Epiphany

After months, and months of dragging my feet on flushing out my wet-plate operation, I spent the latest $300 installment of funds on glassware, and other supplies needed for the chemical side of wet-plate photography. This is something like my third round of buying wet-plate related items since I spent my time with John Coffer last year. The time when I can make wet-plate ferrotypes on a regular basis is approaching.

During the past week, while exploring the hills of West Virginia, I had plenty of time to think about my ferrotype work, everything from accomplishments, setbacks, unsolved problems, goals, and the “legitimacy” of dry-plate in relation to wet-plate ferrotypes. You see, in my own mind I have held the opinion that dry-plate was a counterfeit of the wet-plate, or similar to a Photoshop Action that creates a tintype look for any digital image. I now know that this way of thinking is not correct, but it has been something nagging me since I started with dry-plates going on two years ago.

When I started exploring ferrotypes and how they were made, I quickly found out that wet-plate was not something to take very lightly and is best learned from someone how is active with the process. Being impatient, I wanted to make SOMETHING so I thought that dry-plate was something that I could teach myself and play with while I gathered the knowledge, and material for wet-plate. All the while, my mind was set on the goal of making wet-plate ferrotypes. I mean, why waste too much time on dry-plate right? Everyone knows it is not as cool as wet-plate!

Well, two years into dry-plate I am still having technical problems, and elusive gremlins that like to play hide-and-seek with me often. I remember thinking when I tried to make my first batch of plates, and got nothing visible other than some strange colors that it could not be that hard, it is modern dry-plate! For anyone looking to get into this type of art/photography know up front that you will always be surprised (or disappointed) with the results because there are so many elements of creating ferrotypes that seem to be out of your control.

So, while exploring WV and having all of my tintype thoughts floating around in my head, the mountain air must have caused a moment of clarity. Dry-plate is not a stepping stone to wet-plate, and is not inferior by any means. They are not the same in most respects and provide fully separate capabilities and disadvantages. My mind was liberated with this discovery, although you may have worked that out for yourself way before discovering my blog. This realization really came into my mind while I was thinking about my latest work (Iraq based dry-plates from digital capture) and the dry-plate work of Jayne Hinds Bidaut. My Iraq work could not have been made with wet-plate, at least not without some type of projection setup, and you would not have been able to shoot some of the images on location with wet-plate, and that I am positive about.

In the end a weight has been lifted from my mind in regards to how I think about my own work. I now have more room in my mind and with me feelings to move about more feely than I did before, which will allow me to explore more of what dry-plate is. Just as I think that it is generally unhealthy to compare your work with others (in most cases), I now see that the same can be said for the different processes that an artist chooses to work with.

So in closing I would like to share a resource that may prove helpful to those who may be looking to start out with ferrotypes or some other “alt process”. Are you looking for more information, or like-minded artist/photographers to share information with? Maybe you have a nagging technical issue that no one seems to have ever covered in a book on the process that you are using. If any of that sounds like you, then maybe you should check out the Analog Photography Users Group. I know that I have been mining some good information for the group this morning!

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~ by Phil Nesmith on July 7, 2007.

One Response to “Epiphany”

  1. I’m glad to see this, and was happy to hear you talking about dry plate like this when we were coming back to VA. 🙂

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