Tag Archives: wet plate

Spring Break

Hello again, everyone! Hey, did you hear that 500 new fairytales were recently released from an archive in Germany? That’s pretty exciting for every lover of the fantastical like me. I just wonder how long it will take for Disney to ruin them ha ha ha.

But anyway, enough of that side note. Spring break is in full swing. I am, as tradition holds, watching Netflix while avoiding the mountain of school work that needs attending to. I’m back home in Tennessee for the week trying to enjoy a little r&r and ma famille. The weather is divine as well, sunny and cool, just as early March should be. We’ve had two fires in the fireplace since I got in Sunday night, and I get to shuffle around the house in sweaters and thick socks. It’s lovely.

It’s actually been a rather eventful past few days. Mom and Dad came down to pick me up in Gainesville on Saturday having dodged then braved storms all the way from Nashville to south Georgia. That night they officially met the lad for the first time. I don’t exactly have a great track record for picking guys that pass muster. I could not have asked for a more different and exponentially better outcome this Saturday past. Both parties enjoyed each other immensely, and we all had a lovely dinner. It was quite adorable because both sides asked the next day what the other thought of them. I was happy to give satisfactory reports all around.

As much as I hate to admit emotional weakness and general gooey-eyedness, I am miss the lad a lot. It’s our first significant amount of time apart since we started up. I’m starting to wonder how we’re going to make it through three months when I leave for Nashville come May. Oh yeah, I’ll be living in Nashville over the summer completing an internship at the Tennessee State Museum working with some photography collections and getting to work on some of the programs done across the state. I’m looking forward to it very much. Although I will be very busy and close to my friends and family again, I will miss Ryan greatly. But what’s that Rochefoucauld quotation, “Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire.” I’m banking on that being the case.

Enough of that business, though. I got to spend the entire day yesterday in the studio. I was also on fire. Out of seven plates, only one turned out slightly less than what I wanted. That never happens. I will freely admit I have expended five or six plates just to get one shot perfectly. I have a senior picture shoot with a local student Thursday so I hope the winning streak lasts.

Well, I think I have probably wasted enough time, and I should get onto my Ethics homework. I will leave you with two more things, though. Last Friday Ryan and I spent time listening to and sharing music with each other. The fact that we can do this is very important to me. We both share a love for La Blogothèque‘s Take Away Shows and, because we’re freakishly cute, we both think the Beirut ones are the best. So, as a last bit of gooey-eyedness here they are because they remind me of the lad (and they’re just amazing if you’ve never watched them). Enjoy.

(Okay, no more lovesick puppy nonsense again for a very long while).


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Updates from the Studio

Sadly, I wish I could say these were updates of my work. Unfortunately, I am wet plate free until December. My apartment complex has some tricky, persnickety rules about hazardous chemicals, and the photography department at school is having ventilation issues. No one‘s developing anything there at the moment.

While I am working digitally here in the Sunshine State, however, the Studio’s still up and running in Tennessee. M&D have been playing around in the darkroom quite a bit, and have produced some interesting stuff. I thought I would share their work.

I present The Bones Collection:

They also tried using mica for the first time. I think it turned out pretty well.

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Saying goodbye to my unofficial home town, my cameras, and Irving’s dignity

