Thursday, August 6, 2015

Introducing CLERA - 1st Transparent Camera!

  The day has come my friends!  After months of being nothing more than a dream and concept, weeks of experimenting and building, and days of testing and working out the kinks today at San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts I will be unveiling what I believe to be first completely transparent and entirely functional camera.  I call it CLERA, short for Clear Camera, and without further ado here it is pictured against the clear San Diego skies. It is the first camera where you can actually SEE the image projected onto the piece of photographic material during the exposure!


#CLERA by Anton Orlov

  I came up with this idea while working in my dark box and developing tintypes.  Those of you familiar with my work know that for the past few years the medium of wet plate collodion has consumed my photographic endeavors almost entirely.  For those not familiar with the process I will briefly state that is involves coating, exposing and processing a metal or glass plate within the span ranging from a few minuted to maybe half an hour or so depending on meteorologic conditions and the emulsion is sensitive mostly to the UV end of the visible spectrum of light.  Due to the plate having to stay wet, a darkroom of some sort must be present wherever one chooses to make an image.  In my case I use a self-made dark box with red windows.  Quite often my box was positioned in such a way that during the 30 seconds of development sun was shining through the windows directly onto the plate and no light fogging was present in the final image.  That's when it struck me - why not make a camera out of red material that would filter out UV and blue light!?  Wouldn't it be cool to actually SEE the rays of light striking whatever light sensitive material one chose to capture an image with during the actual moment of exposure?  With that in mind I set out to experiment.

  First off I had to design something simple for the very first prototype - I didn't want to overdo it and not have it work (though after thinking for a while about it I saw no reason why it shouldn't work....  For that reason I chose a classic design of a simple daguerreotype box camera.  It's infinite simplicity is praise-worthy.  A box is made in a proper length for a selected lens to be able to focus on infinity.  The lens then provides the ability to focus closer via a rack and pinion system.  All you need to complete it is a ground glass focusing back that takes a plate holder and you're in business.  I hunted eBay for a while and found a great 19th century Petzval lens that was not too expensive and of a proper covering power.  The lens has no maker mark engraved on it, but upon opening it up to clean the elements I saw G & C written on the edges of glass making me believe it was made by a Parisian company Gasc & Charconnet.  The company was founded in 1850s, but this lens could have been made as late as 1880s, there's really no way of knowing this with any degree of certainty.  Lens is of an 8in focal length, f4 and lacks provision for Waterhouse stops because it was originally made for magic lantern projectors.  I had a spare 4x5in camera back kicking around my parts pile and painted it red to match the body it would go on.  I think the back came from a sliding back adapter for 8x10 cameras, but it might have come from any number of wooden cameras of 1900-1950s.


Gasc & Charconnet Petzval Lens and 4x5in Back

  There's a great local plastics manufacturing business near me where I have had many things build in the past, so I made a few trips there and tried out several transparent red materials and finally settled on one particular polycarbonate.  Unlike regular plexiglass it is nearly indestructible and also comes with a layer that prevents scuffs and scratches, so CLERA is going to stay intact and shiny for a long long time.  One of the employees there, Abraham, is especially kind and understanding of the plight of artists-experimenters, so he worked with me on this in a very accommodating way and for that I am forever grateful.  Here he is tapping the threads for the lens flange screws at his home workshop last Friday after work.



  I will spare you the details of all the testing I put the camera though and all the headaches and confusion I underwent before figuring out why some of the images were coming out foggy.  I will just say that after three days of non-stop experimentation and deductive empiricism it now works flawlessly in any conditions.  Here is the first tintype plate made with CLERA - featuring Abraham in his back alley right after the camera was assembled.  Pardon the reflections on the bottom.


First #Tintype from #CLERA

  Here is the last in the line of experimental plates - this one finally shows zero fog (the fog, by the way was being caused by light reflecting inside the lens barrel and not by the camera material).  It is not the most visually exciting composition, but I dare to say that this is the most tintyped back yard in America that doesn't actually belong to a tintype artist - it's the view from the stairs leading up to my darkroom and that's where I conduct any tests of new lenses and other equipment.  As you can see from the following pictures the camera was set up in direct sun with the sun actually shining on the plate through the top of the camera during exposure - no fog at all!


