Shoot Amsterdam is a yearly photographic event held in Amsterdam @ Pakhuis de Zwijger. I will be one of the speakers during the “How do they do it” sessions in the Studio at the 5th floor.
I will be talking about the wet plate collodion process, its place in time, so a little history and a little nowadays, accompanied by some visuals on a screen. Needless to say I’m very excited to be participating in this great event and hope to see you there!
Oh…and Sign up; it’s for free and it’s gonna be fun 🙂
I love to take my camera out in the field, to make collodion images on location. I prefer that over studio images. The only issue that kept me busy of the last few years? How to transport the camera when traveling. Until now I just put the camera in the car, no protection, and dragged it everywhere I needed it to be. I had seen one photo bag that I figured could hold the camera, the TinkTank Logistics Manager, but it was so expensive I never actually tried it.
As some of you know I work in a photo store in Maastricht, Foto Rembrandt (feel free to chime in and say hello if you’re nearby ;-). and two weeks ago I went with my colleague to a special ‘dealer’ day at one of our suppliers. This specific supplier Transcontinenta has, among other brands such as Leica, Gitzo, Lastolite etc, ThinkTank bags. I decided to take my camera to them to find out if they have a bag that would actually fit my camera.
They did! I ended up with the Video Rig 24, one of their largest bags on wheels. It makes it easy to carry the camera around, fits perfectly, along with some small items such as red light, charger, waterhouse stops and of course the glass plates, camera, lens, back and dark cloth. Needless to say I am really happy! All I need is a new car now as the bag hardly fits in the back 😉
For those following me on Facebook might have seen a post on issues with specks on the plates. It took me quite some time to figure out what it is exactly. I have looked at several options. But it really took ages, at least to me, to narrow it down.
Specks, appearing as little black dots, on the plates (see cropped image above). Not immediately, some plates needed a couple of hours, some took days to show. At first I thought of the silver nitrate bath. I had this before and boiling the bath down solved it back then. Not this time..
I rinse my plates, certainly in studio, for over half an hour. Specks.
I started to use freshly mixed fix before each shoot. Specks.
Collodion bottle was steady before using, no shaking. Specks.
Oeff…nutty specks…the thing I did notice was that the fixer bath upon every mix started to look dirtier and dirtier. I bought the Sodium Thiosulphate crystals, I believe, in 2011. 25 kilos at once; better be prepped I figured 🙂 I guess it’s prone to deteriorate over time. I decided to filter it, to the max. A lot of small stuff got filtered out, and the fixer turned out to be the problem! After filtering I was left with a clean fixer bath. No specks!
For the filtering I used a normal cotton pad to wipe of make-up. I pressed it firmly into the funnel (see above image), takes ages to filter a liter but it works!
So…After the first experiment with polish-machine-style-plate-cleaning there’s always a second, with improvements of course. The first thing I wanted to solve was moving of the plate during polishing. This machine has a disc that rotates at 3200 times per minute = 53,33 times per second… Try that by hand 😆 This puts forth some power on the plate which makes it a little nervous on a flat surface. I already tried solving it by putting some gaffer tape on the table but that was not enough.
Now I decided to put some small boards on two sides of the table, pointing towards the corners thus each other, and letting them stick a little over the surface of the table so that a glass plate could be positioned alongside them. That way I could push the plate towards the corner without having it fall off. It worked a whole lot better but still the plate had the tendency to hoover a little over the table’s surface. Than Erik came along and made me a square wooden board on which he put a glass plate. He then put 4 long cocktail sticks along the plate sides and fixed them to the board with gaffer tape. That way the plate was sort of clamped in between the sticks and I could easily polish. I placed that board design along the smaller boards I earlier screwed into the sides of the table so it stayed put on the table and…Tadaaa, problem solved!
I then put the table in the middle of the darkroom and the second problem of spattering the cleaning substance all over the place also got solved. What a glorious evening 🙂 I was able to incredibly lazily clean the plates for a commissioned portrait shoot this Wednesday, awesome!
I love wet plate. In fact, I love everything about wet plate! Except for…cleaning the plates 🙂 So, it might be a bad habit but I look for shortcuts, no concession in outcome of course. I use a dishwasher for the first cleaning cycle. And then you still always have to scrub by hand using the chalk cleaner. Polishing and polishing, overheating etc. You know. That stuff. So, Erik said the other day; might it not be an idea to use a polishing machine for that? Hmmm….