It’s been a busy few days for me. On Wednesday I went with some very good friends to see Death Cab For Cutie and Frightened Rabbit in Nashville. Robin and Jerry, mentioned on this blog before, gave me a ticket and a night out in Music City for graduation, a very appreciated gesture after weeks of boredom and near isolation in the country. Robin’s lovely niece and nephew were in visiting from Virginia so I got to meet and hang out with some people my own age for a change. I haven’t really gotten the chance to do that since graduation. We had a good mix of ages that night, and that always makes things more interesting, I think. We ate downtown and then poked around a bit before the concert.
I enjoy Nashville. It’s a unique city with quite a bit to offer. We live about forty or so miles outside of Nashville in a little town that is devoid of anything stimulating. Growing up, if we ever wanted to do anything culturally enriching or even mildly entertaining, we drove into Nashville. I always wished that we just lived there, but my parents are not city dwellers. Somehow I got that gene, and feel rather uncomfortable outside of them for extended periods. The country, I’ve always thought, is nice to visit sometimes, but not where I would like to permanently spend my time. Unfortunately, fate worked against me on this, and city trips were always rarer than I would have liked. I’ve always felt the closest to my element back home when I’m bopping around East Nashville (East Nasty as all the cool kids call it) or the West End. I’m just a hopelessly displaced (for now) city girl who ironically was born to two park ranger types and raised in the woods. The universe has a really sick sense of humor sometimes. This is not to say I would change my childhood at all, but the teenage years were less than desirable.

I digress. The concert was amazing. It was the first time I saw either band live, and I really was not expecting Death Cab to rock so damn hard. I’ve always sort of pictured them in a subdued light. I love them, don’t get me wrong, but I never thought they would play so hard. It was fantastic. I also hadn’t realized just how much weight Ben Gibbard had dropped. He looks so different from the Ben of my high school years when I was heavily into Death Cab. That was another nice thing about the concert. It took me back to a happy time for me musically. I only have wonderful memory associations with their music from that time, and it was nice to revel in some nostalgia. The one complaint I had about the show was the venue. They held it in our hockey arena. Bridgestone was just too big and did not suit their sound and vibe at all. I would have much preferred to hear them at the Ryman or the War Memorial Building. The ambiance is more appropriate. I was still glad I got to hear them, though.The show was a good, solid three hours give or take, and we were all beat afterwards. I crashed at my other dear friends’, Laura and Jon’s, house, and for the first time in a while, I slept for nine hours straight. It was heaven.

Thursday morning we all reconvened at Fido, this really interesting and delicious coffee house in East Nashville, for breakfast. Robin wanted to show Josie and Justin, her niece and nephew, around EN a bit before they hit the road back to the sovereign colony. We ate, caffeinated, and then hit a couple of the really great stores down the street. We also got to make a stop in at Elder’s, which is probably the coolest bookshop I’ve ever gotten to visit. They specialize in rare books. One literally never knows what kind of gems one will stumble across. It’s a great place for those, like myself, who could easily drop half a day browsing books, and It’s always a treat to visit. Justin, who is a bibliophile like myself, and I had fun sifting a bit and found some pretty cool texts. He found an old paperback of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and a first edition hardback of Salinger’s Nine Stories. I found a great biography of the Marquis de Sade from the early 1960s. After browsing a bit we all had to part ways, and I had to say goodbye to Nashville. It really felt like more of a definite one this time. I know my visits back home are going to become steadily shorter and less frequent, and Nashville excursions will be rarer and rarer. The music scene is probably what I miss most. Nashville really is amazing for it. Everyone plays there. although, I’m usually not in town for the gigs I really want to see. On a side note, Arctic Monkeys are playing the War Memorial in October. I was very disgruntled when I discovered this as I will be ten hours away. Oh well.

This particular visit, however, did teach me a couple of things. I really need to scope out the music scene in Gainesville, and hopefully there is one. I also need to find a group of people that are of like mind musically with whom I can go to gigs. It’s not fun to go alone, and, really, I have no business being out at night by myself. My mother would be very upset, and I feel like I’ve probably already taken enough years from her life and given her enough grey hairs. I like the opportunity figuring out a new city provides, even if Gainesville is smaller and a smidge less happening than what I’m used to.

I also somehow, between packing and finishing my sewing projects, managed to make the last two plates I will before December. I haven’t played as much with the cameras as I would have liked this summer and couldn’t leave without getting some studio time in. Why aren’t they going with you to Florida, you might ask. Well, the photography department at my school was a bit skittish and lukewarm on the idea of having me use their facilities, something about wonky ventilation and liability issues (cough cough pansies cough cough), and my apartment isn’t so keen on hazardous and flammable substances stored within their walls. Sometimes it is difficult being a wet plate artist in the age of digital.

