Wet plate series: …From the Grave

A few posts back, I hinted at a new wet plate series that was being made. The series are centered around flowers, collected from local graves. The idea behind it is the questions of morale – is it OK to take from the dead? In this case they are ‘just’ flowers that ‘just’ happen to grow on a small plot of land, but is it OK to take flowers that are planted there? Or flowers that someone bought and left for a friend or relative that has passed away? How about any of their personal belongings – going into the subject or ‘proper’ grave robbing? Do we consider the cemetery as a public place of rest where all that stands and grows there belongs to society as a whole?

The advantage to doing this series has been as a practice for my wet-plating skills: to smooth out the collodion pour, better my feel for timing, develop a faster work-flow and provide me with plenty of issues to troubleshoot. Another advantage has been the challenge of styling. Setting up flowers to take a still-life shot has proven more difficult than it should be and I am sorry to say some flowers have been picked without being captured successfully.

I tried to photograph each flower or bunch of flowers as to create a monument for the deceased, to represent something that will last as long as their headstones.

The series is at this time unfinished – even though I initially planned this to encompass only 8 plates – more plates will be added as we progress through the seasons.

 

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Alice Maud Green, died 1958

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; C.N.Butler, died 1915

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; William Alfred Hugh Peddle, died 1919

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Bertha Matilda Brock, died 1939

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Josh Brown, died 1995

wet plate series - from the grave

Wet plate series – from the grave; Minnie Mary Wenham, died 1961

 

 

Wet Plate Shoot: Calvin

A few weeks ago I convinced Calvin, one of the fellow members of PhoCus in Cambridge, to sit for a few wet-plate portraits. We share the same interest in Medium and large-format photography and it would be a good chance for him to see and experience the process before moving back up North.

In the last few sessions, I had photographed people outside as the presence of UV makes the exposure times shorter, whilst providing me with ample (free) light and more space to more in. I had, however, also noticed that exposure times could vary wildly on days where clouds could pass in front of the sun at any given moment. I decided to take this shoot indoors.

For this shoot, we used one unit of Halogen lighting of 2000W on a tripod to the right. There is a skylight in the window behind Calvin, but no other ambient light. We used a (gold) reflector in some of the shots.

 

1. test plate

1. test plate

Happy - circa 12 seconds exposure

Happy – circa 12 seconds exposure

looking away from the camera, lost detail to the eye.

looking away from the camera, lost detail to the eye.

Nice and creepy

Nice and creepy, just the way we like it 😛

 

 

Calvin's first wet plate. 12 x 16 cm on clear glass

Calvin’s first wet plate. 12 x 16 cm on clear glass

 

 

 

 

Using and Repairing a Thornton Pickard Roller Blind shutter

When I bought my new camera (see my last blog post) It came with a slightly sorry-looking TP roller blind shutter. Granted, there was no name stamped onto this thing, but the basic principles seem to be the same.

Personally, never having owned one of these shutters, did not know how to operate one, so it was hard to establish which parts were there, and which were missing. After a good bit of digging the internet I found a few well-illustrated articles on how to replace the blinds and this helped me a great deal in figuring out how this thing works.

So how does it work?

When the thing functions properly, you just have to set the required shutter speed, you pull the spring to wind the mechanism and you press the shutter. Presto!

 

The shutter with lens

The shutter with lens

The lens removed. I had this little block in there, not sure it's really needed although it will help guide the string and blind

The lens removed. I had this little block in there, not sure it’s really needed although it will help guide the string and blind

This side shows the shutter speed it's set to

This side shows the shutter speed it’s set to. The gap in the middle might just be for a screw that’s gone missing.

this side shows the shutter mechanism

this side shows the shutter mechanism

 

To Operate:

 

wind this bottom brass know clockwise to increase the shutter speed

wind this bottom brass knob clockwise to increase the shutter speed

To decrease the shutter speed, push the little level downwards. The spring inside the bottom roll with release it's tension and the dial on the other side will drop to a slower speed.

To decrease the shutter speed, push the little level downwards. The spring inside the bottom roll will release it’s tension and the dial on the other side will drop to a slower speed.

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If your speed setting is not decreasing, help it along by pushing this little toggle gently upwards.

To cock the shutter, pull the string. Mine clicks once into place for an opened setting (handy for long exposure times) but keep pulling to the second click and you're good to go.

To cock the shutter, pull the string. Mine clicks once into place for an opened setting (handy for long exposure times) but keep pulling to the second click and you’re good to go. Keep in mind to set the shutter or keeping a lens cap in place before opening your darkslide!

To fire the shutter, push this little tab outwards. I'm sure there used to be a firing mechanism attached at some point in time, but that's gone.

