Dusseldorf: Heinrich Heine Institut & Theatermuseum

In the last few weeks it's been very hot in the whole of Europe. Thank goodness we're having a real summer and none of that wishy-washy nonsense we normally have to put up with. Apart from going into town, barbequing at the Rhine and swimming at a local pool, Georgiana and myself have been to the Heinrich Heine Institute and the Theater museum, both in Dusseldorf.   This will be a short post, as neither was much fun.   The Heinrich Heine Institute was, on the day we went, manned by a single lady at a desk - who most cheerfully allowed us in and presented us with a free English audio guide. When taking the tour, the audio guide often failed to give us additional information to what we could already see for ourselves and proved excellent at stating the obvious. There was some nice furniture and a few paintings, but at the end of the tour, we still failed to see why this man was held in such high regard.   Heinrich Heine Institut   At the Theater Museum we did not fare any better. First, it does not cater to English-speakers. We were explained in fine detail by the man taking our coupons which way to walk and what to see first, beginning with the temporary exhibit which seemed to have been put together by a bunch of amateurs. It consisted of a collage of sorts, made up by home-printed and cut photographs of behind-the-scene footage. Normally I love to see photographs, but not like this. Upstairs, where the permanent exhibition resides we were treated to  a few nice images and costumes - but we had come expecting a little more....history. One room particularly, centered around WWII was remarkably empty. I ventured into a hallway (the door was open to allow a draft in the hot weather) where I found a beautiful piece - the best in the building I dare say. A shame it wasn't officially on display.    

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Large Format Photography – Day 13 & 14 in the Netherlands

Day 13 did not get any better than day 11 & 12. The weather had continued to be hot and muggy - and my collodion, even though it should have been ready for use, did not seem clear enough just yet. The work on the dark box finished, so the wooden construction is done. I still need to get the blackout fabric and the little red acrylic plates that will make up the windows. I cut some glass panes to classic Daguerreotype, Ambrotype and Tintype sizes and decided to go with 3 of them, to be able to get sizes to create dip tanks and such.  

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  Then, finally, day 14. The weather was still warm and muggy *sigh*. I started fresh and early, beginning with the testing of the collodion - and it was looking good! I shot several plates throughout the day and managed to find a little extra energy to shoot a little comparison; a normal plate, and overdeveloped plate (3 minutes instead of 15-20 secs) and a over sensitized plate (25 minutes instead of 3). I will have to add, that since I'm working with an open silver tray, some light may have come onto the plate as I carefully exited and entered the darkbox to shoot the other plates. I did not test over fixing as I should have. I already have the tendency to leave my plates for 15-20 minutes in hypo, a lot longer than necessary, and I would have benefited to see the results. Perhaps next time eh?  

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  The last plate I shot, I tried to take a closeup of some flowers. Not easy as the exposure times was between 10-20 seconds and there was a light breeze. The moment I started development, half of the collodion just let go of the plate! I carefully  developed, fixed and rinsed the image, then peeling the layer carefully off the plate as best I could before scooping it up onto a wet piece of black paper. I then let it dry naturally. I tried to re-create this effect with a failed plate I was going to wash for re-use. I put the plates in water and added a little drop of washing-up liquid to it. Gently moving the water to and fro, the images flew off the plates! The only issue I had with these was the drying process and the washing detergent somehow prevents it from adhering to the paper. I will try further on this, as the solution is possible quite simple. Let me know if you've already figured it out!  

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Large Format Photography – Day 11 & 12 in the Netherlands

This Sunday, my day 11, I set up my gear nice and early - to find out I was quickly running out of collodion mix. Having set away a new batch of  'Poe Boy' (Poor Boy, recipe by John Coffer) I got to work. And it was rubbish!!! I struggled for about 2-3 hours as the now nearly wine red collodion slid happily off every plate I poured. I had this issue last time so I made sure to clean every single plate to within an inch of it's life but to no avail. The solution finally seemed to be not to add a little alcohol but a LOT. Just for the hell of it, I decided to shoot and develop one of the 'sliding'plates. I wish I hadn't. Even though the end result was almost interesting, it messed up my silver bath (a simple filtering sorted it thank goodness), and my developing bath as it was now a flaky grey-black instead of the yellow-brownish I was used to. I've also included a test plate which I fixed in hypo, but let dry without washing. I have to say I find this effect interesting, but think I will make sure to wash my plate carefully before setting them to dry.  