  Here are some more test plates made in the past few days.  Some of them are a bit fogged - this was all done before I figured out that the lens needed to be slightly modified in order to improve contrast.  As you can see I was shooting with the camera pointed up because intuitively I knew that it was something about that position which cause the fog, but it took a bit longer than it probably should have to figure out that the black coating inside the lens was not as matte as it should have been because it's not technically a 'camera' lens, but a projection one.



  As I mentioned above tintype is an orthochromatic medium (sensitive to a single section of light spectrum - the spectrum range in around blue and UV end).  There are other photographic materials that exhibit the same characteristics, some of which are daguerreotypes, photographic printing paper, lithographic as well as some regular films.   I had some direct positive paper in my darkroom so I decided to try that out as well.  Here is the result - a portrait of my neighbor Fred made on no longer produced Efke direct positive paper with ISO 2.


  I plan on updating this post after tomorrow - that is when I will do an experiment with using CLERA to make a daguerreotype and develop it with Becquerel method right in the camera!  I think it should work.  I will also test a few films in the near future and post results here.  

  For now I would like to offer anyone who wants me to make them their own CLERA to contact me by email: thephotopalace@gmail.com
  If you have a lens that you would like to use you'll have to send it to me so I can do the needed calculations.  If you have a back - that's great too.  If not - no worries!  I can find you a lens and back for the size images you'd like to make.  I am also working on CLERA 2.0 - a sliding box design that will allow the use of various lenses and provide shorter focusing distances (this design can focus from infinity down to whatever distance the rack and pinion mechanism allows, which in my camera's case is about 6ft).
  Approximate prices with YOUR LENS are:  $350 for 4x5 and smaller, $500 for 5x7 and $700 for 8x10.  You will have to send me your lens for me to measure it exactly and to custom make you your own CLERA.

  Prices without you providing me a lens will vary, but maybe as little as $150 more for 4x5 to as much as $1000 more for 8x10 - lenses vary widely in price range, so if you don't have a lens you'd like to use you can email me and we can discuss options as related to budget.

#CLERA

UPDATE 8-7-15

  Today my initial theory that this CLERA would work to both expose and develop a daguerreotype using Becquerel method was confirmed.  A local daguerreotypist by the name of Race Gentry came by the darkroom and helped make my first daguerreotype.  I will stress that this is my first daguerreotype and it is a technique that takes years to master, so don't judge the performance of the camera by my feeble initial attempt.  With Race's help though I think the plate came out rather well.  Becquerel method involves fuming a silver plate with only iodine and, after exposure, developing it by action of red light.  CLERA was set up in direct sunlight for the 1min exposure and then turned in such a way that sun was shining directly onto the plate for 45 minutes (which is a relatively fast development time from what I understand).   Here is the result.  Race, who has seen his share of becquerel daguerreotypes, said that the tonality is excellent and was thoroughly amused by the fact that the actual camera used for exposure was also used to develop the plate. 

Daguerreotype plate developing inside CLERA

Resulting 1/6th plate Becquerel daguerreotype with no gold chloride gilding
 

Thank you,
Anton Orlov

Monday, June 1, 2015

Surfing Tintype Images - First Modern-Day Wet Plate Collodion True Action Sports Photography

Hello to all!

  Sorry I've been absent from here for a while, but I really think that this little achievement deserves a post.

  As you may remember I have gotten heavily hooked on working with wet plate collodion technique and it's been a non-stop obsession ever since I poured my first plate in the spring of 2013.  The intrinsic beauty, uniqueness and incredible archival quality of the images combined with the relative difficulty and immediate feedback of the process is truly riveting. 

  Some of you may know that collodion emulsion is equal to about ISO 1 at it's fastest, so exposure times usually range into multiple seconds even with fast acting vintage lenses built for that purpose.  Needless to say, action sports photography is not something attempted by those who practice this craft today.  Even in the 19th century very few have pointed their wet plate cameras at moving subjects.  most notable of course was Edward Muybridge, who in mid 1870s did somehow achieve his spectacular results by capturing a galloping horse in full stride to settle an argument of whether or not all four legs of the animal left the ground at some point during the stride.  How he did it I am not certain, but I believe there soon will be a detailed explanation provided by a photo historian and a great wet plate photographer Luther Gerlach (possibly in a form of a movie).  All I know is that Muybridge's efforts were fully sponsored and close to a modern equivalent of $1M to produce and included modified emulsion, custom made lenses, trip wires and so on.  Not to discount that great man's miraculous efforts, but that was a set up scene and it wasn't truly 'action sports' in my humble opinion.  Neither were the more recent and rather famous plates of skaters.  The photographer there set up a tremendous amount of strobes and also the skaters were told when and where to jump - again, hardly qualifies as true action sports in my eyes, more akin to shooting taxidermy than wild life.  I can come upon a few historic images featuring people at an archery range, but that sport doesn't include much moving...  Aside from that there's nothing that I can find depicting real live action on a sports field or arena.  