To fire the shutter, push this little tab outwards. I’m sure there used to be a firing mechanism attached at some point in time, but that’s gone. The brass bits directly underneath might be part of a timed or remote shutter release.

 

And that’s it! Not that hard, until you find a few bits missing. I found mine like this:

 

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It needed some wood repairs (which were my own fault as I could not get this darned thing off the front of the camera), the string and some screws replacing. I’m missing the original loop that holds the string into place, the (remote) shutter mechanism and something that once lived just over the shutter speed setting dial, which may have just been a screw. Lucky for me, the spring mechanism for the shutter speeds and most of the curtain were still intact, and, as it turns out, I had all the needed parts to make it work again.

First, I repaired the wood as that was the easiest part.

wood repairs

wood repairs

Second, the roller blind. I used pieces of adhesive bandage tape, then, when they tore again after only 1 day, I re-enforced them with fabric glue. I forgot to do this at this stage, but this is also a good time to check for fabric integrity and any light leaks. Make repairs where needed and give your blind a fresh coat of acrylic black paint.

remove the brass on the shutter side so you can take out the top roller

remove the brass on the shutter side so you can take out the top roller

Repair the break(s). I used bandage tape, re-enforced with fabric glue

Repair the break(s). I used bandage tape, re-enforced with fabric glue. Clamp them down and leave to cure for 24 hours.

finished repair

finished repair

 

Then, the chord. I had a spindle of green chord of a similar thickness of the remains of the pull string in the shutter. I pulled it through, knotted it to keep it in place and wound a good part of it onto the string (anticlockwise, so over the top towards yourself). You’ll need about 30 cm as you’ll need to accommodate the full length of the shutter and then some. Guide the string into the little groove on the side of your shutter and pull it through the little hole at the bottom. Traditionally, the end would hold a ring or wooden toggle to secure the thread, I’ve used a safety pin till I can find something better.

My old cord was knotted at the top so I did the same with my thread.

My old cord was knotted at the top so I did the same with my thread.

wound and guided

New thread wound and guided

thread guide

thread guide. The damaged wooden part shows where once sat a little brass loop.

Secure the end of your pull string

Secure the end of your pull string

 

Finally, I was ready to build this thing back up. Make sure all your repairs are done and dried. Insert your top roller back into it’s place (you will have done this already if you repaired your string) and make sure you got the left side in its little hole. Slide the brass plate over the other, radared side and screw it down. Keep the top roller into place with that small brass plaque that looks a little like a duck face.

brass 'duck face' toggle, here shown with the shutter cog behind it

brass ‘duck face’ toggle, here shown with the shutter cog behind it

On top, screw the shutter cog into place. Make sure you align this properly, so that your first click actually fully opens the shutter and your second click fully  shuts it. It will look like this:

The little snag nearest the biggest needs to point straight west.

The little snag nearest the biggest needs to point straight west.

Then, place the shutter back onto the whole thing. The lower end sits just underneath the brass plate (look for the slots) and the top screws into place.

this side shows the shutter mechanism

shutter placement

 

And that’s it! Congratulations on your repairs and have fun using your new (old) shutter. If you want to read an excellent tutorial on how to make and replace your roller blinds, I’ll gladly refer you to paulewins.com and Lungov.com.

 

 

New Camera, Cards and Wet Plate Series

Howdy everyone! I hope everyone has been enjoying the good weather we’ve been having the past few days (apart from the occasional shower) and is settling back to watch the Tour de France. Apparently someone deemed it appropriate for this circus to cross Cambridge and cause quite an upheaval in everyone’s daily business – including mine! I opted to stay at home, which gives me plenty of time to write a blog post I suppose….

I failed to provide you with one of my most exciting recent updates: My new Camera!

I bought it just a few weeks ago and am still working on a few much-needed repairs. It’s a half plate field camera, no maker’s name but in decent condition with the full movements, in mahogany and bound in brass. It came with a perfect fully working tripod, two lenses -a modern Dallmeyer Serrac series XV f4.5 and a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f4.5 – two mahogany double plate holders, a contact frame and a few other small bits and bobs that don’t quite seem to go with this model. I found it online, went over to take a look, and after a bit of haggling, bought it for £135.00. The bits that need repair are the bellows (some deterioration of the cloth that needs patching, some pinholes) and the shutter(s).

Both shutters that came with this camera – a Thorton Pickard Roller Blind shutter (not marked, but of the type) and a Compur Dial shutter – were broken or semi-functional. The compur dial seems to work on the faster speeds, but sticks on the slower and any attempts to open it up for a servicing have been futile. The screws just won’t come undone! I decided to leave that as-is as I possibly won’t be using it anyway. The TP shutter however, was screwed on to the front of the camera, the Dallmeyer lens glued into it. I took it off the camera, got it back to work but am still working on light-proofing the roller blind material and getting it back onto the camera. I will do a full blog post on the functions and repairs of this shutter as soon as I’ve finished with it.

