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Hewn Timber Cabins :: FMU, Florence, SC

Last month, I went to the Hewn Timber Cabins on Francis Marion University’s campus to photograph with one of my photography students. The two cabins on the campus are two of eight cabins that were built by African American slaves in the 1800s who were brought to the area to raise cotton. I was surprised to learn that these cabins were inhabited until 1953. The cabins were preserved along with certain artifacts and moved to where they sit today on Wallace Woods road that leads into the back of campus. The University has worked hard to preserve the cabins in order to show the skill and craftsmanship of those who took pride in their work. The cabins are opened periodically to visitors. The furniture and tools inside tell many stories and are as much of a representative of the people who lived there as a photographic portrait. In fact, these images tell a lot about who these people were and how they lived. I photographed the cabins with a lensbaby on a Canon 5D Mark ii. I enjoyed the way the lensbaby obscures and reveals at the same time. While the objects photographed reveal quite a story about the inhabitants of the cabins, the rest of the story about their experiences may be obscured by our modern lives. If you are interested in reading more about the cabins, click HERE.

 

 

Asheville, NC :: trip with FMU Photo Students

 

 

In the Spring semester I was awarded a Quality Enhancement Plan grant to take some of my photography students at Francis Marion University to Asheville, North Carolina to attend a Wet-Plate Collodion workshop given by Brie Castell, owner of Castell Gallery in downtown Asheville. On top of being a gallery owner, Brie is a working artist and teaches at Brevard College. Did I mention she photographs weddings too! She is incredibly talented and performs all her roles quite wonderfully. Brie and I met during graduate school at East Carolina University, so it was such a wonderful opportunity to visit with her. She also presented a lecture to the students on how to present you work professionally for exhibit and for review. Both were wonderful opportunities for my students and for me too! While we were there we also went on a few trails (unfortunately at lower elevations because the Blue Ridge Parkway was mostly closed) and we visited a number of galleries downtown and in the River Arts District. And of course, I had to go to French Broad Chocolates because they have the real goods!

Lake Powhatan:

French Broad Chocolates…yum…you must try the Quintessential Chocolate Cake if you are a chocoholic.

Laurel River Trail:

For those unfamiliar with the wet-plate process it goes back a long way into the history of photography. It is one of the earliest processes, which is one of the many reasons I wanted my students to have this experience. What I love about this process is that the image becomes a precious object. We often lose that with the digital age because we feel images are easy to access, discard, produce, and reproduce. The wet plate process provides a one of a kind image that cannot be replicated. Also, because the image is on glass, it makes the image feel more fragile, thus making it feel much more delicate and precious. Here is a very brief explanation of the process:

PREPARING THE PLATE:

Glass plates were cut to fit inside two types of large format cameras: a 5”x7”  Tachihara and a 4”x5” Crown Graphlex camera. Regular negative carriers were physically altered to fit the thickness of a glass plate rather than a traditional thin negative. I sent one of our negative packs to Lund Photographics and they converted it for $40. That saved a lot of time! Before the plates were coated with chemicals the edges were sanded. The sanded edges created a ridge to keep the collodion from running off the edge of the glass too rapidly. They were then cleaned thoroughly with windex and alchohol to get rid of any fingerprints or dust that could affect the emulsion.

COATING & SENSITIZING THE PLATE: After the glass plates have been sanded and cleaned they are ready to be coated with collodion and sensitized in a silver nitrate bath. The chemicals used in this process were quite toxic, so gloves were worn at all times. Coating the plate is a process that takes a lot of practice to perfect. It is time sensitive and must be done with extreme caution. Excess collodion is poured back into the storage bottle. The next step (which was done under safe-light conditions) is to immerse the plate into a silver nitrate bath. (You can see the upright solution bath in the image on the far right). This is what makes the glass plate sensitive to light. After the sensitizer bath, the exposure must be made within 10-15 minutes, hence  the name “wet-plate” collodion.

FOCUSING AND COMPOSING THE SCENE: The focusing and composing process with large format cameras (as the one shown above) differs greatly from 35mm, medium format film cameras and digital cameras. These are not “point and shoot” style cameras. Before you even load the camera with film, you must focus the image first. The lens must be open in order to focus and compose the scene. The subject matter is seen on the viewing screen  reversed and upside down (a large piece of glass on the back of the camera). A piece of dark fabric is used to direct light away from the viewing screen so that it is easier to see if your scene/subject matter is properly focused.

