Rediscovering the Magic of Photography - A trip to the past with James Weber

by JamesNYCJuly 27. 2012 23:54

My friend James Weber has been itching to play with large format photography for some time.

Recently he went way back to the beginning of large format photography and has gotten into Wet Plate Collodion.

I’ve been a professional photographer for around 18 years now.  In that time, I dedicated 6 wonderful years in the U.S. Navy as a photographer.  This is truly where I fell in love with photography as a process and an art.  Back then, it was all film.  Black & white, color, darkrooms, chemicals..it was crusty and dirty, but it was fun! 

The processes were harder to do, but really satisfying when it was done right.  When I was in the darkroom and I saw the image coming up from a print in the developer, it really was magical.

 

 

Well, time has marched on and things have gotten simpler and more accessible to the masses.  Digital has come of age and photography has become…truly…easy.  Now, I’m not saying anything about anyone’s talent, or eye, or anything related to their photography being good or bad, I’m just talking about the process.

We’ve come a long way, but there is something to be said for taking the long road, or the road less travelled.  Taking your time and doing things by hand.  I was in search of just such a thing when I visited the farm of John Coffer to learn from him the skills and techniques needed to shoot Wet Plate successfully.

Instagram has proven to society that what it wants is what we once had…what once was.  Borders on images, light leaks, scratches on film, different color temperatures, square formats, polaroids…all of it.  We, as a society, are eating it up.  What we are trying to get is what we once had, but easier, simpler, NOW.   We are living in the very spoiled age of instant gratification.  Anything we want is at our fingertips, to a point that if something takes too much time, it gets discarded and a faster, easier route is looked for.

I found out about wet plate photography and was completely enamored with it.

It’s name, Wet Plate Photography, comes from the fact that you have to put a wet chemical, collodion, on a surface(glass, tin, aluminum).  Then, you have around 10 minutes to shoot and develop that plate(time depends on the heat/environment) before it dries up.  After it dries up, you don’t get an image.  So it’s challenging in the field, but very do-able.  The final result is so unlike any other form of photography.  It’s beautiful.

Each glass negative, ambrotype, or Tintype made takes around 30 minutes or more to make from start to finish.  It slows you down and makes you think about what you’re shooting.

My trip to John Coffer’s farm in the woods was born out of a desire to get back some of the simple joy it is to see the image come up again in front of me, get my hands dirty, and create something from nothing.   I didn’t realize I missed it until I started buying polaroid and film again.  The analog nature of it was giving me something that digital just didn’t.  I didn’t want it, “simple”, anymore.  I wanted to put the magic back into photography.

So what this post covers is my journey to John’s farm and some of the experiences and photos taken during my time taking his class.  What I can say unequivocally  is that is was a profoundly eye opening experience and one that I would like to share.

This is just the first step, the first experience, in what will be an ongoing exploration of this early art of photography.

It all started with a long drive, just me and Delilah(My Zipcar)

 

Definitely one of the things I miss living in the city…trees, mountains, fresh air, wide open expanses.

t the lodge now…loving the sky.

I‘m off to Coffer’s now.  You know you’re getting close when you hit the dirt roads.  He’s a little bit off the beaten path.

We have arrived.  This is also John’s only form of communication.  He doesn’t have a phone and he’s proud of it.  U.S. Mail all the way…

 

Please click here to read the full story, view more images and watch the accompanying videos.

 

 


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