Light Becomes Silver Once Again
Hand Work, the missing element
My initial interest in photography was in high school in 1968. I had access to a small darkroom that was used for providing B&W images to the school weekly newsletter. I was self-taught, developing film and making prints and I was hooked.
I later attended Rochester Institute of Technology from 1972 and graduated with a degree in advertising photography in 1976. It was during my years at RIT that I did the most hands on work with materials in the black and white lab work. I spent countless hours developing film and making prints. When I graduated, that materials turned to color transparency film. Originally, I worked primarily with view cameras, both 8×10 and 4×5 with the occasional medium format. All of that work was shooting for advertising and packaging clients. Each year, I shot a few thousand images. For the most part, ‘hand work’ generally meant loading film holders and running the E-6 processing on a Jobo film processor. Even most of that was done by my assistants, not myself.
I miss the hands on work. The time and deliberateness of large format film work brought more concentration on selecting the perfect camera angle, lens and lighting while really taking the time to craft the image. Clients gave very accurate layouts that were copied on acetate and used to check positioning of the elements. Many times, complex shoots would take days to make. With each passage of time, ideas were refined, lighting and composition were tweaked. It was a very deliberate process.
When my world went digital, I started working exclusively in medium format with PhaseOne backs. During the last 6 years, I have added digital motion to my work as well. Digital is great, don’t get me wrong. I am able to deliver a better product, in a better time frame and without the cost and occasional mishaps associated with film.
However, some of the care and crafting of the image in the communication has given way for expediency. Budgets have become much tighter and my clients as well as myself have been required to take on additional aspects of each job that were originally performed by specialists. It is simply a part of doing business now. Again, no worries on my part.
In the past few years, I had become aware of artists working in the wetplate collodion space and admired their work. Some images are evocative of a time past, while others are quite contemporary. I was drawn to the aesthetic. There was magic in it. Little did I realize that this aesthetic and the whole process would draw me in as it has today.
Now, many days, you will find me mixing chemical formulas from a bygone era.
It was when the world was just beginning to capture light to create images that these combinations were discovered.
I am able to make bits and pieces of rare chemical compounds to formulate the look and tone in order to craft a photograph.
Because each image is made by hand, each one is unique. Anomalies crop up in spite of my pursuit of perfection. It is simply the nature of the process. Once developed and fixed, there is no post processing, no negatives to print from, no digital filters applied.
You certainly can scan the plate and bring the image into a digital workflow, for sure.
Should I mis-handle a plate or the subject move during the exposure, or gravity and humidity dry the plate before I take the picture and process it- well, it may be start over time or simply enjoy and live with the results.
This really is a form of alchemy. Light is converted to pure silver on a metal or glass plates. Crafting this image not only involves the deliberate selection of subject matter, but the selection of chemicals and image substrate. Thrown into the mix is my hands on abilities to pour, sensitize, image and process a plate to final varnish. It can get slippery at times! The whole process is just enough of a pain to be quite challenging, but not impossible. At times, when things change such as temperature, humidity and just the aging of the components, the results are less than stellar. Luckily, I can now operate within these ever-changing parameters and insure the quality I am looking for.
An added benefit is that I am actually using my hands, brain and talent to make a tangible photograph and that is magic. The whole image making process, from conception to execution is changing my creative world. One informs the other every step of the way. Funny how something from the mid-1800’s is influencing visuals in 2018. I’m grateful to be doing this work.
Please take a look and bookmark this site and also my instagram account. I am always adding new work. Let me know what you think!