LOADING THE CAMERA: After focusing and composing your subject the plate (which is inside the film pack) is loaded into the camera. The plate must be loaded with the collodion side facing the lens. Exposure times for the wet plate process have many variables. These variables include the size of the aperture, the time of day, weather and lighting conditions, as well as variables that come from the way the chemicals are mixed. Most of the exposures made during this workshop were between 2-8 seconds. Because this is a positive to positive process (there is no negative) exposure is dealt with in reverse from negatives. If the image is too dark, then the exposure time was too short. If the image was too light, the exposure time was too long. This is the opposite from what students learn with traditional black and white film photography.

OTHER EQUIPMENT & CHARACTERISTICS: The cumbersome size and nature of the large format camera requires the use of a sturdy tripod. Long exposures required to make the exposures also make the tripod, along with a cable release a must. The cable release (as shown in the image on the right) keeps the photographer from having to touch the camera during exposure. This helps to eliminate unwanted blur from camera movement.

Because the wet-plate process is the result of a positive (subject) to positive (image on the plate) each plate is completely one of a kind. There is no negative that allows you to reproduce the image exactly. The nuances in each plate made from the chemicals and pouring pattern also make each plate unique. Another signature characteristics of these plates is that the image will appear backwards. This means any type must be considered because it will appear backwards in the final plate.

Brie did such an AMAZING job at teaching such a complicated process to so many people in one day. Here are the students’ results (of course, they are much more amazing in person):

Meanwhile, I was guarding the cameras in the alley. Brie was helping the students sand, coat, develop, and load the plates in the darkroom. I stayed watch and help the students operate the cameras. So, while I was waiting I made use of the alley. Brie has quite a bit of interesting subject matter just outside her gallery door. The even more interesting stuff is inside her gallery. You should go check it out!

 

 

Courtney & Vladim :: Engagement Session, Greenville, North Carolina

I must say I have really been enjoying this weather! It was a beautiful day this past Saturday, although I wish there would have been some fluffy clouds. We met up with Courtney and Vladim this weekend for an engagement session in Greenville, North Carolina. They had a few requests. One was to photograph on East Carolina University’s campus where they met, and the other was to incorporate old warehouses in their pictures. So, that’s what we did! When we first met them, Courtney and Vladim said they were new to getting their pictures taken. Heather and I assured them that we would help them out along the way. But after a few shots we were convinced they have some experience at this. Both of them did such a great job and they really made our jobs easy. Vladim is in medical school at ECU and Courtney is in law school in Pennsylvania. Next year, after their wedding,  they are going to make Greenville home!

 

Neil & Candace :: The Proposal

 

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity (along with my fabulous assistant, Heather Sullivan) to photograph my very first proposal. One of my former students, Neil Jernigan, contacted me about photographing him proposing to his girlfriend Candace. He was going to wait until a few weeks from now, but he called me after he purchased the ring and said he wanted to propose as soon as possible. Neil was so excited, he just couldn’t wait and he was afraid that he would spoil the plan. So, he hatched a plan to have us accidentally bump into each other at Goose Creek State Park. Heather and I used the story that we were just hanging out together to photograph (which is quite believable) and Neil’s story was that he needed to get some landscape and nature shots (which is quite believable) to use for his lecture that he would be giving to my class in the near future. With a few more finishing touches we pulled it off. Candace had no clue. Neil also mentioned to Candace that he wanted to do a few portraits of her (which he does all the time) and that he was going to set the camera up on a tripod to get some shots of the two of them. He relayed that to Heather and I when we “bumped” into each other and so Heather and offered to do a few shots of them since we were there. So, we did some “walking shots” which was Neil’s clue to go for it. We did a few practice rounds, then Neil did his thing. I will walk you through it:

This is the practice run for the walking shot, I think Neil was looking back, just to see if we were ready:

Neil is spilling the beans that he planned all of it:

 

I think Candace is in shock here, trying to pull it all together:

The next few need no explanation:This is Neil saying, “shew”, I did it. He was so relieved:Candace, still trying to come to grips with what just happened:Forgot to mention, Scout was there:

Just to let everyone know:

 

Purell Transfers :: Italy

I have been continuing my work with Purell Transfers. I have discovered that I really enjoy adding alternative borders to the images. I decided to work with some of the images I took during my trip to Italy last year because I felt the colors and feelings of the images would work well with this process. I used polaroid transfer borders from some of my early polaroid work to incorporate in as edges. I also used a few of my textures to add even more textures to what was in the original image. This is just a start, I will be doing more in the near future.