I am so excited to start using it – I have never had a camera with this many movements before!

 

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Apart from the new camera, I’ve finally gotten round to getting some new business cards. I say some, for I only ordered a few, to see if they are what I imagined they would be like. I ordered the glossy, round cornered, standard sized business cards from Moo.com, using some of my wet-plate images to the front and my QR code and data to the back. The idea was, to make the cards resemble tin-types or old-fashioned calling cards but I think they need a little more tweaking before they do that. They are nice and clean though and it’s great not having to apologize anymore for having the crappiest business cards on the planet.  ^_^

 

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my old card……….functional but boring. I got these dirt cheap from Vistaprint.

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You may not recognize some of the images on my shiny new cards as they belong to a series I am still working on and a blog feature / gallery link has not been created for them yet. The series revolves around us (the living) taking something with belongs to the dead (the flowers on their grave in this case – I’m not that brutal to start digging people up). I am still in two minds on how to title the series.

My first idea was to call it ‘Grave Robbing’, because lets face it, that’s what it is. The patch of land that these persons are resting in has been bought or rented still belongs to them. Or does it? The cemetery is also a park and a public place of rest. Are the flowers personal property? Is it different if they are growing wild on the graves? If they are planted by a relative? If they are left in a vase? Is it morally wrong to take something from a grave?

Another option would be something a little…softer with options such as ‘…from the Grave’, ‘Gifts from the Grave’, ‘Taken’ or ‘Beyond the Veil’. What do you think?

 

 

 

Infinite possibilities: the oppression of choice

During a short stint of cleaning up our house today (It’s a completely futile endeavor, I’m just too messy) I came across a small little slip of paper that I once found tucked away in a second-hand book I had bought. The image: an airplane over mountains. The text: Infinite possibilities. Such a lovely and simple image with such an encouraging text. But it’s not quite as simple as this image would make it out to be.

That’s why I wanted to share it – for many of us, including myself, it’s actually not been that great growing up with infinite possibilities. No, no, don’t get me wrong, I realize it’s very much a First World Problem – and not having any choices isn’t exactly great either. I should consider myself very fortunately to have loving and supportive parents, a brain that functions above average and have some measure of creativity. I could choose a path and perhaps – just perhaps – make something of myself. And choose I did, continuously, occasionally stopping to stare like a rabbit into headlights, bewildered by the sheer number of options.

After high school, I tried a fashion institute for 2 years, learned how to sew, went to an Art College for 2 years, decided on university to get my bachelor degree in religious studies and then continued to gain my master degree in medieval studies. I then got stuck in office and call center work (‘safe’ and ‘accepted’ jobs) until we moved to the UK in 2008 and I realized I needed to be a photographer. I was 28 at that time and had considered being a librarian, archivist, makeup artist, taxidermist, zoo keeper, vet, painter, office clerk, renaissance specialist, restorer of paintings or works on paper, working for a museum, working for the BBC, working for the Discovery channel, travel journalist, war photographer, potter, printer, fashion designer, illustrator, sculptor, gardener aaaaaand antiques dealer.

It has always struck me as silly that we make our fresh-faced teenagers choose their careers by the age of 11-13.

You’ll have to decide what to be when you grow up. What job you will have, what sort of person you will be. Will you be a parent or would you rather not to be? Will you travel – or will you choose to stay in your home town? Live life securely in a steady job or risk it all on the horses. Work away the hours into the night to realize your dreams of becoming an inventor, artist, musician – without any guarantees for success. Or work 9-5 and enjoy the weekends and holidays.

People will tell you to find your passion – do what you love – find your special talent; yes, I do believe everyone has something to contribute to this world and our society. But it’s not like you can just go camping for a day or two to ‘find yourself’ and whatever it is your are especially good at. Us creatives – I’ll just put myself in that group, because let’s face it, that’s where I belong – will always struggle to find affirmation. Are we actually any good? Are we good enough? What is good enough? And when you do realize what you want to do (there are plenty out there with very similar ‘dream jobs’) will you be able to get hired, be scouted or discovered? The fine line between dreams and realistic possibilities can be razor sharp indeed.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have stuck with an academic path? Or keep an office job? It would have been much safer but I’m willing to bet, not half as much fun! I found out after some trial and error that full-time photography work would not be for me, nor would any other full-time position. I just get distracted too easily. At this time, I think I have a happy balance between photography and antique hunting – the best things being that there was no interview for the position, no stifling corporate culture, no dress code and no annoying colleagues!

What about you? When did you realize what you wanted to do with your brief life? Maybe you’ve still to decide and you find yourself stuck in limbo? In which measure did you decide on the many twists and turns in your life or did they ‘just happen to you’?

 

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