Saturday, July 21, 2012

TINTYPES IN THE DESERT

As continued prep for the Cannonball Run in September, part of my equipe for the Velocette Summer Rally this year included a portable darkroom, plate camera, and all the chemicals necessary to make 'wet plate' collodion Tintypes on the road.  While the technique is a bit fussy, the resulting images are unique, and the process is satisfying in a way digital photography could never be.  Kind of like the fussy old bikes we're riding...
My  photo-partner in this escapade, Susan McLaughlin, and her '65 Triumph Bonneville
Jeff Scott, Pd'O, and the little Velo GTP two-stroke...
...seen better in this image.  This 1939 model is a 250cc, the last of the Velo two-strokes, which were their mainstay from 1905 until they started making OHC 'K' models in 1925
Jeff Scott
Gil Loe and his Velocette Venom
Hanging out with the Bonnie at the end of a good day's ride...(this photo has been digitally 'reversed')
Dai Gibbison from Wales, owner of the Velocette Technical Forum 
Frank Recoder from Mexico rides a Thruxton
The Velocetting Hassel family
Pete Young of Occhiolungo
The Young family and their '39 Velo MSS with sidecar
Some technical details for the curious; these are 'direct positives', which means we pour a sticky medium - collodion- onto an aluminum plate which has been painted black.  The coated plate is soaked in silver nitrate for a few minutes, and then inserted into a plate holder, which has a slide at the front.  The plate holder is placed in the back of a plate camera (with plate at the rear, bellows in the middle, lens up front...we're using a new Chamonix 4"x5" camera with an 1800s 'Petzval' portrait lens).  These images were exposed between 1 second and 25 seconds, depending on the light and time of day.  The plates are exposed 'upside down and backwards' as we're using an old lens without a mirror or inverter to make the image 'normal'.
After exposure, the plate must be developed before the collodion/silver dries, which is why the technique is called 'wet plate'.  We pour developer over the exposed plate in a darkroom (in this case my Sprinter, with blackout fabric taped over the windows), then it can be soaked in fixer (same kind as with paper images - sodium thiosulfate), and washed for 10 minutes in a hotel bathtub.  It's possible to tell if the image is properly exposed within 2 minutes of taking the photo, so your subjects don't have time to flee if you need to re-shoot...although I find people generally love having their photo taken, and are fascinated by the process.  Except for women, who usually hate how they look in the UV light spectrum the 'wet plate' is sensitive to; it adds 'character'.

Scratches on the plate usually occur when moving plates from my van to the hotel bathtub, when the collodion is really vulnerable...we're working on a better 'in the field' carrier. Variations in exposure, chemical residue, incomplete coverage with the collodion, 'mistakes' with developer, all add to the unpredictable character of the process, which is its fundamental charm.

14 comments:

Hairy Larry said...

Those are pretty cool.Just curious, what is the length of exposure?

DAN_DAN said...

AWESOME! super genuine

Anton D said...

What a great way to capture "the past", Paul!
The photographs (you cannot call them 'pics') are wonderful, thank you!
BTW:
Do you carry the equipment in a sidecar?

vincent said...

LOve that Paul... One day, you'll learn me !

Anonymous said...

magic...

Anonymous said...

Very nice. They do look a way that digital never could.

Why are some images reversed and others not?

Thanks, madx2

klooz said...

Thse add another layer of interesting to the best blog I know of. You may now be by known as the Vintographogent.

OcchioLungo said...

So Much Fun. I loved it Paul. posing for photographs isn't terribly fun, but it was only a few seconds. Watching you and Susan prepare the material, develop and then fix the images, etc. was the bee's knees. We all need to pick up a new hobby once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Paul, why are some mirror images and others not?

Cheers and beers
Hodge

Andrew Macpherson said...

Very nice, bravo!

The Vintagent said...

I've added some technical explanation of the process, and why some images are 'normal' while most are 'reversed'...

Hairy Larry said...

Thanks for the technical details. I was given a small book with some old tintype portraits, and wondered about the process.

HerMajestysThunder.com said...

Fantastic feature, Paul! I love seeing the images captured in a genuine way. It really adds something to the image that you can't ever get with digital.

Anonymous said...

Cool vintage photos!