Japanning Steel

I took time this weekend to go about Japanning steel plates for making my ferrotypes. This is another skill that I am developing with my work in wet plate collodion. The process of making "tintypes" has been made easier and more convenient with the use of trophy aluminum. The thin black metal sheets that are used for engraving plaques on trophies. This is indeed convenient and makes the process easier, but that's not why I chose this path. I have aluminum in my kit, I learned with aluminum and there is certainly nothing wrong with it. However, as an artist that is seeking to learn the historical nature of the craft, it just doesn't make sense to cut that corner. I don't intend to get into a debate over what is right or wrong about using aluminum in your work, that's completely an individual choice. It's a tool for the artist to use or not. I am concerned with making my plates as historically accurate as possible, and this is just a step in that process. Besides, it's fun.  In creating my ferrotypes, I begin with sheets of rolled steel cut to various sizes, and thoroughly cleaned with steel wool to remove any dirt, grease or ink on the surface.

Next, I mix up my Black Japan. A mixture of Gilsonite, paint thinner, and Canadian balsam resin that is heated until nearly boiling to dissolve and blend all the ingredients. It is a messy, smelly process that is best done outside.

The Black Japan is then flowed onto the cleaned steel plate in much the same manner that collodion is flowed onto the plate later. Covering the plate completely, it is drained and set aside to dry.

The plates are set aside to dry on a wooden rack for the first of two coats, the back is also lightly painted and then the plates are ready for the next step, baking.

The plates take their place in a gas grill oven that will heat the plates to 300 degrees and then be cooled. Once the plates cool, the Black Japan is flowed once more over each plate , drained and dried on the plate rack as before, and baked a second time for the final finished plate.

The surface is not a mirror smooth surface the way the trophy aluminum is, there is character in each plate, flow lines, imperfections, dust, small scratches and thick areas all contribute to the personality of each plate. I like that. I want every element of my photographs to be created by me. This approach is teaching me more about the process, no shortcuts. I want to be proficient at every aspect of this craft, learning to mix chemistry, prepare the glass, estimate exposure, and so much more. I get a lot of satisfaction in holding a finished, varnished image that I created from scratch. It's a lot of work and I am happy to do it, to get it right.

This is also a friendly reminder to my clients, when you order a Ferrotype, or an ambrotype, or anything I have created, know that a lot of care and work has gone into producing your image as accurately as possible, down to the last detail, and it is worth every penny.

New Work - Portrait of Will

I invited my good friend Will over to the house the other day to make some portraits. The weather has been pretty cold lately, and I have not had the desire to brave the cold temperatures to make images outside. However, last week we had a few warm days and I left the dark box inside to make some images trying out my new DIY studio lights and some outside. The lights work well enough, I just need more. The lens I am currently using on my 8x10 is more an outdoor landscape lens, I will put that to the test in the spring, but for now, wide open, that lens will only provide an aperture of 8.5. Indoor portraits are proving elusive as of yet, with long exposure times of 15 to 16 seconds don't produce he sharpest pictures. 

This portrait of Will was made outdoors on the patio with the lens wide open at about 9 seconds, it was late in the day and the natural winter light was getting low, but I pulled this one out of the hat, I think it looks pretty good for a 9 second exposure, it helped that Will was sitting and resting his head against the wall. 

When the weather breaks,  I will get the camera out and do some more projects soon, I have found that a day spent with my camera equipment is pure joy, and when I get a portrait like this, I am as happy as I can be.


New Ground Glass.

The last time I went out with the camera to make photographs, I broke the ground focusing glass in the rear of my camera. It didn't take much either, I just closed the door a bit too hard and craaaack!  So that set me on the path to figure out how to make a replacement, and happily, I found out that it's not a huge deal. 

This is one of my new ones installed today. It's a bit busy since I marked the horizontal and vertical dimensions of four different plates. 


I headed down to the Bedford Hardware store, a small family owned store to pickup my glass, and had previously ordered a couple of bags of 400 & 600 grit silicon carbide powder from Ebay, this frosted the glass perfectly with just a bit of work. Using a small glass blank, I ground the powder and a few drops of water between the blank and the larger glass, in a swirling motion using light pressure for about 10 minutes.  Here's a link to a more in depth explanation.

The new glasses fit like a glove and hopefully I won't have to do this again anytime soon! If I do need one though, it's great to have a couple of spares in my kit!

Newest work . A day in the woods.

What better way to spend a day off than to load all my camera gear into the car and head out into the field with my model, my daughter, Sara to make some photographs.  The location is pretty out of the way, so we had a quiet afternoon, however working around the old dry stacked stone ruins that stand over 20 feet tall was a bit nerve wracking. The approach to the mill and the descent into the bottom is a bit tricky, but I had to make some images here soon as I don't know how long it will continue to stand as it is.

We thought that since it's almost halloween, something dark and mysterious would be appropriate.

The location is the ruins of an old mill that lay in ruins on a creek nearby. It's dangerous to approach, and probably won't look like this very long.

For this one, Sara suggested that she read her favorite book as she is carried away by her imagination and  the current in the stream.

We found an old hollowed out tree along the bank of the stream and loved the look. A sheltered place.

Here is a short video that I made of clips we took during the shoot.

Portraits of my parents

I had the opportunity to visit with my parents this morning to show them what I have been doing for the last year and a half. I brought out my 8x10 wet plate camera and darkroom to make some photographs of them. 

