Wet plate, Monsters, and Gators

Friday, for first time in months, I took my cameras out into the field. I am working on a project with a sculpture MFA student here. She creates these fantastical creatures, monsters to some, the “friendly unknown” to her. I am shooting some of her creations in wet plate to hopefully add to a growing exhibition idea involving hoaxes, faux taxidermic specimens, and a lot of imagination (details will come as they develop). Check out her work here.  Jen and I really get along well artistically and as friends. I really loved working with her Friday and look forward to much more of it in the future.

This whole concept of the “friendly unknown,” as she calls it is, really fascinating and beautiful. It’s meant to push people to expand their minds and be brave about what they don’t know. Jen believes it is arrogant to think that we are completely alone in the universe, that there are no such things as Big Foots (Feet?) or Nessies, and even that there isn’t some greater being guiding it all. We just don’t know, so it’s silly to shut down and say that “there is no such thing,” when there is no way to know. It’s much more fun to be open and pleasantly surprised than close-minded and embarrassed by previous assertions of absolutism. As Jen pointed out, all those people who said the world was flat hundreds of years ago, still look pretty dumb today. I like her philosophy.

We shot on the prairie in Micanopy on one of the observation decks. Jen got down in the brush (which is probably not allowed but there were no signs saying not to), and we had a blast despite heavy cloud cover and crazy winds. The weather, while not ideal for traditional pretty, pristine plates, sort of suited my approach to this project perfectly. I was tasked with documenting an inanimate object, which is meant to look like a living, wild creature in a wild environment as if he belonged there. The plates needed to be slightly out of focus, grainy, gritty, and slightly rushed, as if someone was actually trying to quickly document the rare sighting before the creature lumbered off. They were pictures of proof, I suppose. The nature of Jen’s concept, though, also made me thing of her creature as a gentle giant character, something perhaps fearsome or unnerving at first, but gentle and sweet beyond the odd exterior.

From these concepts I looked to these bits of inspiration when photographing the monster:

The Barbapapa children’s book series by Annette Tison (especially Barbapapa’s Ark).

Did anyone else read these lovely books as a child?

Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are:

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss:

Despite the fact that this book, and all of his other books for that matter, scared the bejesus out of me as a child.

And finally the Patterson-Gimlin hoax film:

The plates we made are far from what would be considered a “good plate” in the wet plate world. They are dark, overexposed, blurred, and have spots and specks, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted them to appear as if they were produced in haste, as if trying to capture the creature before it wondered on its way. I think they turned out really well. Here are some:

Being two gals not from the land of gators, we had no clue that they would hang out in areas without water (silly us). After we were done with the shoot, and Jen was finished tramping around in the tall grass, we found this guy in a storm drain by the parking area:

He would have had to crawl in via the prairie. There was no other way for him to enter the drain.

Yeah, I’m glad we didn’t run into him out on the prairie.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of doing an engagement shoot for one of my friends and fellow museum studies student, Courtney, and here fiancé Brad. The weather was kinder and less windy and the location (their neighbors’ backyard) was perfect for this sort of session.

Here are the best shots:

I feel satisfied for the next few weeks, but I can’t wait until I get to go home for the holidays and play with my cameras again.

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4 Comments

Filed under Art, Photography

4 responses to “Wet plate, Monsters, and Gators

  1. Angelo

    hi Betsy!

    the Courtney & Brad’s series: absolutely great!
    congratulations!

  2. Well done, those Engagement plates are fantastic, I bet they were really pleased with them.

    • thebetsybeast

      Thanks! They were pleased, and it was great to introduce more people to the process. I never get tired of seeing people react in astonishment when that first plate goes in the fixer and the magic happens.

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