Well, I am not entirely sure what to think. I’m afraid the universe may be conspiring against our photography trip to Blountville this weekend. This week I had planned to get out Mumf and Lor (our two wet plate cameras) to A.) learn how to work Mumford as he is a recent acquisition and B.) get some shooting practice in before I’m expected to sell portraits to the public. The past two weeks prior to this I was stuck in adolescent hell working a summer day camp. By the time I got home in the afternoons, I was so beat that hauling out the cameras, setting up my darkroom, and then trying to be creative was not appealing in the least. Instead, I had every intention that upon my first Monday of newly reclaimed freedom I would get up early(ish) to catch the good morning light and get back into my groove of making plates. I woke up to rain Monday. It rained Tuesday. It rained Wednesday. Today started out partly cloudy and windy, not exactly ideal conditions for shooting in a field studio. Things cleared up a bit later in the morning, though, and Mom and I took Mumf out to see what we could do.
I have not worked with the new studio tent we bought recently, and quite frankly I don’t understand how the guys back in the day traveled around and shot in camps, or maybe there is no secret and we’re just over thinking it with the whole big tent plus skylight idea. Maybe they just draped and shot, no fuss, no fancy, just find a semi-clean wall and go for it. The skylight idea is absolute rubbish. It is latticed which simply causes the subject to have a checkered light bath. It’s awful and any harsh light coming in from the port side of the tent. Lovely how one discovers these things the day before one is slated to go set up for an event with said tent. Major improvising will be put into place in order to work this weekend, that is if the rain stays away. Oh yes, did I neglect to mention the fact that there is a fairly substantial chance for rain this weekend? Delightful. Mumf also presented some problems. I’m going to need a good solid day at least to figure him out and get comfortable. Needless to say I’ll be working with Lorena this weekend. I trust her. We work well together. She’s my girl.
I’m afraid I might have disturbed our neighbors this morning by cursing volcanically upon discovering the lighting dilemma of the tent. I felt a little bad pitching a fit and a little nit picky, but light is my bread and butter when it comes to this stuff, and if I’m expected to deliver images to patrons in exchange for their money, well, the light better be damn good so the images are damn good. I always hate to seem the prima donna artiste type by exclaiming “How am I supposed to work with this?!” but I am trying to run a good business that provides people with what they want. I’m a perfectionists. Everything must be right.
This brings me to a confession. One that I make reluctantly, but I need to make it. Living history photography gigs are not my favorite. It’s not due to the people who participate or visit them, in fact, most of them are quite lovely to deal with. It’s not even because I don’t care for primitive camping and uncomfortable clothing. I hate the pressure. I love wet plate. I have a burning passion for wet plate, but add pressure to my art, and I have difficulty. Most photographers, especially those who don’t work solely in digital, will tell you, it’s been a really good day when you end up with a few images you’re quite happy with. I believe this completely. Now, this philosophy doesn’t really work when you have thirty minute time slots all running from 8:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon in which you are expected to run like clockwork and make wonderful portraits for customers, most of which, do not understand the sometimes extremely temperamental nature of the medium. I know the old guys out in the field screwed up plates, had bad pours, underexposured, scratched images and still managed to make a go of it professionally, but hell, they must have been busy. I don’t work well like that, though. Well, let me rephrase, I still work well, but it does hamper me to be rushed just like it does most people. I would much rather work from my home studio where I have a lovely air conditioned dark room, the comfort of home turf, and the luxury of time a private appointment gives me. My images are always better when I’m not on the road. They’re relaxed images. They’re more unique.
I going to be honest, I became very frustrated this morning to the point where my muse seized up and refused to function properly. I gave up on working with the tent in part because of the god awful heat but also because I just couldn’t be bothered. I did set up one shot inside in my room just so I could say I made at least one plate. I undertook the rather ambitious task of photographing my new cat Irving. I wasn’t expecting much, but actually got an interesting result. It’s by no means a good image, but, as I said, it’s interesting to look at due to my silly cat’s movement and overly sensorial nature.
Maybe the debacles of this week are actually a good thing. In the theatre superstition dictates that a bad dress rehearsal means a good opening. Perhaps this week has been a very long dress for a spectacular show. We’ll see, but I will be happy to return home Sunday evening to the comforts of the twenty-first century.