Anyway, here are the two that I felt at least semi-satisfied with:

My first time playing with black glass.

The skull returns!

I always hate saying goodbye to my art. Guess I’ll be going digital for the next few months.

Friday got insane as the day wore on. Mom and Dad went in to get the rental van to haul all of my shit. We undershot our packing anticipation. A mini-van just wasn’t going to cut it, because I guess I have too much shit. Give me a break, though, I am setting up an apartment for the first time after all. We had to make it work, though, and much grumbling, shoving, squeezing and dumping (my beloved orchids were a casualty of the scale back), Dad (the packing master) made it all work. My aunt who is watching the house while we’re away, and I just stayed out of the way and she soothed my fraying nerves. Thanks, Aunt Ruthie. But once things were snug, and I mean super snug, the fun wasn’t quite over. We then entered what I have dubbed Litterboxgate. Yes, my Irving was making the trek down too, lest we forget. How were we supposed to deal with, erm, well nature. shall we say There was no room for his actual box. Hell, there was not really that much room for Irving. Mom stepped in and rigged a smaller makeshift box out of an actual cardboard box saving my father from attack after his suggestion of leaving Irving until a Labor Day trip down could be made. In the end, Irving spent most of the ten hours sleeping in my lap comfortably and never once had to use the box. All that fuss for nothing, I suppose. I think the indignity of it all might have driven him to become dormant, actually.

You expect me to use what?!

Today we’re going to explore Gainesville some since I can’t move into my apartment until tomorrow. I’ll let you know what I think.

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Through the Lens: A Photographer’s Reformed View of Lewis Carroll

I must confess, I never really cared for Lewis Carroll much. For a long time I, like many, dismissed him as a pedophile and opium addict, a theory that is heatedly debated. I don’t think he was an opium addict, but I’m not sure he whether or not he actually liked little girls. I do think we always run the risk of misinterpretation when we impose twenty first century morals on earlier time periods. Suffice to say, the Victorians were very different from us, but I won’t get into that here. I never read the Alice stories. I’m ashamed to admit this. It is in large part due to the fact that Disney’s horrible 1951 film adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland scared the bejesus out of my five-year-old self. They chose to ruin it again not too long ago, but I won’t get into that here either. I never really had respect to Lewis Carroll, or Charles Dodgson as he was known in the real world, as a literary figure. That is, I never had respect for him at all until I became a photographer and actually bothered to learn a bit about him.

Most people who are at least familiar with Dodgson as a photographer recognize this image (one of many he made) of Alice Liddell, the famed inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

The famous Alice Liddell

Dodgson was brilliant with the camera which is a fact that many don’t realize. He should have been too as it became a fairly consuming passion for him from 1856 to 1880. He made over 3,000 images of friends, children, landscapes, and even some notable figures such as Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Dodgson holding a lens

 Fun Fact: Dodgson chose his famous nom de plume the same year he purchased his first camera in 1856.

Dodgson's portrait of Tennyson

Upon proper inspection of even just a few of Dodgson’s prints, it’s quite easy to recognize his meticulousness, eye for detail, knack for producing rather breathtaking tones, and what I can only think to call a brilliant compositional eye.

Of Dodgson’s images that I have seen, and I’ve seen quite a few of them, these are my two favorites.

"The Broad Walk, Oxford, 1861"

"No Lessons Today"

Whether one views him as ardent hobbyist or gifted artist, it’s hard not to place Dodgson as an important figure in early photographic history. The respect I lack for his literary works is made up for twenty fold by my respect for him as a photographer. He just got it, and it is obvious from his writing on the subject and his images that he had a deep love for the medium as well. I can appreciate that because I live that myself.

