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Wet Plate Collodion Weekend 2015 – Llanthony Priory, Wales

Last weekend of the 7th, 8th and 9th of August myself and a bunch of other wet plate photographers gathered ourselves in a field just besides the gorgeous ruins of the Llanthony Priory in Wales, UK. We met up on the Friday afternoon, or rather in the evening for those of us that needed to come from far flung corners of the UK and Scotland (and Geralt from the USA) and we would start our wet plating on the Saturday morning. Getting there almost proved too much of a challenge as my satnav decided to give up 30 miles before reaching the final destination. Lucky for me, I found someone with a map!

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Brilliantly arranged once again by Tony Richards (you can find his blog here), there was an easily accessible field for our dark tents, running water and a pub on site. I brought along my newly purchased and blacked out Eskimo 3 quickfish tent, a gift for my birthday this year, but still opted to shoot with my small half-plate camera as I know the camera are silverbath are in good working order and the plate holder is light tight. The amount of space in the Eskimo tent now means I can go up in plate sizes as I’ll finally have space for that silver bath I still mean to build!IMG_9944

We started our Friday in the pub, catching up with old and new friends. The camp site was fine, the grass wet and dewwy and the night just a bit cold. Ahhhh Camping in the UK, always a joy!

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the stars were out in force!

 

SATURDAY

On the Saturday morning, we get started. The first few plates seem to be ok. Not without their faults, but acceptable. The first few go into the bin or on the recycling pile. I get a couple of good plates, but I also see some issues that I’ve not had to this extent. On the plus side, I’ve had a lot less problems with crepe lines. Some plates work fine, and I’ll be proud to add them to my permanent collection.

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Like this ‘staining’

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I love this one!

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Digital snap of the same spot

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Technically OK, just a shame that the framing isn’t very good….

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As the afternoon heated up, we had a LOT of fogging issues

 

SUNDAY

I had gone to bed a bit earlier this time and set my alarm at stupid-o-clock in the morning, to start shooting around 6.45. Since most of us will be packing up and driving back home today, we won’t have the entire day. Starting with a view on the priory that was popular with my fellow wetplaters the day before, I tried to catch the early morning sun as it passes onto the ruins. After a test plate on glass (which was an utter failure) I tried another, which I messed up in my plate holder, hence the damage in the center. This was 40 seconds on f22. I have no idea why I got that watery crap on the edge of my plate though. My best guess at this moment is that I may not have developed as well as I could have, or rinsed as well as I should have.

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oops

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Attempt 2. The sun hits the priory. I digitally cleaned up the sky a little, but there’s still a lot going on there

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my Eskimo tent on the right – proud part of an eskimo tent line-up 🙂

 

Giving up on that view as the sun had now gone behind a large stack of clouds, I moved my camera a little closer to my darkroom. The rest of this day would be overcast but also less hot, providing us with less contrast and less fogging issues.

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One of several attempts

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also a personal favourite

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The last shot of the weekend

 

The whole weekend has been an absolute joy – the location, the company, the activities, the food and drink at the bar…. even the weather. Good luck to Tony for trying to top this one next year, I know I’ll be looking forward to it!

Photography Presentation: Greg Funnell

Almost every single time I’m writing a blog post I’m wandering where time went. In this specific post I wanted to write about a photography presentation by Greg Funnell that I went to on the 12th of February, and that was already well over a week ago! Thanks goodness ‘late is better than never’, and his work has not gone out of fashion in this short time span.

This talk was organised by the Phocus group. From his website www.gregfunnell.com:

 

“Greg studied History and War Studies at Kings College London before moving into photography. He’s since  spent the last 8 years working for clients that include Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times Magazine, The Guardian, the Financial Times, the Washington Post. Shooting everything from commissioned celebrity portraits, to travel assignments, in-depth documentary features and development work in the field for NGOs. He also works in the commercial and advertising sector producing campaigns and content for clients on international campaigns, especially in the travel, lifestyle and adventure industries.

His work for charities and NGO’s in the UK and abroad, involves being relied upon to deliver the goods in often unstable environments. Having worked across Africa, South East Asia and Latin America for clients such as Save the Children, ActionAid and WWF.”

 

As the talk began, I felt a little bit like an intruder as I was the only non (phd) student present. The talk was interesting: Greg told us about his life so far (he’s only in his early 30’s), how he got into photo journalism by starting at the college newspaper, taking silly risks like going abroad without a solid plan and getting caught up in crossfires and learning on the job. He presented us with tips to get into the trade, amusing anecdotes about people he photographed and a short list of recommended books to read. He’s taken a ton of amazing images so far, my favourite ones being the surfing images (I’m prejudiced!) and his portrait work.

I will also admit to finding slight amusement in Greg’s apparent diversion from his original planned story at times – it’s so recognisable. I’ve only presented my wet-plating work twice, but both times I happily went on several side-roads to the subject we were discussing.

Meeting Greg afterwards, I was a little surprised to hear that he has an interest in learning about wet plate photography. We agreed that come spring, he and his assistant could make the journey up from London to experience the process first-hand and perhaps even start using it in their London studio. I do hope he decides to do just that!

 

Featured image by Greg Funnell, you can see more of his work on his website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Darkroom – Photography Social – Big January Debate

At the end of January, we had the Big January Debate at the Cambridge Darkroom Meetup themed ‘Is cropping cheating? where I was supposed to be one of the members on the discussion panel, sitting straight across one of the organisers Dom Reed, better known as Mr. Flibble on Flickr who makes heavy use of image editing in his photographic work. I was supposed to take the side of the purist, as a user of antique photographic processes – but I found it really hard to do so.