  In all honesty, I wasn't thinking about the historic precedence or conducting any research while conceiving my idea of shooting surfers on waves.  I live in San Diego, surf-central, and have been surfing for a good decade or so, though lately I've been doing a lot more photography than wave-riding.  So all I was thinking was how fun and challenging it would be to use my wet plate skills to get an image of the action.

  Last Friday I finally got together everything I needed to try this.  A week prior I finally got a lens I've been coveting for a while - a WWII areal surveillance 7in f2.5 Kodak Aero Ektar.  I also had a shutter that happened to fit this lens - I believe it is from 1950-70s and was made by a Japanese company with a friendly name of Tommy.  The shutter is based on the Thornton-Pickard design of late 1800s and has the same limited range of speeds (1/30-1/90).  With my two week old collodion mix, which has been staying very fast due to refrigeration, I decided to give this seemingly insurmountable goal a try.  To do this I went to the Ocean Beach pier, knowing that the waves there break pretty close to a point where I can set up my mobile dark box.  The weather cooperated and just at the time that I had my equipment set up and chemistry out the marine layer that plagues the beaches of southern California during this time of the year finally burned off, giving me nice sunshine and maximum UV power to make my exposures with.  I may need to remind my readers that with wet collodion process the plate need to be sensitized, exposed and developed before the emulsion dries, so I was really at the mercy of the swells and the skill of surfers present below the pier - a big enough wave had to come within a couple of minutes of me loading the plate into the camera and then someone had to be good enough to catch it!  Well, the surfing gods apparently coordinated with the gods of collodion because below are the two plates selected from my shoot (I did a total of 4 actually and they are all actually rather decent, but these two are my favorite).

 First exposure of the day - f2.5 with 1/30sec shutter speed

Third exposure of the day - f2.5 with 1/75sec shutter speed


  A few people stopped by to see what I'm doing and one of them happened to have a camera and made this exposure showing me next to the self-made dark-box and the Zone VI 4x5 camera used to make the above plates.

Image by Zean Lugtu

  In other news - I am getting ready to put The Photo Palace Bus to use again after some time off the road.  First post-break trips will probably be around San Diego and the vicinity and I'll be looking forward to shooting with wonderful 40x50cm Ernemann Reisekamera (Travel Camera in English) that I am currently fixing up and outfitting for wet plate photography.  I will NOT be attempting to make plates of surfers with it! 



 
Anton Orlov

Friday, January 17, 2014

95 Years Later - Portland Lantern Slide Mission

  First off let me congratulate everyone with a New 2014 Year!  I would like to wish all my readers a great year and may all your images come out better than you expect!  I have not written anything on here for a while because the bus and I have been stationed in San Diego and have not done much traveling at all.  However the events of earlier this week do deserve a special notice, so here we go - my first update of 2014.

  Some of you may remember that about a year ago I published on here a story about purchasing a collection of Magic Lantern Slides taken by John Rahill in Russia during the winter of 1917/18 while he was doing work for YMCA.  The story made international news and I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of interest these images generated.  Later, during my summer travels, I visited YMCA archives in Minneapolis MN and actually found some good useful information that will come in handy in both explaining my recent discovery and my theories about how things unfolded. 