I was pleased this morning when I came across a poem that I’m a little embarrassed I had never read before via a wet plate contact on Facebook. (Have I mentioned how much I love social media?) Anyway, it is a poem by Carroll called “Hiawatha Photographing.”  It speaks, as it does to me, to anyone who has ever worked with wet plate, and perhaps portrait photography in general. I thought I would end this by sharing it with you.

So without further ado, here is Lewis Carroll’s “Hiawatha’s Photographing”

[In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly practised writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre of ‘The Song of Hiawatha.’ Having, then, distinctly stated that I challenge no attention in the following little poem to its merely verbal jingle, I must beg the candid reader to confine his criticism to its treatment of the subject.]

From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;

But he opened out the hinges,
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the Second Book of Euclid.

This he perched upon a tripod –
Crouched beneath its dusky cover –
Stretched his hand, enforcing silence –
Said, “Be motionless, I beg you!”
Mystic, awful was the process.

All the family in order
Sat before him for their pictures:
Each in turn, as he was taken,
Volunteered his own suggestions,
His ingenious suggestions.

First the Governor, the Father:
He suggested velvet curtains
Looped about a massy pillar;
And the corner of a table,
Of a rosewood dining-table.
He would hold a scroll of something,
Hold it firmly in his left-hand;
He would keep his right-hand buried
(Like Napoleon) in his waistcoat;
He would contemplate the distance
With a look of pensive meaning,
As of ducks that die ill tempests.

Grand, heroic was the notion:
Yet the picture failed entirely:
Failed, because he moved a little,
Moved, because he couldn’t help it.

Next, his better half took courage;
SHE would have her picture taken.
She came dressed beyond description,
Dressed in jewels and in satin
Far too gorgeous for an empress.
Gracefully she sat down sideways,
With a simper scarcely human,
Holding in her hand a bouquet
Rather larger than a cabbage.
All the while that she was sitting,
Still the lady chattered, chattered,
Like a monkey in the forest.
“Am I sitting still?” she asked him.
“Is my face enough in profile?
Shall I hold the bouquet higher?
Will it came into the picture?”
And the picture failed completely.

Next the Son, the Stunning-Cantab:
He suggested curves of beauty,
Curves pervading all his figure,
Which the eye might follow onward,
Till they centered in the breast-pin,
Centered in the golden breast-pin.
He had learnt it all from Ruskin
(Author of ‘The Stones of Venice,’
‘Seven Lamps of Architecture,’
‘Modern Painters,’ and some others);
And perhaps he had not fully
Understood his author’s meaning;
But, whatever was the reason,
All was fruitless, as the picture
Ended in an utter failure.

Next to him the eldest daughter:
She suggested very little,
Only asked if he would take her
With her look of ‘passive beauty.’

Her idea of passive beauty
Was a squinting of the left-eye,
Was a drooping of the right-eye,
Was a smile that went up sideways
To the corner of the nostrils.

Hiawatha, when she asked him,
Took no notice of the question,
Looked as if he hadn’t heard it;
But, when pointedly appealed to,
Smiled in his peculiar manner,
Coughed and said it ‘didn’t matter,’
Bit his lip and changed the subject.

Nor in this was he mistaken,
As the picture failed completely.

So in turn the other sisters.

Last, the youngest son was taken:
Very rough and thick his hair was,
Very round and red his face was,
Very dusty was his jacket,
Very fidgety his manner.
And his overbearing sisters
Called him names he disapproved of:
Called him Johnny, ‘Daddy’s Darling,’
Called him Jacky, ‘Scrubby School-boy.’
And, so awful was the picture,
In comparison the others
Seemed, to one’s bewildered fancy,
To have partially succeeded.

Finally my Hiawatha
Tumbled all the tribe together,
(‘Grouped’ is not the right expression),
And, as happy chance would have it
Did at last obtain a picture
Where the faces all succeeded:
Each came out a perfect likeness.

