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Wet Plate Photoshoot: Weekend at Lacock Abbey

On the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of August 2014, ten wet plate photographers would gather from all corners of the UK to spend two days at Lacock – once the home of Henry Fox Talbot- and I was pleasantly surprised to be invited (Thanks Tony & Mark). After a gruelling drive on the Friday afternoon I arrived at the Picadilly camp site well on time. The owner, Peter, is a little peculiar but friendly enough. I pitched my tent and met most of the others at the Red Lion pub in Lacock village.

On the Saturday, we were met with rain, more rain, heavy rain, proper showers, downpours and more such fun. Driving up to the Lacock Abbbey, we met Roger Watson, the curator of the Fox Talbot Museum who guided us onto the site. Marquis and tents were pitched in record time, darkboxes erected and cars and vans unloaded before starting the day proper. Lucky for us, the rain cleared later in the morning and the burning sun that followed made for some …. interesting …..shooting conditions!

 

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I started my photography in the cloisters as I fell in love with the light the moment I laid eyes on it. Both plates here have an exposure of around 1-1.30 minutes at f4.5  and look to have suffered from collodion drying before development.

 

Sacristy

 

Some plates were a little less successful, such as the two below. The fogging on the plates may have come from warm developer, warm silver, warm plates, drying plates…..

 

The Chapter House

 

The Chapter house

 

This image, taken from the cloister walkway, I tried about three times before I settles on this one, and ‘perhaps it was not to be’. There are more than a few subjects that will be very hard to capture in collodion due to very low or very high contrast. This particular scene had everything going for it in colour, but falls completely flat in this beautiful process….Also note the two darker spots on the top right. These are actually collodion drying spots where I had my fingers whilst supporting the plate. Mark Voce told me this is a myth – but it was clearly happening to me! You will be able to spot some of these black marks on other plates as well.

 

Cloisters

 

I had taken several other plates on the day, from outside the building, keeping the Abbey in full view – which all failed. Oh well.

On the Sunday, the weather had dried up completely. We rode in convoy back to the site, set up and started afresh. This first image was shot into the sunlight, which might not have been the best choice! I shielded the lens with my hand from a slight distance, but the haziness due to the brightness of the light is clear.

 

Entrance archway

 

Slightly less conventional, I then tried to capture the tap we used to take fresh water for rinsing our plates. I loved the contrast between the strict lines of the tap and pipes, the grittiness of the old wall and the lush succulence of the plants. Again, it didn’t quite go as planned. I left myself only a small space to move in and it’s noticeable that the first attempt at the top is much better framed than my second one. Apart from that, The grain of the wall and the detail on the plants – their shadows being quite deep – might be something not easily captured in one plate.

 

tap

tap

 

Next, I moved to the Abbey walkways. Initially, I wasn’t going to take this image as it seems too obvious a shot, but I’m happy I did. The first attempt worked well at 1:30 at around f8, and dried well after – but it seemed so dark when wet, that I decided to shoot a second one at 2:00 at f8. The second plate is so beautiful and silvery on the plate and I am completely in love with it! The white lines going through the middle are left by people going into the abbey, the open door can be seen on the end.

 

Cloisters hallway

Cloister hallway

 

Staying within the cloisters, I decided on a hard shot to take and I set up at the Abbess stairs. There is a window and stairs and no room to more back from them. The stairs being still very dark, regardless of the window right next to them. I do like how this image somehow looks like I used flash lighting. The exposure was 2 minutes at f4.5.

 

The Abbess stairs

 

One of the last shots I then set up was in one of the darkest rooms in the cloisters. There is quite a fair amount of space, before you get to 3 coffins in front of a latticed window. Most visitors just cast a glance at the coffins and pass through to the next space, making in a perfect subject in a busy National Trust property. I set up in the corner and it took two attempt to get this plate. With the lens wide open at f4.5, it took 2:30 minutes and quite a bit of over development. I am sorry/ happy to say that this plate didn’t scan amazingly well and the original looks a lot better!

 

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The weekend was more than amazing and even though the weather didn’t always play ball, the organization, location and company more than made up for that small hindrance. Many thanks to all that came along and made it so enjoyable!

 

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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.

 

 

Large Format Photography: Day 1 in the UK

As the days grow longer and the weather is progressively getting better, I started on the inventory and checking of my wet plate chemicals. I was keeping my mixed collodion and my silver baths, as well a box with the other chemicals in the shed, mainly because of the fumes that might leak out into our bedroom. And we don’t want that.

Living in a much smaller place than before (let’s face it, my parent’s shed was utterly convenient) it took me a little longer to establish that some of my dry chemicals had gotten soggy, my Glacial acetic acid had frozen solid, the silver bath needed dire maintenance and the collodion mix had gone bad. Great!

I could have served it up for desert

I could have served it up for desert

So, I did what any self-respecting self-taught DIY-er does: I went online. I pretty much expected the collodion to be un-salvageable, the consistence was a little firmer than a jello-pudding and I was forced to mix up a new batch. Now here came the trouble: I could not find the same alcohol (spiritus) that I had used in Germany so was forced to use something else. My good friend google advised me to use methylated spirits instead – as it’s basically the same thing with some colour added – but I decided to be curious and stubborn (or both!) and not heed the advise against using surgical spirit.

let the battle commence!

let the battle commence!

 

I took two identical glass jars to mix about 100 ml of salted collodion of each kind. The methylated spirits, despite the glaringly obvious notion of it being bright purple, mixed very well and acted just like my spiritus. The surgical spirit however, did not fare so well. The salts I was using (ammonium bromide and iodide) swiveled and swirled into small strands and beads, refusing to mix with the collodion and surgical spirit. They sank to the bottom of the jar like a ton of bricks. And this is where they have remained.

 

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After this, I remedied the silver bath and defrosted my glacial acetic acid. Apparently it’s freezing point is around 16 degrees Celcius and it had been in the shed for the winter.

steamy

steamy

 

So now I finally got to do some tests! I decided to use the new lens I had gotten (see my post on making a lens cap) and create a quick scene in my study. Out of the two mixtures, the purple mix had cleared quite nicely, still leaving some residue on the bottom of the jar, but seeing my previous mix always left some residue, I was not bothered.

Pouring it, I noticed immediately it was a lot thinner and a lot clearer (less yellow) than what I had used over the previous summer in the Netherlands. The pour was very fluid and pleasant and it adhered to the plate very well. My first test was 6 seconds which left me with a completely blank plate. Judging the light (late afternoon, inside, using quite a bit of bellows extension, lens wide open but fairly dark) I tried once more at 45 seconds. I had to overdevelop by about 4x so I know it’s underexposed but still I am quite pleased with it.

I’m sorry it’s only a snap for now but I think it’s a keeper!

skull spider

skull spider

 

 

 

 

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