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  The weather was fine, sunny, hot and a bit muggy. At this point I absolutely wish I hadn't made my darkbox out of wood and plastic. I shot an additional plate for my Dutchie project, one of my brother, one of my mum, but by the time I tried to photograph my dad, the collodion spluttered and died on me. The sensitivity had completely gone and sliding issues were playing up again. My collodion at this point was 6 weeks old.  

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  So, while I waited for my fresh batch of collodion to clear, I decided to start work on Darkbox V2.0, using a design that was posted on the collodion.com forum. While my day 12 started with design, measurements and a trip to the dentist, the afternoon was mostly spend at the local hardware shop, trying to get my wooden boards cut to size and to find the other bits and bobs I would need. When in Germany, I had found a rather nice large projector lens for a fiver, and decided to go ahead and see if it would fit my camera. I made a simple (and very cost-effective) temporary lens board out of a bit of cardboard box. To my surprise, I actually got an image with enough coverage. I do not know why I was so surprised, it is perhaps because I don't know much about lenses (yet). The upside to the lens is that it's very bright. There are no f-stops built in, so shutter speeds can be fast. The downside is that there is no shutter and no f-stops! The depth-of-field of this thing is utterly shallow - which does make it kind of fun to use as long as you are ok with not having the pin-sharp images you would get from other lenses. I did two test shots with this lens - but both came out terribly overexposed on an ill-considered compositional shot and I will try again next visit. To get a little more from this lens, I needed a way to bring it closer to my focusing plane at the rear, so I made a simple recessed lens board for it. The difference is only about 3-4 cm, but this will allow me to focus a little further away, maybe even enabling me to take the camera out sometime and shoot a landscape with it. The next logical step would be to create some f-stops  (like Waterhouse stops) with it, but I'll need to do a bit of research to see how best to approach this.  

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Photo Collecting: additions

Last Sunday Sean and I went to the Radschlagermarkt (a.k.a. GroBmarkt) in Dusseldorf. This massive flea market is being held once every month and it is well worth the visit. This trip, I was especially excited for the gentleman I bought some photo's from last time would be back for this market, and he promised to bring a box of images for me to look through. When first seeing the material, I was not too impressed - but, even between very very mundane and boring personal photos there can be some hidden gems. If you know what you like, and what you are looking for. One thing I always dread in these images are the tiny little (often blurred) people looking expectantly at the camera. Hands up all who have been guilty of doing this one time or another: awful portraits 1 awful portraits 2 We don't know who they are and frankly, why would we care? But, as the amateur photographer of today can get lucky with a photo every now and again, so could an amateur photographer back then. Personally, I think the composition on these images is not that bad, except for image 1 is taken from so far away that we cannot properly see who's on the photo - and image 2 - even though I quite like the use of negative space - is not very well lit or focused if it was meant to be a portrait.   Sometimes, just like in these times, an amateur photographer can display a core of talent, or get lucky, resulting in beautiful (be it still quite personal) images:  

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  Apart from those images, which I all like for different reasons, I also got a stack of little holiday snapshots, sized ca. 6 x 6 cm. I am not quite sure what I'll do with them, I'm toying with the idea of framing them as a long made-up panorama, or perhaps as a grid-like collage. Another option would be to transfer them onto another surface. I'll think about it before rushing into anything. I love how some of the images conjure up the feeling of Italy or of Florida in the 50's, with warm sunny stretches of beach, terraces and relaxation.  

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Burg Castle in Solingen & Schloss Benrath

A couple of weeks ago we decided to visit Burg Castle in Solingen. Not just because it's a castle, and we feel a little obliged to visit it whilst we are living so near it, but also because it had a medieval market that weekend and we just looove those! Getting there proved to become a small nightmare in itself, with a long walk to the train station, train ticket confusion, 2 bus rides and finally chair lift ride, for which we had to pay separately. After nearly two delightful hours, we got to the market. The market itself was alright, not very large, and mostly with vendors selling food, drink or tat. Toys, cheaply made jewellery, a Celtic sword made in Taiwan and furs. Yes, furs. Apparently the German population doesn't think twice about where these products come from for every man and his neighbor walked around with pelts like Game of Thrones' "winter is coming". Wolf, fox, cow, sheep, elk, you name it. Needless to say we didn't get any and decided to check out the castle. The castle in itself is fairly nice, although like many other German heritage sites it is restored to within an inch of it's life. A beautiful place to get married, not so much to see the full brunt of history bearing down on the stones. I liked some of the weaponry on display, the little chapel and the apothecary that flared up a bout of envy in the storage-loving part of me. Imagine having a place like that of your own! There were lots of people in the castle due to the market (both inside and out which was a nice touch) and it made viewing some of the displays cumbersome to say the least. Once outside the gates again we paid a visit to the Solingen knife shop, which has an impressive selection of fine pocket knives. We were actually a little disappointed that we didn't manage to find any proper blades (swords) anywhere on the market stalls or in the shops surrounding the castle - but who knows, maybe they are hiding out there somewhere.  