  This summer I wrote an article about the slides for a magazine caller Russian Life and supplemented it with a few images.  This publication focuses on Russian diaspora and historic accounts of the motherland. The article was warmly received and I got a lot of feedback, well wishes on my re-photographing mission and invites for Magic Lantern Shows.  One thing that followed though was completely unexpected.  4 months after the article appeared in print I got an email from Portland Oregon in which a grandson of one of YMCA workers who happened to be in Russia on the same mission as Rahill told me that he also has a large collection of lantern slides that his grandfather took during that memorable journey. He said that similarities in the nature of our collection were striking and invited me to come and see the slides for myself.  Imagine my excitement when I thought that there is another never before seen set of slides of war-torn Russia as seen through a different set of eyes.  The name of his grandfather also appears a few times in note cards that came with my slide set - I assumed that the two men must have traveled together for some time and so took some pictures of each other.  I was very much looking forward to seeing new images of John Rahill and to showing my Portland host new images of his grandfather.  With that in mind I booked a flight with a plan to stay there for two nights.

  I got to Portland on Tuesday evening and was met by Kurt - the kind slide owner who agreed to put me up for couple of nights at his house (I will withhold his and his last name for privacy's sake).  Excitement was palpable in the air as we started the short drive from the airport to his place.  It was a foggy evening and I think that was very symbolic of the situation - neither of us really knew what to expect from each others pictures.  As we drove slowly through the surface streets of northern Portland, Kurt noted that he recognized a picture or two from the ones that were published in Russian Life as also being present in his set.  I didn't think much of it.  As I mentioned in my previous post I have found a few duplicate images in Stanford archives among Russel Storey's images,  it seems that a practice of sharing key frames for personal presentations was present at the time.  However, next Kurt described a few images that I possess, but have not published anywhere and that rang some alarm bells.  By the time we parked by his house Kurt and I figured out that what I was actually about to see was a complete DUPLICATE set of magic lantern slides made from John Rahill's slides! 

  I can't place my feelings with any exactness on the scale between excitement and disappointment after this fact was first realized.  On one hand there were new images to be seen and therefore no new visual information to be gained that could help me with my research.  On the other hand it was still rather incredible to see a duplicate set of images form 95+ years ago!  Remember going to a photo processing facility after a vacation and asking them to make two sets of 4x6 prints so you could give one to your friend who traveled with you?  What are the chances of those two sets finding each other nearly a century later?  Well these two sets did!

  When we walked into Kurt's dining room I saw waiting there two suitcases full of lantern slides with exact same red binding as those in my possession.  Here they are as I first saw them.







  As you can see in the first picture some notes of Carl (Kurt's grandfather) were also present, so I was hoping to gain some insights into places visited by him.  It turned out that not only those notes were written in such handwriting that none of us could understand more than a word here or there, but what was indeed deciphered did not contain any helpful particulars....  I started going through the glass plates rather quickly - by now I have seen them many times and was now looking for images that may be missing from my set.  I did not see a single photo that was not the exact duplicate.  Now that I'm thinking of it there may have indeed need a few that I thought I had, but in fact only remember from the black and white proof prints and may not have in slide format.  Either way at least 98% of the 400 or so plates that Kurt has are exact copies or Rahill collection.

  I must add a word of caution to all those who read this and my have some slides stored away in their basement or attics - be careful with these things!  They are made of fragile 1mm thick glass and are also sensitive to moisture.  Keep them in a dry place and if they are in a basement elevate them from the floor in case of an unexpected flood.  When carrying them around try to not turn the cases these slides are kept in onto different sides - carry them in the same position that they are stored in, that glass breaks very easily and while the top cover glass can be easily replaced, the bottom piece carries emulsion and the image and so if that one breaks your slide is toast.  It seems that at some point during the last 90+ years Kurt's a lot of slides have come in contact with water, which made the cloth sealing tape come apart and some water even seeped in between the glass and completely dissolved parts of many images.  Also there were a lot more broken slides than in Rahill's set - that may be due to them being moved from house to house more times.  Still, this is a great find and I was a bit puzzled on how/why would a second set like this be created. 

  In search for the answer I dove into the research from Minnesota and soon discovered that whenever Rahill's name was mentioned in any correspondence or official logs the name of Kurt's grandfather was right side by side.  Not only did they leave for Russia aboard the same ship and were on the same train coming back from Samara, but they were also mentioned as traveling together to the front lines.  To top it all off they were both from Cleveland Ohio.  Now I am thinking that the two buddies signed up for YMCA service together and must have gone through the entire trip together.  It remains to be conclusively proven whether they actually ran the Soldier's Home in Valk together, but in the field report from Rahill reads "Out work...", not "My work", so I take that as a clue to Carl being there with him.  That would also explain why Carl would want a complete second set of slides that John took - after all, they have seen the exact same things and lived through the same experience together.