Unfortunately for this event, we were not able to make use of our normal room at the Cambridge Brewhouse and we were forced to shift to the restaurant opposite. They kindly made space for us and pushed several tables together, pulled out some extra chairs and we made do. It was hard to try and hold a discussion in a noise restaurant, in the middle of a long table, and trying to get everyone to hear you, but as the evening progressed more people started joining in and it was great to see some new faces and hear some (new) opinions.

The main questions of the discussion were: Is cropping cheating, any any techniques allowed, when does an image shift from photography into digital art. Dom point of view consisted mainly in: everything is allowed, the technology is there and why not use it? Sometimes there is just no other way to take a certain shot as practical, financial or timing issues get in the way. Sometime you think you got it right, but it turns out you are just a little off, what wrong with correcting this afterwards, especially if it helps the image?

I do agree, but for the sake of the discussion I did not – and my main arguments were: It’s lazy not to get in right in camera, there is zoom and sneaker zoom (walk to or from your subject) and there is such a thing as using the right tools for the job, researching your subject / location and timing, knowing your camera settings and making sure those are right for what you are trying to achieve.  Having a great technical advantage is one thing, but can you really call yourself a photographer if you shoot on ‘luck’ or just on post-editing and say ‘it’s part of your process’. Blurry images have time and time again been excused as ‘artistic intent’, but when is it actually acceptable?

We finished the discussion on an overall consensus that no-one actually thought that post-editing an image was wrong – in the understanding that certain jobs might require more, less or no editing. Like wedding photography (it’s normal for images to be Photoshopped) or reportage photography (it’s frowned upon to edit these images)

Cambridge Darkroom – Photography Social can be found in Meetup.com – and we gather every last Thursday of the month.

 

 

 

MPC, PhoCUS, King’s College Darkroom & RPS

On this last day of January I’m feeling ever more guilty about not actually shooting any wet plates in the cold. Luckily, I had some distractions in the form of my presentation for the Milton Photographic Club on the 21st of January, a portfolio review at Caius College with the good people from Phocus (the Cambridge University Photographic Society) and the viewing of the newly put together King’s College Darkroom. Apart from that, I finally joined the RPS and even though I fully forgot about the presentation being held today on ‘How to get Published’ I’ll be looking forward in getting involved in my local (East Anglian) Region.

 

The talk at the Milton Photographic Society went well – I always dread I sound boring, flat or monotonous or that I’m not explaining the process correctly, making people more confused then they might already have been. I was warmly received by the organiser Duncan and by Chris, whom I knew from a Bloggers meetup I used to frequent and who kindly subjected himself to my wetplating in it’s earlier stages. Even though the group was smaller than the one I spoke to on my first attempt at this presentation, they were polite, attentive and full of questions. I re-structured the presentation and I am pleased to say it worked a lot better – the evening went by in a flash and we finished up in the local pub for a not-so-quick half pint. Should Milton be your locality and you are looking for a casual meet-up group to discuss photography, meet speakers and mount exhibitions of your work, this group could be for you.

http://www.miltonphotographicclub.org.uk

 

The portfolio review at Gaius and Gonville was another matter. Organised by Phocus member Barney and president Giulia, the turn-up was a healthy 10+ people who were crammed into Barney’s living room at the College. As informal as meeting as could be, we sat in a circle on the floor and presented our works to the other group members and received their comments, good or bad. Initially, I was not going to go – It was very cold outside – but I am very happy I did. The comments were always constructive, and I was especially impressed by the knowledge Barney presented on current photographers, places to gather information and the best places to source film. I presented a small gathering of my Medium format film work and took away 2 photographers to check out (Mark Power, Gerry Johansson) and a German website (Macodirect.de) to buy film. All comments and suggestions were individually tailored and there was none of that ‘oh that’s perfect, no comment’ nonsense that I hate so much!

Phocus has a lot of activities going on per term, and it’s not student-only although the majority of their membership will be. If you don’t mind being shown up by the sheer talent some of these people possess in the (much) younger years, I would suggest joining. You can find them on www.phocus.org.uk, which is not updated that frequently or just join their Facebook group to stay up to date. Lifetime membership was £20 or £25 last year when I joined and you can join at any event, just message one of the member on the committee.

 

My third photographic engagement was the viewing of the King’s College Darkroom. Once established and up-and-running as it should, it was closed for building works to be carried out. The college decided to do this over the Summer break, so the people that used to be involved were not notified, or they may have graduated and moved on. Other (newer) student were left wondering what happened to their darkroom and since building works lasted for about a year and a half, the darkroom was all but forgotten.

Luckily, a few photographic enthousiasts managed to bide their time and keep an eye out for further developments, apply for the funding and in general fought hard to preserve this nearly extinct facility for future generations of students to pass though King’s. On the Sunday I visited, I met up with Jack (who is petitioning for the funding), Pranav (who is doing most of the physical organisation of the space) and Peter (who was, like me, there to help out). Pranav has already done a lot of the cleaning required and we shifted and matched up parts to see what was still needed and hopefully, fingers crossed, Jack will bring some good news in a couple of weeks time that funding has been approved, the rest of the materials and equipment bought and the darkroom will once again be up and running!

How the darkroom will be run in a practical sense is still to be formally decided. They are hoping to bring in members of Phocus (and maybe share some of the cost involved) and otherwise opening it up to the general public for a small fee per session. It might look like papers and film will be made available, but again, nothing has been formally decided on that. You can find the King’s College Darkroom Society on Facebook.

 

IMG_3222_DxO by Pieter Nixon

Image by Peter Nixon

IMG_3223_DxO by Pieter Nixon#

Image by Peter Nixon

 

 

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