So, I got meself a polishing machine and went for it! Interesting. It works. So, that’s good. Start is as usual; pour cleaning solution on plate:
Put polishing machine on plate:
Turn it on:
Right, no image there as I needed both hands to keep this thing under control 🙂
…Do a lot of cleaning afterwards! Ha, that stuff goes everywhere! In a radius of 2,5 metres all was covered in chalk mixture! Quite funny; it works, saves quite a bit of energy (if you leave out the cleaning afterwards) and it’s fun: because, well, machines just are. I will find something to fix this as I like it. I hope you did too 😉
I kept postponing making new varnish for way too long until I really pushed myself to it yesterday. The really annoying part about making the varnish is filtering the solution; probably all suffer from that 🙂 But Erik has found a way to do a filter stacking, proper school, so the solution gets filtered 4 times in just one pour. Tadaa!
Now, still have to get to varnishing the plates but that is the fun part! Just thought I’d share. Anyone else funny filter methods which make life easier?
(Sorry, Dutch text today)
11:30 uur Ontvangst van de gasten
12:00 uur Presentatie ‘Maastrichtse Drukkers’
Anyway…long time no see 🙂 I started with the chemistry last week, making fresh fix, developer, collodion and checking the silver bath, which looked and tested really well! It had a proper cleaning, with boiling-down half way and all, before I packed it up for moving, but still, quite the surprise. Last Monday, my regular day off, I decided to continue but it was a busy day with a meeting scheduled and had some prepping to do for that so didn’t get much work done in the darkroom. Feeling a bit anxious about that I thought I would give it a shot asking the day off on Tuesday, which I was able to do….so Tuesday was Theday.
Erik grabbed the change to film everything but we will redo this as I was too much occupied with looking for all my stuff, trying to find back that routine in a new place. I spent about half the time looking for things 🙂 I was too excited to give the plates the proper cleaning they should have had and it clearly shows, as expected. But, it works! The first pour was indescribable; don’t want to sound like a sentimental old fart (the smelly one), but wow, it felt great! The smile on my face….loved it!
Well, what else can I say? There’s some work to do to get it all ‘perfect’ again, better cleaning, more ether to the collodion as it was relatively cold in the darkroom and it didn’t flow nicely, creating a striped pattern. The smallest first test plate (see plate above) was so scratched and polluted that the layer of collodion curled off while drying, making it look pretty fascinating. Also, I want to re-read Osterman’s manual again, just because it has been awhile and it’s never a bad thing. And of course, making a batch of varnish and do the final very-good-smelling step 🙂
The following images are the ones I like best. The last one is an image Erik made of me. He composed the images, lighting and everything and I did the chemistry part. The digital overview images are mostly Erik’s.
Hope to see you soon again!
My original silver nitrate bath dates from the beginning of my collodion time; 2009. I filter the bath before and after every use, every time. A proper taking care of the bath is crucial for your images. And it’s expensive enough to want to take proper care of it. Every now and then it gets so polluted by ‘radicals’ that just filtering won’t do it anymore. I put the flask in the sunlight, cover it with a sheet of toilet paper and let all the nasty things evaporate. Measure pH and density, adjust where needed and it’s good to go. However, after having used this bath for 4 years (issues started last year) it gets so contaminated that sunning won’t do the trick as well. I got these really tiny specks on my plates which I couldn’t trace back to anything else than a heavily polluted silver bath. A conversation with Jeroen confirmed that. So, it was time for some drastic measures 🙂
Boiling! Yeah! So…when you have a solution of silver nitrate of 1 litre, you add distilled water until you have 1.5 litres. Then you boil it back to its original amount, filter, measure, adjust where needed and done! As simple as that 🙂 Well, it is really that simple! Only, where to put it in when boiling? I ordered a 2 litre erlenmeyer flask. I bought a (cheap) cooking plate with too little power. Heating up the solution took more than one hour. I’m easily bored so no thank you 🙂
Next I bought an induction plate with a little bit more balls 🙂 But induction needs inox to function, so no glass. I bought a stainless steel pot and boiled it in that. Went incredibly fast but I simply do not really trust a stainless steel pot for this. So, I decided to fill up the pot with distilled water and place the erlenmeyer holding the silver nitrate solution in it, au bain marie style, so to speak. Two good things: if the glass breaks the pot will keep it from going bye-bye. And by using distilled water for cooking the solution is preserved and not mixed with nasty tap water. It worked very well, except that the erlenmeyer had too small an opening so the boiling went really slow. Next time I will use a wide-mouth erlenmeyer or just a glass beaker that can take some heating. And the baths are perfect again- and the images speck-free!
(oh for the paranoia ones…I removed the cables in the background during the boiling 🙂 )