  Kurt also had a couple of things I have not seen before that excited me very much.  First off was a simple empty box about 3x3.5x4in.  To some it may have seemed like an insignificant little paper box with some Russian font on it, but to me it was a little treasure and Kurt kindly gifted it to me seeing how my eyes lit up after I saw it.  This is the original box in which John and Carl purchased Magic Lantern Slides from the studio of  S. A. Baranov in Moscow.  Carl's set also came with a number of these commercial slides that were exact same frames that John brought back with him (though I think there were 5-10 less of them there than what I have).

  The best thing though was actually the slide projector that Kurt pulled out late at night. 



  This is a double projector (basically actually two projectors in a stack) made by Chas Beseler.  It took me a good amount of time next morning to figure out the exact configuration in which is was intended to function, but eventually I got it all together and found out that it's only missing very few non-essential screws.  The projector actually came with two sets of lenses (10 and 15in) and the original cross-fade attachment that you can see in front of the lenses.  These attachments are relatively fragile and not too many of them have survived intact.  After seeing my excitement Kurt kindly contributed this old beast to The Photo Palace Bus arsenal and now this is the projector I will be using during my slide shows.  This will do two things for the show - make my life a lot easier because I can now adapt much quicker to any combination of room and screen size and make the viewing experience a lot more smooth and enjoyable because I will be able to switch out some of the older slides that I exhibit while the one is still being projected.  Previously at the beginning of my program when those older slides are featured I had to have a moment of blank white lite upon the screen while I took out one slide and replaced it with the next one.  With this projector one slide can be upon a screen while I replace the slide in the other carrier and then cross-fade to it - no more white screen time!

  Well, that concluded my short tale of a Portland Lantern Slide Adventure.  I would like to thank Kurt and his wife Anette for sharing their home with me, what excellent and pleasant hosts they are.  Maybe next time I'm in the area I can grab some supplies and spend some time repairing the damage to some of Kurt's slides so to lessen the stress on broken slides and to prevent oxidation in those that are missing sealing tape or have broken cover glass.

  I also wanted to quickly mention that my Book Campaign is still ongoing and there are less than three weeks to pitch in, help me write an great story and get yourself a beautiful tintype plate.  Please click HERE to see all the possibilities.

Anton Orlov

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Short Fall CA Adventure

  Here is a little summary of what has happened in the past week and a half.

A short while ago I was asked to visit my old Alma Mater San Jose State University to be featured in their Humanities and Arts Showcase event.  I was more than happy to do so as it provided me yet another opportunity for a short road trip before the end of the year along with being able to support the school I owe so much of my development as an artist to.  To make this trip more productive (and to try to recoup the funds that had to be spent on diesel) I also contacted SJ Institute of Contemporary Arts to see if they would like to host a tintype portrait session as part of the first Friday art walk in San Jose.  They were happy to do this and so I set off toward SF Bay Area.

  On the drive north I stopped for a night at the house of Lori Pond in Pasadena.  Lori found me through a mutual friend and was interested in setting up the darkroom and acquiring the gear needed to start practicing wet plate photography.  I was thrilled to have an opportunity to be involved in a birth of another darkroom.  I spent a couple of weeks prior to the trip gathering together all the gear and when I showed up on Lori's doorsteps I was bearing all ingredients needed for her to get started.  I even brought her a beautiful darkroom sink that's been in my darkroom for a while now - I'm happy that soon it will contribute to image-making once again!

  The drive north was uneventful - I took my time and gave this 400mi drive a whole day rather than trying to do it all at once.  This was a great decision and when I got to SJSU late at night I finally could say that a long drive didn't cost me too much pain and suffering.  Luckily the parking behind the art building was reserved and so I pulled in there and went to sleep in peace.

  On Friday morning I wanted to make a few plates before students and prospective students were to start coming through the bus for tours.  I can't say that SJSU has the most picturesque campuses I have ever seen, but it was MY campus and so I felt strongly that I should document whatever was around me through my years as a student there.  As I mentioned above, I was parked in the back of the art building and so that was where I made the following images.



