Back to wet plating

I’m sorry I haven’t gotten around to posting these earlier. Last weekend I finally got back in the dark room and studio. Some good friends came out to the house to visit us and I was able to convince them to sit for me. It was a welcome difference from inanimate objects and my parents, not that I don’t enjoy working with either. It’s just nice to have some different subjects with which to work every now and then.

My best friend since freshman year of high school, Heather, came out Friday. She obligingly let me dress her in strange (well not that strange I guess) outfits, wigs, and make up. She was my first human subject to shoot in the newly converted studio, which get’s lovely light as I’ve discovered. The only downside is that extended exposures are needed at the current time, which can sometimes make it hard for the subject to keep still. In hindsight, I should’ve used the posing stand, but was too caught up in trying to make as many plates as possible in the fleeting light I had (there were storms on the way) and spending time with an old friend I haven’t seen in over half a year. All in all, though, I was pleased with the efforts. Even the plates where she moved came out looking cool. I’ve learned that this is not an exact science. There are far too many variables, and there is no such thing as the perfect image, and one can like an image that isn’t necessarily spot on.

Here are the plates I made with Heather:

Ambrotype made with our Anthony Bellows, "Mumford." I like how I do much closer work with its portrait lens and give portraits a nice soft look. I know sharpness is desired for most wet plate shots, but it's my work and I like it how I like it. As long as I'm not being commissioned, I don't give a damn what others think.

Ferrotype taken with Mumford. I really like the sheen on her hair in this one.

Ferrotype taken with my English daguerreotype camera, Lorena. Thank you again, Heather, for letting me attack you with all that stuff. You looked smashing in it. Anyway, I'd like to think of this one as an homage to Louise Brooks.

Ferrotype taken with Lorena. The facial movement is far more detectable in this one than the Brooksie one, unfortunately. I still think it's neat, though. She looks nervous and a little off. It's eerie, and I like it.

Saturday our lovely family friends Robin and Jerry came to share a low country boil and peach cheesecake with us. Robin also sat for me. Unfortunately Jerry didn’t make it over until yet another storm was moving in and the light was quite disappeared. Out of four shots, I got two of Robin that pleased me. It was also great to spend time with the two of them and their lovely pup, Flash.

This is Flash. He is a most delightful dog.

I’m lucky that I’ll get to see Robin again on Wednesday as well as one of my other favorite friends, Laura, when we go see the Death Cab show in Nashvegas. I am very much looking forward to that as a last hurrah before school starts back up.

Ambrotype taken with Mumford

Ferrotype taken with Lorena

Today I got back in the studio to play a little bit. I didn’t do much but did turn out a couple of interesting images. At least, I think they’re interesting.

Ambrotype taken with Mumford. I never title my work unless forced. I am leaving for school in less than a week. Consider this a tribute to the end of summer. A bit obvious, yes, but screw it.

Seems as if my amounts of this are ever more fleeting. Ferrotype taken with Mumford.

So there’s my latest work. I’m afraid this is the only place aside from my Flickr account (I would post the link but it’s a bit of a work in progress at the moment) or my house where they can be viewed. I don’t post on Facebook because they claim the rights to photos. I can’t have that.

I also wanted to take the time here, while I’m in this vein, to discuss a little artistic dilemma I’ve been having lately. A bit of a politically themed squabble on a Facebook group for wet plate photographers I am part of prompted me to finally set these feelings down. It’s not really related to what was going on there, but my thought processes as a result took me back to this problem I’ve been wrestling with for a while now. I own a business that, as of now, makes its most revenue through Civil War reenactment wet plate work in large part so that I may afford to do the artistic wet plate work that I want to do on my own time. I don’t see what I do at events as artistic. It’s mostly a novelty for people, and is not challenging or particularly innovative for me as an artist. This carries some issues itself, but the main one I struggle with is the fact that through my business, I am pulled into a community that I am not so sure I want to be associated with. Unfortunately, a small group within the larger group have given the whole a bad taste in certain circles mouths. Some of those circles are ones of which I count myself a member.

When I work CW events, I’m there for two reasons. The first is to educate the public  something about which I am deeply deeply passionate. I love the history of photography. I love it so much, I want to find a way to devote my professional life to it. The second reason I am there is, as much as it pains my bohemian spirit to say, make money. I know everyone’s money spends the same, and I know that at the end of the day if I’ve imparted one bit of knowledge about the subject that I love in the mind of one person I’ve done a good day’s work, but sometimes, especially in the climate our country is in right now, it is hard to see that surrounding myself in a subculture which so often seems to clash with my own ideals is worth it. I know not every reenactor holds political views diametrically opposed to mine. I really do, and I know personally that I am not trying to recreate a time that seems better than the one we’re in for whatever reason. In fact, I agree with my favorite history professor from undergrad who thinks that that time was just as politically crazy and fucked up as our current time. Maybe it’s enough that I know that, and maybe I shouldn’t care if people wrongfully place me in the same group as those with whom I do not agree.

