Friday, May 11, 2012


The plan is simple, and not; to use my 'chase van' as a darkroom during my Cannonball ride across the USA this September (6-23, NY to SF), and shoot portraits of riders and their machines as we cross the country, using terribly obsolescent 1850s technology, 'wet plate' collodion on tin and/or glass.  I've just started experimenting with the medium this week, and here are a few of the results.

As the summer progresses, I'll post more photos taken using the medium, which isn't spontaneous in the least!  All must be planned ahead, the light measured, the glass plate cleaned and coated with liquid collodion, then charged with silver nitrate, and exposed for a few seconds (depending on the light, could be as little as 2 seconds, as much as a few minutes, but portraits need to be under a minute, or the subject is blurry).

Collodion is a fussy medium, and is sensitive to an invisible, ultraviolet end of the light spectrum, so gives unexpected results on skin tones, plants, etc.  It erases tattoos, but darkens melanin in skin, and lightens blue eyes to white, so is basically irreproducible in an iphone 'app'...part of the reason I like the process, and the unique images produced.


Anton NL said...

What a great idea Paul! :)
Re-live the past all the way. When people pose for you in period attire, you can make almost authentic photographs in 2012. My friend Janet and I are collecting old photos, a 'tintype' of an old machine with its rider woull be great :) Keep up the good work and the spirit of years gone by! Thanks

bigshineybike said...

this is a really great thing to try. I wish you all appropriate luck.
I made a reproduction glass plate related to the 1874 expedition to photgraph the passage of Venus, that story too is facinating!
I love your Blog.

GuitarSlinger said...

Hats off to you good sir . Thats one ___ of an endeavor you're undertaking , but well worth the effort once you've gotten a handle on it .

Call me a luddite .... Call me old fashioned ... heck just call me old if you must but those Zeros & Ones of the digital domain don't hold a candle to good ole , well crafted Analogue ... be it film , silver plate , wet plate , whatever .

Can't wait to see the results once you've conquered the medium . They will be fantastic .

Nortley said...

Will you be using a Model T van?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant images.

Anonymous said...

As a keen photographer and motorcyclist, and a lover of vintage forms of both, I am full of envy for your project. Your images are beautiful and timeless. Truely avant garde. Forward to the past.

Jeff Gough

Anonymous said...

That is a technique of shooting that I really want to try. Great shots, looking forward to your progress!!

Doug Ogden

OcchioLungo said...

Super cool Paul! I can hardly wait to see more images. But of course, we'll eventually need to make photos of Victorian and Edwardian motorbicycles with your setup.

see you soon.

The Vintagent said...

Well, I do have a 1902 Clément in my living room, patiently waiting to be photographed... the whole chemical setup needs to move to NYC, along with a large-format camera, which will happen eventually. When you mention 'wet plate', its amazing how many people have tried the technique at one point in their photo careers.

On a side note, I may just practice on the Velocette Rally in Arizona in July...although hot weather makes keeping the plate 'wet' tricky.

Cortes said...

Paul, Will you let us know your schedule and route so some might see you along the way?

The Vintagent said...

The schedule is up on the motorcycle cannonball website, I think, but I'll post a map and dates before we start. I'll have my 50th BD at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, Sept. 11th.

Charlie101 said...

Great idea!
For training purposes you could rig an ordinary camera on top of the large-format camera that records the subject and all the neccesary data for the pic you are taking.

Anonymous said...

Why not shoot the current day with the current day's technology. Would seem much more genuine.

The Vintagent said...

@ Anonymous; a reasonable question...but then again, why ride old motorcycles, when new ones are available?
I don't believe in 'obsolescence'; any technology which is available today is 'today's technology'. The spectrum of photographic techniques available right now range from Daguerreotypes to 'variable focus field' cameras, which is the current cutting edge. Each of these techniques produces images - so is one more 'current' than another? Newer technologies are easier, its true, but sometimes analog techniques have qualities which digital cannot match - the element of chance, of mystery, and some might say, magic. We cannot see the ultraviolet end of the color spectrum to which 'wet plate' collodion photos are sensitive; therefore, we cannot exactly predict how the photo will look. A digital camera with large screen will tell you accurately what it captures, but to think this is 'better' somehow, or more 'current', is a fallacy. It serves the photographic industry's need to sell you new equipment, when in truth, you can make exceptional images using a box with a hole at one end, and some film. That takes imagination, which nobody can sell you, and is therefore un-valued by capitalist enterprise.
It is the same with old motorcycles; they are still motorcycles, and still move you from place to place. They serve a different function today than they did when new, and somehow, in their supposed obsolescence and detachment from 'the industry', old bikes gain something which has been lost in the lust for the New. What is revealed is a different experience, which -hopefully- affirms not the joy of Buying, but the joy of Living.

Anonymous said...

Vintagent, Beautifully stated. Old cars do it for me also. I just finished up a week long tour in a '30's era car. It was wonderful.I will try to meet up with you in Sept.

Anonymous said...

"What is revealed is a different experience, which -hopefully- affirms not the joy of Buying, but the joy of Living."
nothing to add, simply great!
Great project indeed!
greetings from Italy