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  On another weekend, we went to Schloss Benrath as we had use of the car this time. We found it easily enough with help of the Satnav, parked in one of the streets surrounding this little palace and got ourselves inside. There were two downers from the start: I had failed to look properly in my coupon book so I thought entrance would be free - AND it turned out we could only get in with a tour guide - so we paid the lady and waited for the tour to start. Everything was, ofcourse, in German. We had to leave our bags behind so I took my little camera out whilst we went round and managed to get a few nice images before I got slapped on the wrist for nobody was allowed to make photos! Oh my! Truth be told, I was a little miffed. I would have LOVED to make a lot more photo's in this place. Heck, I could use some decoration inspiration. Schloss Benrath is not a huge residential palace, but a sweet little summer getaway, lovingly restored and everything feels authentic. Every room has it's own unique look and feel depending to it's previous owner and function. They are doing everything they can to preserve the original marble and wood polished floors, so all the guests and tour guides have to wear slippers over their shoes when going round. There is even an upstairs section with a painting 'gallery' and servant quarters above those. The tour rushed us through some of the parts, for there are some sections that have little exhibits on display - and we didn't get enough time to look at everything before being pushed on. It is actually possible to see every part of the house, including going through the secret staircases and into the servant's dwellings, but make sure to call in advance as only selected tours (in small groups) can enter. The gardens adjacent and to the rear of the palace are in French (hers) and English (his) styles and free to the general public.  

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Burg Castle in Solingen & Schloss Benrath

A couple of weeks ago we decided to visit Burg Castle in Solingen. Not just because it's a castle, and we feel a little obliged to visit it whilst we are living so near it, but also because it had a medieval market that weekend and we just looove those! Getting there proved to become a small nightmare in itself, with a long walk to the train station, train ticket confusion, 2 bus rides and finally chair lift ride, for which we had to pay separately. After nearly two delightful hours, we got to the market. The market itself was alright, not very large, and mostly with vendors selling food, drink or tat. Toys, cheaply made jewellery, a Celtic sword made in Taiwan and furs. Yes, furs. Apparently the German population doesn't think twice about where these products come from for every man and his neighbor walked around with pelts like Game of Thrones' "winter is coming". Wolf, fox, cow, sheep, elk, you name it. Needless to say we didn't get any and decided to check out the castle. The castle in itself is fairly nice, although like many other German heritage sites it is restored to within an inch of it's life. A beautiful place to get married, not so much to see the full brunt of history bearing down on the stones. I liked some of the weaponry on display, the little chapel and the apothecary that flared up a bout of envy in the storage-loving part of me. Imagine having a place like that of your own! There were lots of people in the castle due to the market (both inside and out which was a nice touch) and it made viewing some of the displays cumbersome to say the least. Once outside the gates again we paid a visit to the Solingen knife shop, which has an impressive selection of fine pocket knives. We were actually a little disappointed that we didn't manage to find any proper blades (swords) anywhere on the market stalls or in the shops surrounding the castle - but who knows, maybe they are hiding out there somewhere.  

no images were found

  On another weekend, we went to Schloss Benrath as we had use of the car this time. We found it easily enough with help of the Satnav, parked in one of the streets surrounding this little palace and got ourselves inside. There were two downers from the start: I had failed to look properly in my coupon book so I thought entrance would be free - AND it turned out we could only get in with a tour guide - so we paid the lady and waited for the tour to start. Everything was, ofcourse, in German. We had to leave our bags behind so I took my little camera out whilst we went round and managed to get a few nice images before I got slapped on the wrist for nobody was allowed to make photos! Oh my! Truth be told, I was a little miffed. I would have LOVED to make a lot more photo's in this place. Heck, I could use some decoration inspiration. Schloss Benrath is not a huge residential palace, but a sweet little summer getaway, lovingly restored and everything feels authentic. Every room has it's own unique look and feel depending to it's previous owner and function. They are doing everything they can to preserve the original marble and wood polished floors, so all the guests and tour guides have to wear slippers over their shoes when going round. There is even an upstairs section with a painting 'gallery' and servant quarters above those. The tour rushed us through some of the parts, for there are some sections that have little exhibits on display - and we didn't get enough time to look at everything before being pushed on. It is actually possible to see every part of the house, including going through the secret staircases and into the servant's dwellings, but make sure to call in advance as only selected tours (in small groups) can enter. The gardens adjacent and to the rear of the palace are in French (hers) and English (his) styles and free to the general public.  

