. When you develop a wet plate collodion negative you get three things. Glass plate, collodion layer (a binder) and you have a thin layer of silver on top. This silver is not mixed with collodion, it’s suspended on top of the plate. That is the condition that you can treat the silver with iodine, making it sensitive to light once again and then you apply developer containing fresh silver that will be bound on the foundation silver that is already bounded with collodion. What happens now? Highlights that have a lot of silver in the foundation negative will attract much more silver then middle tones that have less silver then highlights. Blacks do not have any silver and therefore will not attract no additional silver. Redeveloping process is building silver layers and that means that you are gaining contrast and density of a negative. This redeveloping process can be done for very long time and you can build a bullet-proof density of a negative.
And that is what I was after! All my wet plate collodion negatives have a bullet-proof densities. It took me literally two hours of redeveloping that I gained the sort of density I wanted. Usually it takes between 10-30 minutes, but this is an exceptional case. The foundation negative was very thin, so it catches only little silver from the redeveloping and the second reason was that I wanted to make this right, so I was adding very little silver and slowly and gradually building up the contrast. If you do it too fast, you may get pinholes in the negative. Second version of this negative I’ve done it faster and it took me only half an hour.
The end result, presented here, is a salt print toned with gold. Salt Print process was invented by Henry Fox Talbot in year 1833 and publicly announced in 1839. In principle it’s very simple process, but if you want to make it right it’s very challenging indeed. Salt print process is the printing process with huge tonal scale. Correct me if I’m wrong but only carbon printing process has a wider tonal scale. And this wast tonality range is the cause that the process demands a negative that could match the same tonality range. By my humble opinion wet plate collodion negative is far far the best negative for print-out-processes (POP). Digital negative simply can not match the density necessary for full tonality spectrum. Simply, a thick layer of silver has much better quality in blocking light then a layer of inkjet dye. Salt print process is like a train, you can lean as much as you can toward left or right, the train will go where the tracks are laid. And the salt print process is the same, it will be as good as the negative is.
Anyhow here is my salt print and you be the judge of my vantage points on the photography, either is that conceptually, aesthetically or technologically.
The print and the ambrotype is for sale, please email me on email@example.com for more details. Thank you for your attention!