Large Format Photography – Day 2 & 3 in the Netherlands

On the Monday night I hardly managed to get any sleep somehow – I shall blame it on the huge list of things-to-do on my list!

After getting up at silly-O-clock (6:00) I check on my collodion mixture – and it looks good! I pour a little on the ends of some narrow-cut plates so I can leave those in the silver bath jar overnight.

 

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My mum and I went on an epic shopping round through the area, visiting 6 second-hand shops to find things I still needed for this project. Remember – I may be sponsored but I am on a budget! Let’s make that buck go further! This time, I found a good glass bowl, wisk, ‘plate fryer’ aka BBQ utensil, coffee filter, small bottles with screwcap (these are actually baby bottles and they are a fantastic size! Don’t mix them up with the one for the baby though…) and a drying rack.

So having gotten these items, I decant the collodion mixture into 3 of these 300 ml bottles (2 full, 1 to about 1/3rd). I mixed up the egg whites and ammonium iodine to create albumen that will form the base for my dry plates. The eggs fizzed up amazingly quick but the scummy texture of the whites is kinda apaling after it has been sitting around for the required few hours. I also decanted this into the 300 ml baby bottles.

 

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Next, I was on to deburring some glass. After all, I intend to use those plates and would not like to cut myself. I put a large flat wetstone (available from DIY shops or like I did, a sports shop. They use them for deburring ice skates) in a tray to catch the water and grit coming off the plates. It makes a lot of noise doing this, so I recommend you not doing it too early or late at night.

 

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Having a few safe glass plates, I clean them and coat them with the albumen. Then I try ‘baking’ them using a hotplate. The first plate slips through the wires of the ‘plate baking tray’ and falls crashing to the ground. I am more careful with the others. It takes forever for the plates to dry and since by this time it’s getting dark, the mosquitos are very annoying and what’s worse: distracting. I call it a night and whilst I am clearing away my things, I leave two of the plates unattended on the hotplate for about 5 minutes, resulting in a crack and a full break. Right, lesson learned.

 

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The next day, I gather a few things from the hardware store – I need to reinforce the stand for my darkbox with some chains (something I have not gotten round to but should seem fairly important) and I got a ground cover to make sure I don’t leak any Silver mixture onto my Mum’s garden tiles. I cut some additional pieces of glass as my test pieces are running out quickly – from the sheet I used I only destroyed about 1/10th of it, as most cuts were straight and clean and snapped cleanly. I bet I could get good at it over time!

 

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I made a second attempt at coating some glass with the albumen mixture from yesterday – the baking over the hotplate is so-so at best as I obviously cannot trust it not to break my glass plates if I leave it unattended, and it takes roughly 5 -10 minutes for each plate to dry sufficiently to put it away on a drying rack.

I simply do not have the patience to sit and ‘bake’ several plates like this, it would take almost 2 hours to do a batch of 10! For now, I have done about 6, enough to run a few tests on tomorrow or Friday.

 

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By this time, the weather was still a fairly dark grey, as it had been since late morning and I was getting fairly confident it might not rain after all until the evening. My camera had been stored on the attic so I dragged it downstairs (it is just as heavy as it looks) and set it up outside, on the ground cover -obviously- and next to the darkbox.

 

After hauling out all the chemicals and setting up the work space I was ready to take my first test shot on wet plate.

 

I picked a subject from the garden – a tabacco plant – and focussed on it. I soon noticed that *duh* it will never stand really still due to the wind speeds on this particular day. I put a stepladder behind it, and tied the plant to the ladder, minimising movement. Apparently it wasn’t enough, as my exposure of 30 seconds (too short), the movement of the plant (minimal but too much when doing a close-up) and piss-pooor pouring techniques resulted in a fine failure. Also, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to pour your collodion base inside the darkroom, hardly being able to see a thing, and to forget proper procedure for all of the steps after exposure. *Don’t panic now, it’s your first go*

I changed the subject, re-focussed the camera, coated another plate – outside the darkbox this time – sensitized it, exposed it for 2 minutes and developed. The image came up hard a strong and stupid me – the mixture didn’t flow nice and even over the plate – I addded more. This plate ceratinly looks creative, even though it is hardly recognisable for what it is supposed to be. A faint outline of the steps and candle are visible, however and I am delighted to be able to see my chemcials mixtures actually working.

Having two plates with some obvious flaws from my side, I cannot help but think that ‘yes these flaws are big, but there is so much distortion going on, there must be other issues at hand’.  A quick google search and a single trip to a wet plate photography forum brought me some helpful answers: I can dilute the developer 1:1, try using tray developing instead of a pouring method and there might be light leaks in my darkbox. Damn.

Yes, I did notice it not being fantastically dark in my darkbox at all times, me naievely thinking it might not hit the plates so badly. WRONG! The third plate I took today was my safelight test – or lack thereof. I coated a plate, put it in the silver bath, took it out, waited about 20 seconds and then developed it. There was a HUGE light stain on the little glass piece! Needless to say, I have taken some time to re-asses my darkbox and added some apparently much needed bits of tape to the sides and the entrance, which is now a fair bit smaller than before. Hopefully the weather will be good enough to try again tomorrow!

 

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