Friday, October 31, 2014


Kent and his father's Velo MAC, obscured by ?
A hot, sunny July day is an atypical setting for a creepy ghost story, and the thought never occurred to us that we'd been haunted until our work was finished.  The 'unexpected' is one of the great attractions of the 'wet plate/collodion' photographic process - we literally can't see the UV end of the light spectrum to which collodion-based photography is sensitive, and therefore, what we see in the camera while setting up a shot is not what we 'get' on the plate (glass or metal - we use black-painted aluminum).
We shot several portraits of Blaise in front of the assay office, and never could put a head on him...but you can see his eye!
Wet plate photographers concerned with perfect image quality go to great lengths to control all known variables afflicting the final image, like heat, chemical contamination, and even uncontrolled movement while pouring chemistry onto the plate.  As a result, some wet-platers are fussy creatures, - control freaks - who disdain the messy images obtained by less-careful photographers, like me.  But I was a painter before I ever picked up a camera, and random chemical effects are endlessly fascinating to me, even if my 'failure' rate is as high as 30%.  No rational wet plate technician would attempt to photograph in hostile environments like the Bonneville Salt Flats, or when the mercury hits 100degrees...which means about 120deg inside my Sprinter/darkroom, where we must immediately process our images after exposure (the plate must stay 'wet' or the image is ruined - hence the name).  It was that hot in Volcano, CA, at the end of the 2013 Velocette Summer Rally, our annual week-long ride.  My photo-partner Susan and I had been riding all week, with no chance to take photos, and grabbed the chance to take portraits on the rally's final day.
Who's that peeking above Dick's hair?
We chose an abandoned assay office as our backdrop, basically a wooden shack in this Gold Rush town, beside the St.George Hotel, where we stayed.  Every photo we took was 'ruined' by chemistry, with strange effects over the hour we shot in that location, until we gave up and moved elsewhere, when our shots were crystal-clear, with no 'fogging'.  It wasn't until we were rinsing our plates in the hotel room later that we noticed the strange images in that spot, our headless portraits and peeking ghosts, until we finally washed the portrait of Carl, and the goblin beside him.  Yes, it freaked us out too!
Carl and the visitor at his shoulder...Civil War soldier?  Goblin?  Give me the creeps either way...
We asked at the hotel about the assay office, and showed them our photos.  They weren't a bit surprised, saying that spot was well known as haunted, ever since a garrison of troops during the Civil War had died there of exposure in the winter of 1867.  Creepy stuff.

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Anonymous said...

Creepy indeed! Perhaps with a bit more investigation we could see the actual kick starter specters that advance our Velo mags or hold the tickers to flood levels! Press on!

Greg Ess said...

A motorcycle ghost story?

Such a thing is unheard of... except maybe for this one...


Happy Halloween.


The Two Terriers said...

Very strange, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. was it Fox Talbot who photographed a ghost at some rectory here in England?

Great blog by the way.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

The civil war ended in 1865, so much for this one!