Then they joined and all abused it,
Unrestrainedly abused it,
As the worst and ugliest picture
They could possibly have dreamed of.
‘Giving one such strange expressions –
Sullen, stupid, pert expressions.
Really any one would take us
(Any one that did not know us)
For the most unpleasant people!’
(Hiawatha seemed to think so,
Seemed to think it not unlikely).
All together rang their voices,
Angry, loud, discordant voices,
As of dogs that howl in concert,
As of cats that wail in chorus.

But my Hiawatha’s patience,
His politeness and his patience,
Unaccountably had vanished,
And he left that happy party.
Neither did he leave them slowly,
With the calm deliberation,
The intense deliberation
Of a photographic artist:
But he left them in a hurry,
Left them in a mighty hurry,
Stating that he would not stand it,
Stating in emphatic language
What he’d be before he’d stand it.
Hurriedly he packed his boxes:
Hurriedly the porter trundled
On a barrow all his boxes:
Hurriedly he took his ticket:
Hurriedly the train received him:
Thus departed Hiawatha.

Illustration for the poem by Arthur B. Frost


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Oh boy! Yeah buddy!

I realized the other day I haven’t posted a music related piece in a while. Well, let’s be frank, I haven’t posted any kind of proper piece in a while. Life’s been crazy, man. I plan to change this this week before I head out on a weekend wet plate gig Friday.

Right now, I am enjoying my requisite cup (actually three cups) of morning coffee before I head out to get the house in order and do some photo work in prep for this weekend. The rain decided to move in this past weekend just when I planned to get out and do some field work. Of course. The sun is supposed to come out for a bit this afternoon, so I plan to dash out with Mumf and Lor to get some quick (ha ha) images off.

That last bit sounded vaguely dirty. Sorry about that.

Moving on. So as I enjoy my morning coffee (life’s blood), I am listening to Rave On the new Buddy Holly tribute album. Fast fact: Buddy Holly was my age (22) when he died in that fateful plane crash. How’s that for a swift kick in the mortality nuts? Anyway…the gist of the album is that  some of my favorite artists, new and old, got together and recorded their own versions of Holly’s best-loved songs. I’m particularly digging The Black Keys’ kinda eerie and scratchy but oh so good “Dearest,” Julian Casablancas’ version of “Rave On” done in a way only Julian Casablancas can, and Fiona Apple and Jon Brion’s sweet-as-honey soulful rendition of “Everyday.” It’s fun and the perfect summer compilation album. I don’t know if this is a thing or no, but I’ve always associated summer with compilation albums. They just seem to fit in my opinion.

The album doesn’t drop for another week, but the kind folks at NPR have it streaming in its entirety. I highly recommend you have a listen (here) if you are a rock nerd like me or just like listening to somethin’ ya can dance to at the block party. Do people still have block parties?

Enjoy your days.

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Just a thought: Bands and Wet Plates

I know I just posted  this on my Facebook, and if you read it there, I am sorry to be redundant. However, I would like to pose a query for all my Music City buds (or anyone else in the general southeastish area). Because I am definitely sure that all of you who read my blog are all diverse and eclectic and have interesting connections, I would like to know if any of you know any local bands (country, indie, jazz or whatever) that would be interested in having some wet plate promo images made in a sort of mutual promotional deal. I think it could be a very fun concept to play with, so I thought I would throw that out there to see if I get any bites. If you have any leads, contact our studio at thevacantchairstudio@yahoo.com. Thanks much!

Oh and once again, here is our Flickr photostream with examples of some of The Vacant Chair Photography Studio’s work.

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Shameless self-promotion (at least it’s interesting)

I know I haven’t been posting as I should, so to make it up to you, I’ll write something on the longer side with interesting things to look at.

