Ambrotype

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Natural Tensions and Mysteries

Posted by on 01 Apr 2011 | Tagged as: Ambrotype, Uncategorized

This year Vedos will be studying the Wet Plate Collodion and Daguerreotype processes. Also, a book about alternative photographic processes will be published in Finnish.

Since I am working alone on this project now, and for only a part of my working time, I prefer not to update this blog regularly for the time being. This site will stay online, and some supplementary material, like downloadable correction curves for digital negatives, will be available later.

There is a new Facebook page where the work of Vedos and many other artists can be seen and their work commented. Anyone having a Facebook account can post to that page. The conversation and works of art relate to the Wet Plate Collodion and Daguerreotype mostly. You can support the page by liking it. Hope to see you there!

Fake Ambrotypes

Posted by on 27 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype, Uncategorized

People keep asking me why bother making something as cumbersome as wet plate photographs, when you could just tweak a digital image file to LOOK like a wet plate photograph, and then print it with an inkjet printer…

Well, you can do a lot of things in Photoshop, and it’s easy and fun too. But if you’re a photographer, there is one thing, in my opinion, to keep in your mind: you can’t retract your promise to photography. By choosing to work with photographic materials and techniques you have committed yourself to work with some fundamental things like light, space and time. These elements are really conserved in your final work — that is why I like wet plate (and other alt-processes) so much… you can feel and hold those things in your hands, you have the plate that has actually seen this light and energy and is keeping it! (By the way, William Crawford‘s classic book on alternative processes has an excellent title: The Keepers of Light).

With a digital print you don’t have any commitments… it has lost its energy a long time ago — maybe it had it when the image was captured by the digital camera — which also has its ways to capture the energy — but the image is transformed and transmissed so long way, that there may not be much left of it after all conversions, compressions, equalizing and whatnot. With digital cameras people tend to get similar results — often it’s not them taking the pictures but rather letting the camera make decisions.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t hate digicams. I use many myself, and I think they really are excellent tools on certain tasks. But to come to the original question of why not using digicam for capturing and Photoshop for emulating different processes, I have made two fake ambrotypes below. Here are the digital camera captures:

Old processes (like wet plate collodion) have some characteristic properties that are quite easily emulated in Photoshop; wet plate collodion typically was sensitive mostly to blue light – to simulate this in PS we can use only the blue color channel and discard the rest. Another typical feature is the long exposure, during which moving targets (flowing water, clouds, foliage in the wind) will render blurred. Also this can be simulated by PS’s blur filters and such.

Another feature is that these processes are often exposed on a large plate, and camera lenses for those plate sizes are greatly bigger than, say, in 35mm or digital cameras, also having much longer focal lengths for lenses. Due to this fact the depth of field of these long lenses is much shorter than in digicams. This is an important creative and expressive effect for photographers — almost impossible to simulate with consumer digicams.

Here are my fake ambrotypes that I made from digital files. I used some base textures from here, and also used methods from this site, making minor improvements to these methods.

The Ahlstrom Bridge (summer), Noormarkku, Finland. Fake Ambrotype.

The Ahlstrom Bridge (spring), Noormarkku, Finland. Fake Ambrotype.

Okay, they may look like wet plate photographs, but you really can’t call them that… maybe I can fool you on this web page and even with printed matters (if I call them “reproductions of wet plates”), but if you ask me to show the plates — and there are none — you can see how the energy captured by the digicam has lost. It’s not there in the unsubstantial web image, or on the inkjet paper any more…

Not convinced? Well, here’s to you then, a book of How to produce a cyanotype, wet plate collodion, Daguerrotype, or just about every other historic style of print – but without the mess.

Good luck! 😉

Positive or Negative?

Posted by on 01 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

If the wet plate collodion would be my choice for alternative photography, I’m not sure which I’d like the best – the positive ambrotype plate or a print made from a negative plate. With collodion you can’t really get them both from one plate.

If you want a positive plate you have to underexpose; make a thin negative which appears as a positive when viewed against a black backround, or when exposed on a black metal plate (tintype). For printing with salted paper, albumen, palladium or such, you need to give the plate more exposure, thus creating more density to be able to produce a good print. But that denser plate won’t work as a viewable positive image then…

For my previous post I scanned the plates with an Epson Perfection 4990 Photo scanner in reflective mode – the normal way to scan positive photographs. That’s the way to do it, if you want to show how the plates look on a black background. Usually ambrotypes look better when viewed from the collodion side, but that also means that the image is seen reversed, flipped horizontally. That, of course, can be easily fixed in Photoshop, but I wanted my ambrotypes look like the real things and didn’t flip them.

But I also wanted to see how the plates would scan with Epson’s transparency scan settings, corrected as right-reading. I must say I was surprised to see how good they looked on the display! Although the shadow tones were very thin and lacked separation, the highlights scanned very well. If my plates had been exposed a bit more (like for negative work), the tone rendering would have been better still…

An inkjet print from a scanned ambrotype.

An inkjet print from a scanned ambrotype.

So it made me thinking… which would I like more, the positive ambrotype plates or, say, palladium prints from collodium glass negatives? I admit I’m more of a printmaker, enjoying the delicate highlights and deep shadows in a print.

On the other hand, ambrotypes on glass can be very effective in their moody low tones, although their highlights are seldom white and subtly separated.

I just made these quick inkjet prints from my scans, and toned them digitally… and started thinking of all the different methods to print these plates. Some issues of originality, authenticity and reproducibility raised to my mind… but I will talk about these more next time.

Ambrotypes

Posted by on 28 May 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

Plates drying on a rack.

Today I made a few new clear glass ambrotype plates. I used two separate collodion formulae, one called “New Guy” and the other  “Old Guy” recipe by Quinn Jacobson. The difference between them is in using different salts to iodize the plate before it gets sensitized by solution of silver nitrate. Both have some cadmium bromide in them, and The New Guy uses ammonium iodide vs. Old Guy’s potassium iodide.

It appears from different sources that collodion containing ammonium iodide is sometimes prone to peeling off the plate, if the glass is not cleaned extremely well. That’s what happend with a couple of plates when I used the New Guy formula. At its worst, the collodion layer would totally float away in the fixer or wash.

New Guy collodion, lens: 380mm, F:13 (a rear element of a process camera lens), exposure: 8 sec. This picture was taken through a window – it was a rainy and windy, low contrast  day outside.


Old Guy collodion, lens: 300mm F:5, exposure: 12 sec.


Jalo Porkkala: Jukka, clear glass ambrotype.
Old Guy collodion, lens: 300mm F:5, exposure: 18 sec.


Varnish Vanish

Posted by on 23 May 2010 | Tagged as: Ambrotype

I had my first try with modern varnishes instead of the traditional sandarac varnish that they used in the 19th century. I tried to varnish two plates, one with Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish and the other one with Louvre Medium – Glossy Varnish. But, I’m a beginner with this… and messed badly – no results to show here, the plates went to bin!

Liquitex was so thick it would not flow on the plate, just sat there as a pool. I had to pour more and more to get it flowing, and finally I had poured away almost half of the small bottle. The varnish formed a thick, milky semi-transparent layer on the plate, and I had to leave the plate dripping on a rack for a long time. When it slowly dried (during the weekend) the varnish became clear and glossy, but the layer remained thick, uneven and ugly. Liquitex can be diluted with water, and that’s what I’m going to do if I ever try it again.

Louvre varnish had much better viscosity, easier to pour, and flowed better. But I poured too much again, and had a hard time dripping the plate… but the resulting varnish layer was a bit thinner and smoother this time. I will need to shoot more plates to try these varnishes more.

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