My parents have been married for 68 years this past August. My father met my mom when they were kids and they married shortly before he joined the navy and shipped out to the Pacific at the end of World War 2. They traveled together as his 30 years service in the Navy took them from one place to another. My mom raised my two older brothers alone while my dad was away at sea, living in Barcelona, Spain, San Diego, California, Rhode Island Connecticut, finally settling here in Virginia. 

Dad saw action aboard an L.S.T. during the war and was present for some of the great events of the war, such as the battle of Okinawa and the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. 

Like all kids, I have had my ups and downs with my parents, but as I have gotten older, had a family of my own, and grown older myself, I can say that I am now closer to them than I have ever been. I value their advice and opinions more than ever before and I have never known two more generous people in my life. They have never failed to love & support me in whatever I have done, and for that I am forever thankful. I pray that I am half the parent to my kids that they are to me.


Thomas C. Roche - Images of the dead at Petersburg.

Thomas C. Roche (1826–1895) was a photographer known for his photographs of the Civil War. Roche's first job as a professional photographer was for Henry Anthony, a chemist in New York, and his brother Edward, for whom he took photographs of the city and the harbor starting in 1859.  He continued to work for the Anthonys during the war, making photographs for his company's popular "Instantaneous Views."  He also traveled on the front lines with the Army of the James. An anecdote describes Roche's reaction to the horrors of war: after an artillery shell exploded next to him, it was said, "shaking the dust from his head and his camera he quickly moved to the spot and, placing it over the pit made by the explosion, exposed his plate as coolly as if there were no danger."After the war Roche returned to work for the Anthonys, with whom he published a book on photography.

I am continually astounded at the level of technical mastery that these men had during the war. Under such stressful circumstances, the plates that they created, full of tonal range and amazing detail, are simply awe inspiring.


New glass portraits of Sara.

I always love it when I can collaborate with my daughter, Sara on some images. We had a day off together, and set up the darkroom to make some portraits. This was only the second time that I had made images since returning from Coffer's workshop, and so far the training has paid off very well. I had corrected some mechanical problems with my camera at camp Tintype that John had suggested and that seemed to help clear up some of my fogging problems. These are 5x7 clear glass ambrotypes.

I have had the pleasure of making photographs of Sara all her life, but I have never been happier than with these. She is beginning to go out on her own and will soon be gone from my daily life. I hope for not too long at a time, she really has the power to make her old man look good.  


Platinum & Palladium Printing with Manuel Gomez Tiexeira

Manuel Gomes Teixeira, photographer and Platinum Palladium printer, usually uses traditional methods, with photographic film in medium and large format cameras.Invited by the exclusive distributor of Leica cameras in Portugal, he tested the Leica Monochrom. The high quality files, showing a rich tonal range, adapt very well to Platinum printing.

Platinum Palladium Printing with Leica M Monochrom from Luís Oliveira Santos on Vimeo.

Wet Plate Collodion in the digital Age.

Okay everyone, in this video from B&H camera, photographer Francesco Mastalia gives us a seminar on the history of photography, and how wet plate relates to the digital age and why it is so important. The lighting is low because he is giving a slideshow presentation but the schooling is solid. Get out your notebooks kids. ;)

New Silver and Fixer boxes.

I spent the best part of this afternoon making two plexiglass liner boxes for my silver nitrate and potassium cyanide fixer. I borrowed a nice little table saw from my father and smoothly cut the plexiglass to the measures sizes for my boxes. I then used a plexiglass epoxy to secure the pieces together. I discovered a small leak in the first one after a quick water test and quickly patched it up with more epoxy. I will let them dry overnight and begin work on the outer boxes on Monday. I also nearly finished a plate box to carry my 8x10 glass plates safely around. I will describe that later when it's done.

silver nitrate box

silver nitrate box

Billy Mork, Analog Photographer

Photography has conquered new grounds and has seen its popularity grow by leaps and bounds with innovation in the field of camera electronics, expression styles, medium of sharing one’s work with the world and of-course with the help of new age editing software and techniques. Digital photography has swamped this creative discipline but the art of Analog photography still finds its existence within a select few. This short documentary video from Thai Anh Duong takes you behind-the-scenes of Billy Mork’s passion involving analog film printing.

Ian Ruhter talk at Creative Mornings

When for him the craft of photography evolved into something less personal and true, even vapid and uninspiring, he sought a new way to approach his craft, and he found his future in the past. By using a very old approach to photography, he now exploring stories, people and places though the lens of the world’s largest portable camera and records life using a wet plate process from the 1850's.His project Silver and Light was a risky exploration of inspiration, passion and creative process, and his video has become an Internet sensation.The project tells many stories both in print (metal plates) and the videos that offer compelling insight into peoples’ lives, fears and success. Ian reflected on his upbringing, challenges as a child, successes and failures as a photographer and how, by losing his way and journeying back to the mid-nineteenth century where one paints with silver and light, and how this revelation in which he embraced the past while utilizing the technological advances of the future allowed him to find the component—and creative fulfillment—he was searching for. A few notable comments (paraphrased) by Ian: "If everything happens for a reason, maybe the future is already written. Do I have control of my destiny or is it fate?" "Photography gave me a voice and that was the missing link I had been looking for my whole life." "The ability to dream is what makes things possible. I work in the space of my dreams and thoughts." "Dyslexia is my greatest gift. That's what led me to the gift of photography." "I could make my own film. If I learned how to make it no one could take that away from me." "When the first plate worked, we were like, whoa, now what? It would’ve so much easier if it had failed." On the DTES: "Every city you go to has the same kinds of problems. Being in places like this inspires me."

2013/04 Ian Ruhter - Photography, Alchemy, and The Future from CreativeMornings/Vancouver on Vimeo.