For the first time all week, it didn’t rain today, which was quite nice. This also meant that I was able to take my wet plate camera, ‘Lorena’, for a spin, something I haven’t been able to do since November. Winter weather, I’ve found, is not conducive to collodion work. It felt good to go through the familiar motions again and make some art. Out of nine plates, five turned out, which is good for me, the eternal perfectionist. There is something very therapeutic for me in wet plate. A lot of that comes from its near ritual-like quality. To do it right and well, you really have to be committed to the process, and the process is not a quick one. I find great pleasure, though, in going through the familiar steps, setting up my darkroom, treating the plate, preparing my camera, exposing the image, and developing and fixing. Each step has its own set of substeps, and you have to find the best way to make those steps work, and then commit it to memory. Just as with most things, when you do it enough, somehow your mind and hands absorb it, and you can deftly and almost unconsciously move through it and end up with something beautiful. It just feels so damn good. In that respect, today was a good day.

In other news on the wet plate front, the Studio’s newest camera came in this week. My dad gave a reproduction Anthony bellows camera to my mom as an early birthday gift. The good news is, it is quite pretty and can take landscape shots. The bad news is, it was handled a little too roughly in transit, and its ground glass was shattered. Expensive stuff, ground glass. Luckily, the man who made the camera is shipping us a new piece for Dad to install.

We have a tradition now at our studio. Cameras get names, musical names. My camera, Lorena, is named for my favorite mid-nineteenth century song of the same name. Since we had a camera with a more traditional name which represents one aspect of our studio, Mom chose something a little more modern for hers. I recently introduced her to the wonders of Mumford & Sons who deliciously blend old and new in their idiom. She dubbed the new camera, Mumford. I heartily agreed with her choice, and Dad is coming around. It just seemed to fit very well. We’re all about blending the old and new too.


Lorena and Mumford (Lorena is a repro English Style Daguerreotype Camera from the early 1850s. Also while the camera bodies are reproductions, all of our lenses are originals dating to the mid-1800s).

Man, that makes me think. M&S would be amazing to photograph in wet plate. Seriously, they would be perfect. I’m thinking the whole field motif, like from the “Winter Winds” video would be amazing. The wheat would look so cool on a tintype especially. M&S, if you’re ever in the Nashville area and want a free tintype (or hell fifty, if we’re being honest) hit me up! Ha ha ha. For those of you who don’t know, I have a secret dream to become a wet plate rock photographer. Maybe one day it will happen, gotta keep those options open, y’know?

Just to clarify, for anyone who has not previously read my blog and who is reading the above paragraphs and scratching his or her head, I am a wet plate photographer. And here is where the shameless self-promotion begins: I own and operate (with the help of my wonderful family) a studio called the Vacant Chair Photography Studio. We work on individual commission making both modern and mid-nineteenth century- themed images for customers, and we also go to various living history events (mostly Civil War) to educate the public about the lives of itinerant field photographers of the time. The latter is not my favorite part, because I much prefer working out of a stationary studio, but that’s just part of it. I also get better, more relaxed interaction and more time with my clients when I’m not in the field. It is fun to teach the public about two of my passions, though, photography and history. I suppose there are pros and cons to each setting.  Personally, I also love making still life images, but most people find the portrait end of the medium more appealing.

So yes, here’s the part where I link you to all of our pages and stuff. You can find a large portion of our work on our Flickr photostream. I added the work I did today a little while ago. We also have a Facebook page. Just search for the Vacant Chair Photography Studio, and we pop right up. It’s a good way to keep up with our latest comings and goings. As of a couple of days ago, we got a Twitter too. So definitely check us out there as well.

Okay, enough of that. I actually hate doing that, but I felt like it was a little pertinent. Instead, I’ll end with a few images from the studio. Enjoy!

One of my early ambrotypes of some Chucks


One of my dogs, Orrie, in tintype


This is an ambrotype of me taken by my mom last summer. Unfortunately this image is no longer with us in plate form but lives on digitally as it was a victim of a tragic tripping accident. Oh the hazards of working with glass. Also, the pealing on the bottom right corner occurred because this plate was not treated with albumen to help the collodion adhere to the glass.

All of the images in this post are my own, and I claim copyright on them. Please do not claim them or distribute them as your own work. If you use them, please attribute them to the Vacant Chair Photography Studio. Thanks!

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