As I said I am conflicted, and most of this probably does not make sense to those outside of my own head. I certainly do not mean to offend anyone. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs whatever they maybe, and I have always respected that. I just don’t want to be pegged as something I am not because of what I choose to do professionally in such insane times especially. Unfortunately, politics worms its way into everything including, as several on that Facebook posting noted, art. Maybe I’m being paranoid and feeling like I’ve sold out when I really haven’t. Or maybe this is a legitimate worry. Being an artist is never easy no matter what your leanings concerning anything are, and maybe when it’s all said and done all that matters is what you know is you, down in your core, your essence, your soul, and fuck what anyone else thinks.

I need to think on this more…

Also, one final note: Looking back over this post prior to publishing and thinking back to previous posts, I realize I use, erm, less than ladylike language sometimes. I really am sorry if this puts anyone off. However, there is a reason. Since this is a semi-personal blog, I write how I speak, and my speech usually contains an obscenity now and then. I don’t believe in censoring myself, and, well, if it bothers someone too much, they can stop reading. I just thought I would explain my reasoning behind my choice of language for anyone who wondered.

Goodnight, all.

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7 Comments

Filed under Art, History, Just Me, Photography

7 responses to “Back to wet plating

  1. Really like these, and especially that last portrait ‘ferrotype with Lorena’. Lovely stuff.

    And much respect for your refreshing frankness. Sometimes I think arguing is an integral part of the world or art and artists. Seems there’s always conflict about something or other, sadly.

    • thebetsybeast

      Thank you very much, Brenda. It’s lovely to have my work complimented by an artist whose work I so admire. Thank you also for appreciating my frankness, even if it so often is no more than an stream of consciousness late at night. I think art should challenge and ruffle feathers. I mean, it always will whether the artist intends it to or not. Someone will ALWAYS be offended. That’s just human nature. Until I mixed business and art, I used to love that, I still do in all honesty, but I do feel that the business end clips my expressive wings a little, and will until either I get out of the CW scene for favor of a less politically restrictive one or stop selling commissioned portraits. Oh well, it does upset me when other artists (like the ones in that fb group I mentioned) feel the need to ask other artists to censor themselves in order to keep things nicey nice and rosey. Something about that really disturbed me.

  2. I do like these too. It’s a real pity about that spat on Facebook. I disagree that politics should be kept out of art. Historically it has been a function of art to respond to social conditions and how can you do that without being political? Take John Heartfield, for example. He had the balls to ridicule the blackshirts through photography and the sense to leave Germany before it was too late.

    • thebetsybeast

      Thanks, Fin! Yeah, like I said below to Brenda, that discussion on fb really rubbed me the wrong way. Politics are important in art, I agree. I suppose otherwise I wouldn’t feel so troubled about my own and the situation I’m in artistically if I didn’t. What was more sad, though, was that several members of that group felt they had to leave it. That’s such a shame because in just a couple of months it’s become such a brilliant way for all of us to come together as a community of artists sharing, helping, and enjoying each other’s work. I hate that folks felt driven away, but at the same time, we are all artists and should know that each of us brings to the table a completely different view of the world from the next. That’s what makes our art so wonderful, that it is a view of us, and no one should be asked to hide or mask it especially not by other artists.

      I personally am finding it harder and harder to stomach the country of my birth. The total insanity of this high stakes us or them political pissing match really sickens and saddens me, and when I see it crop into the one area of my little corner of the universe I thought was safe, It’s hard to resist the urge to pack up and head somewhere far away. I realize that the grass is always greener, and everywhere has problems, but I think I’m about at the point where I could totally swap. It’s also a little sad that even within the collodion/wet plate community, the Americans are often shown up in kindness and acceptance by those of you elsewhere. At least, that’s what I’ve run into a bit.

      And consider the proof sorted. As you might have gathered from my writing, I’m awful at proofing myself. Always have to get someone to read my academic stuff or else I’m liable to hand in unreadable junk.

      • Hi Betsy, it is sad to see such divisive politics in the US – I’m sure it must have evolved a long way from where the Founders intended it to be. On the bright side you are off to Florida to do a research degree I believe? That might well give you a ticket abroad for a while. When I was at university in the mid to late 1980s it was easy to be anti-American (the bombing of Libya, the support of right-wing dictators in South America etc). But I changed my mind completely when I lived and worked in the US in the early 90s. My advice is try to live and work in as many countries as you can. I’m in number 9 so far! Best of luck with your move to Grad school and I hope you keep up your wet-plate activities.

  3. Hello Betsy! I love these images. The wet plate process gives these faces a real timelessness which I find very haunting. You are obviously also very skilled in getting people to sit for you. It looks as though you had fun!

    The image of the watch is stunning. It could tell so many stories, and really inspires the writer in me!

    Best wishes,
    Sophie.

  4. Pingback: I’m finally getting to this. | The Way Things Come Clear

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