no images were found

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Large Format Photography – Day 9 & 10 in the Netherlands

After day 7 & 8 - I had another day and a half left to work on my wet plate photography. On day 9 I managed to shoot a few plate, a little larger than what I had done before, using the 2000W video light and the camera set-up in the shed. The weather was ok, but as the sun was coming and going all the time, the circumstances were less than ideal for practice. I managed to get plate 2 & 3 of my Dutchy series on this day: "Apples of Orange" (a choice between two) and "Black Gold". The last image of the apple is overdeveloped and unfortunately, it shows! (I'll run some tests on over-development, over-fixing, over-sensitizing next time)  

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  Later on the afternoon the weather stabilized and I tried taking a portrait image of my mum. And boy did that fail! It took me two tries with only her shirt and some highlights of her hair showing up (not the face, no outlines, no nothing!) AND and test strip from 10 - 80 seconds to realize that my developer may have some issues. The plates were all coated the same as in the morning, and turning into a milky white from the silver bath. They were definitely exposed, I double checked the plate holder and the lens on all three tries. So I changed the bath and things turned back to normal, judging by the last plate I shot this day - of dried out old coral (which has sat in our basement for decades). Excuse the overexposure - I had the 2000W lights a little closer by as I did on the other shots whilst not adjusting the exposure time.   By this time, It was getting too late to shoot any more plates. Twilight was setting in and I found it impossible to maneuver around in the dark box.
Coral

Coral test

                      On this day I had also been cutting and deburring glass, and varnishing the plates I had done so far and was willing to keep. I have cleaned off the other plates that I considered failures. Collodion cleans off easily with a little soapy warm water - or even just plain cold water. I had countless mis-pours of collodion this day (due to the collodion being too thick and/ or the plate not clean enough and/ or me not working fast enough) and it was a good thing I kept a plastic sheet covering the garden table at all times because at the end of this, it was quite a mess.   On day 10 of my wet-plate project I took things a little easier. I only had half a day before I needed to catch my train and I wanted to make sure I had cleaned up after myself before leaving for Germany. I went into town with my Mum to get a clock to go into the darkbox, buy some more rubber gloves, cotton pads - you know, the glamorous side to this project. Later, I finally finished my plate holder that had been in the making since January/ February this year. I have yet to test it - but it fits the back of the camera snugly and that's a great start.  

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  Obviously I would have done a few things differently looking back on this little project. I would not have use a grounding layer of paint as the dark stuff will hold well enough on it own. I would have cut the frame from the inside of the plate adapter differently, so the finger hole would be in a corner. I would have tried cutting the inside of the plate adapter away more cleanly so I could have used it as another adapter for even smaller plates. I would have been more careful with my measurements and accounted for any details living on the outside of the plate holder - I know I got lucky this time!      

Large Format Photography – Day 9 & 10 in the Netherlands

After day 7 & 8 - I had another day and a half left to work on my wet plate photography. On day 9 I managed to shoot a few plate, a little larger than what I had done before, using the 2000W video light and the camera set-up in the shed. The weather was ok, but as the sun was coming and going all the time, the circumstances were less than ideal for practice. I managed to get plate 2 & 3 of my Dutchy series on this day: "Apples of Orange" (a choice between two) and "Black Gold". The last image of the apple is overdeveloped and unfortunately, it shows! (I'll run some tests on over-development, over-fixing, over-sensitizing next time)  

no images were found

  Later on the afternoon the weather stabilized and I tried taking a portrait image of my mum. And boy did that fail! It took me two tries with only her shirt and some highlights of her hair showing up (not the face, no outlines, no nothing!) AND and test strip from 10 - 80 seconds to realize that my developer may have some issues. The plates were all coated the same as in the morning, and turning into a milky white from the silver bath. They were definitely exposed, I double checked the plate holder and the lens on all three tries. So I changed the bath and things turned back to normal, judging by the last plate I shot this day - of dried out old coral (which has sat in our basement for decades). Excuse the overexposure - I had the 2000W lights a little closer by as I did on the other shots whilst not adjusting the exposure time.   By this time, It was getting too late to shoot any more plates. Twilight was setting in and I found it impossible to maneuver around in the dark box.
Coral

