Recently, I participated in an international wet plate series called The Mask Series. The project was coordinated by Shane Balkowitsch who assembled 150 alternative photographers from over 25 countries, making the series the largest international wet plate collaboration since Frederick Scott Archer first invented the process in 1848. The goal is to raise awareness for the technique and also create a collection of plates for exhibition in a gallery and publication in a book. The prop used in each image is a vintage Czech M10 gas mask.
I enthusiastically signed up for the mask project and looked forward to mask coming my way. But I wasn’t prepared for what an emotive object the mask would be. When I tried the mask on, it was stifling, haunting. I imagined gas attacks, nuclear explosions, air raid sirens.
My idea for the masked baby came from imagining my Dad, a baby during WWII, wearing the ‘Mickey Mouse’ masks used by children during the war. The relatively large size of the Czech mask gives the picture a more ominous feel, as if the baby is weighted down with adult problems. The sins of the father. I took a couple of test shots to establish exposure. The ambrotype I submitted to Shane was also a test shot and in fact, I was getting so frustrated with my images, I was about to throw the towel in after I took it. But when I saw it lying in the cyanide solution, I quite liked its eerie feel.
Discover the 19th century art of wetplate collodion photography, in which images are taken on tin and glass. See the process in action and have your portrait taken on tin with a Victorian camera!
12.30 pm onwards, Furness: Tea, coffee and soft drinks served.
1pm – 1:30 pm, Furness LT3: Introductory talks about spirit photographs, post-mortem photography and cartes de visite by Dr Catherine Spooner, who specialises in Gothic literature and culture and Victorian literature and portraiture specialist, Dr Kamilla Elliot. Alternative Photography expert and artist John Brewer will discuss the wetplate collodion process.
1:30 pm – 5 pm, Furness LT3: John Brewer and Dr Kate Horsley (writer and wetplate artist) will take portraits for the rest of the afternoon.
“Magic emanates from Brewer’s still lifes, creating a theatre of curiosities with human skulls, candles, medical instruments, tarot cards and other memento mori. The photographer’s series of acrylotype plates entitled Fragmented Dolls is remarkable for its artistry and kookiness. In these fascinating portraits, we see star dolls pre-dating the seventies made of porcelain or cheap plastic. But their rosebud cheeks, smiling faces and blinking eyes have long been lost – the toys of old now only present a decaying form covered with cracks and chips, bathing in spookiness and grotesqueness.
Vanitas also showcases pieces by writer and artist Kate Horsley, whose multi-media art mixes literature and photography. Her tintypes merge with altered books and her wooden peep boxes create a series of uncanny literary tableaux where the viewer is captivated by such fantastical creatures as a baby-headed spider, flying dolls and stuffed animals.” Read more…
78a Glyn Road, Hackney, London E5 0JE; Launch event 8th December 2012
Growing out of the memento mori tradition of Renaissance Europe, vanitas is a genre of art that contemplates the transient nature of life. Common symbols include skulls, rotten fruit, bubbles, smoke, watches, and hourglasses, all symbolizing the brevity of life and suddenness of death. In a series of unique photographic plates, historical photographic artist John Brewer juxtaposes the traditional still life compositions of the Dutch masters with haunting contemporary interpretations, challenging our perceptions of ancient and modern, the living and the dead. Writer and artist Kate Horsley merges tinted plates with the altered book and wooden peep-box, creating a series of secret tableaux, each one an intimate, private viewing.
Today, Sam and I completed the first day of John‘s excellent course in wet plate collodion at his studio. His studio is filled with a cornucopia of curious objects, large format cameras and Victorian lenses. During the course, we made images on tin, glass and plastic. Wet plate collodion is fantastic fun as well as being a beautiful artistic medium. I can really recommend the course to anyone interested in photography.
Here’s a video of John at work from fab alternative photography site, Film’s Not Dead.
The 2012 Bièvres Camera Fair was an illuminating experience (as well as a great excuse to spend a week in Paris!). Here’s an extract from my article about the fair from alternative photography site, Film’s Not Dead:
The 49th Bièvres International Photo Fair took place this year on Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd in Place de la Mairie, Bièvres, France. Created in 1964 by Jean and André Fage, the fair quickly became a major attraction. Each year, thousands of visitors from all over the world travel 12km south of Paris to what has been nicknamed a mecca for camera collectors and fans of vintage photography.
On a sunny morning in the beginning of June, we arrived by train to the town of Bièvres near Versailles and climbed the hill to the mairie, a large green space divided into avenues and surrounded by trees, where the Fair had been organized by the Photo Club de Paris Val-de-Bièvre. Stall-holders were still constructing the frames for makeshift blue and white awnings which would shelter their merchandise from the sun. This included an assortment of rare lenses, vintage cameras, light meters, plate holders, plate racks, printing frames, old books and photographs, vintage cameras, lens and accessories, old books and pictures. Other vendors laid onto rugs thrown down on the grass and a few people walked around with cardboard signs taped to their rucksacks, advertising individual cameras they wanted to sell.
As midday approached, the fair filled with collectors and photographers hunting for new acquisitions, haggling for the right price and trading rare equipment. The varied treasures of the stalls ranged from large format wooden cameras and Petzval lenses dating from the 19th century to the latest digital cameras and everything in between; magic lanterns and boxes of hand-painted slides, a range of images printed on paper, tin and glass, Daguerreotypes, orotypes, family albums (some in tiny leather-bound books with their miniature portraits cut into ovals and pasted between leaves of card), postcards, Victorian erotica and beautiful gum bichromate prints, cyanotypes and Van Dyke Browns. Stereo photography has always been popular in France (from antique wooden stereo cameras to digital stereo camera rigs) and so there was a striking range of stereo viewers, cards and cameras for sale as well.
The fair is an inclusive event and you don’t have to be a photographer to enjoy it – graphic designers, illustrators, writers, collectors, second-hand dealers, antique-hunters and photo-fans come here, swelling the numbers to 15000 visitors from Britain, Germany, the USA, Russia, Japan. Although by all accounts, this year both numbers and sales were down. Stall-holder Jean-Claude de Guyenro from the Parisian suburb of Antony has been coming to Bièvres for forty years “since the beginning”. When asked about his sales at this year’s fair, he replied that they were très moyen compared to other years, for a number of reasons: too much for sale; too old a clientèle; too many amateurs and not enough connoisseurs buying. Wetplate artist and tutor John Brewer commented that there were “a lot fewer quality brass lenses than in previous years, because the number of people who are now interested in wetplate and using early lenses because of the beautiful signature they give.”