Coral test

                      On this day I had also been cutting and deburring glass, and varnishing the plates I had done so far and was willing to keep. I have cleaned off the other plates that I considered failures. Collodion cleans off easily with a little soapy warm water - or even just plain cold water. I had countless mis-pours of collodion this day (due to the collodion being too thick and/ or the plate not clean enough and/ or me not working fast enough) and it was a good thing I kept a plastic sheet covering the garden table at all times because at the end of this, it was quite a mess.   On day 10 of my wet-plate project I took things a little easier. I only had half a day before I needed to catch my train and I wanted to make sure I had cleaned up after myself before leaving for Germany. I went into town with my Mum to get a clock to go into the darkbox, buy some more rubber gloves, cotton pads - you know, the glamorous side to this project. Later, I finally finished my plate holder that had been in the making since January/ February this year. I have yet to test it - but it fits the back of the camera snugly and that's a great start.  

no images were found

  Obviously I would have done a few things differently looking back on this little project. I would not have use a grounding layer of paint as the dark stuff will hold well enough on it own. I would have cut the frame from the inside of the plate adapter differently, so the finger hole would be in a corner. I would have tried cutting the inside of the plate adapter away more cleanly so I could have used it as another adapter for even smaller plates. I would have been more careful with my measurements and accounted for any details living on the outside of the plate holder - I know I got lucky this time!      

Large Format Photography – Day 7 & 8 in the Netherlands

I arrived in the Netherlands by train around 1-ish on the Tuesday and after a little catching up with my mum I set to work, dragging my camera down from the attic and setting up my ingredients and tools outside like I did last time. Under the umbrellas because once again we are expecting rain. Don't you just love a country with lots of rain? I had decided to re-mix the developer and the fixer, lucky me I managed to remember to dilute the developer 1:1 with demineralised water. In the past week, I had gotten myself a cute little notebook to jot down any ideas I may have for my large format project and started work on the project I have set myself. I have yet to find a proper name for the project, but it will encompass all things Dutch. For now I'll call it: "Dutchy" My little notebook now has over 20 pages with little drawings and I have started with the most obvious one that Holland has plenty of: Water. The weather was being a right b*tch as it kept going from sunnny to hazy to cloudy to hazy to cloudy.... you get the idea - so pin-pointing the exact shutter times was impossible. I did manage to get some plates shot ok - and then after they dried I noticed the peeling. OH NO! I forgot to dilute the collodion with some additional alcohol! Darn! Apart from that, the lids on my perfect sized little baby bottles are breaking down as they may be either too old, or cannot take the chemical fumes. I have put my Collodion in another (bigger) jar for now and will keep pouring it into the small baby bottles for pouring. Fortunately for me, the last plate on day 7 (also the best) came out ok without flaking too bad and I'll see to coating it with varnish a.s.a.p.  

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  Also on day 7, I did the first trial run on varnishing some plates - making my own oil lamp after watching some YouTube videos on how to do that. Errrrr.... yeah. I would recommend getting an actual oil lamp, or to be a little better at building one as mine kept smoking and blackened to backs on my plates in a nice even layer of soot. It's easy to remove the soot from the back with a damp cloth, but the downside is that any bit of varnish that got into contact with it will be stained black - permanently. (all my black parts seem to be on the back thank goodness). Needless to say, I will now use a store-bought lamp.  

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  Pouring the varnish was actually not too difficult as the stuff is a lot thinner than the collodion, almost like water, and flows over the plate with ease. The instructional videos (on Youtube again) seemed to contradict eachother, one saying rocking the plate like you do collodion upon pouring any excess off, the other advising against it. One person was pouring back into the same bottle, the other advising against it. Well - I don't think rocking did that much for it, so you might as well leave it - but I would recommend pouring off into a seperate conatiner as the mixture will get slightly contaminated by the collodions it flows over. I tried some various pouring methods on the plates as I had a few spare from my first images attempts and I have to say: the last ones came out pretty good, with an even layer. And in case you were thinking varnish is a little more forgiving when it comes to double-pouring? Nope - forget it. You will get bumps and lines and whatnot - unless that's what you are going for ofcourse.  

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  After all this testing I can now finally go ahead and shoot some more plates and iron out some of those little issues I'm still having. I just wish this bloomin' weather would clear! (I was promised sunshine but all I see is a thick layer of clouds) Oh well, shooting in the shed it is then..................     __________________________________________________________________