  At about 11am the flow of students began as a steady stream and I had quite a lot of visitors all through the afternoon.  It was great to see some of my old professors too!  What a marvelous time it was when I was in school - spending nights upon night in the darkroom and taking all sorts of art classes in various disciplines.  If I could do it all again I would do the exact same thing with no drop of regret (well, maybe I would learn to draw before taking lithography...).

  My next engagement was not until next Friday, so I was left exploring Bay Area with Gilli-the-bus as my companion.  I decided to stay for a few nights with one of my ex-classmates James Pollard, who lives not to far from campus.  James is a painter and came into the fine art program 'straight off the streets', meaning he never had any kind of prior experience in the area, but was compelled to be a painter via a personal revelation.  Now he is pursuing it with vigor and I hope he will soon have a website where we all can see his work.  For now I present to you this tintype of James in his back yard.  We chose to have him wear his graduation gown and a helmet and armor that he made for one of his class projects. I think it's rather symbolic, but I will leave it to you my dear reader to read into the symbolism for yourself.

  It seems like darkrooms are popping up now at a pretty incredible rate (or maybe it's just me concentrating on this, so that's all I see).  An online friend of mine Chris Blevins-Morrison whom I met last time I was in Bay Area happened to have gotten an offer of picking up an entire darkroom set-up for free and was eager to do that.  Unfortunately the equipment was about 250 miles away and she was not looking forward to driving that much by herself and the prospect of lugging some of the heavier pieces once she got there.  I volunteered to come along and we had a great time on the road to and back from Sequoia National Forest.  Chis works as a nurse, but is getting very involved with photography and I applaud her especially for working with film and alternative processes.  She is working on a project about women artists and is still finalizing what process will be used in printing those images.  The cool thing is that they will NOT be digital.  She shoots with a Rolleiflex (another kudos from me) and now got herself a 5x7 view camera as well. 
  We chose to take highway 178 from Bakersfield to get to our destination.  This two lane road winds rapidly at the bottom of a steep canyon.  On one hand I wished I had the bus with me so I could make some tintypes, but on the other hand I was glad to be driving a much smaller vehicle.  The canyon finally opens up onto Lake Isabella and here are a couple of Fuji Intax images of that.


  The equipment we were to pick up at one point belonged to a photographer who lived in Wofford Heights.  Recently he has developed dementia and is now living in a care facility, so his double-wide trailer home complete with a darkroom is now being cleaned up for an upcoming sale.  Judging by the equipment he knew what he was doing and I wish I could see some of his images.  There were lots of Linhoff 4x5 holders, Zone VI gadgets and the Omega 2D enlarger had a really nice cold light head on it.  There was even a really cool old Beseler enlarger table the likes of which I have never seen - that thing took us a little while to disassemble, but it was all worth it.  Chris was really happy to get all that she needed for a darkroom (and more) in one place and I could see that she really appreciated the history of this equipment as well.  I hope it serves her for a long time.  We drove home to Bay Area tired, but happy.  The road back was once again filled with photo-talk and I couldn't have been happier.  We must have gotten back around 4am....

  I must say that two of my favorite things about that area are the redwood-covered hills and the coastline.  With that in mind I decided to dive into Big Basin State Park to make a couple of plates.  The drive west on a tiny and extremely windy highway 9 could be a challenge even for a car, but in a 35ft bus it was a serious feat.  Nonetheless I made it almost to the official park entrance when I saw a place to pull over that was surrounded by scenery that I could see myself photographing.  Redwoods are some of the biggest trees on the planet (in fact the tallest tree in the world is indeed a redwood), so I decided to step up from my regular 4x5 and make some 8x10 images instead.  If you have ever been in a forest of tall pine you probably remember how extremely spotty the light is and how contrasty the entire scene is, so it was a bit difficult to shoot with already high-contrast wet plate emulsion... Here is Gilli surrounded by the forest and the two 8x10 plates that resulted from the shoot.



  The next day I thought I should go explore the coastline above Half Moon Bay on the way to my friend Kirill Klylov's place in Pacifica.  I chose the lesser of all hills that lead across the hills to the coast - highway 92.  Still, the going was very slow and I had to pull off at almost every possible place to let by the traffic that quickly stacked behind me.  At one of such pull-offs I was surrounded by a very cool looking forest and decided to stop for a while and shoot.  I really love the way these images turned out.  Oh yeah, exposure times were up to 1min 20sec at f8!  It was VERY deep shade there....


   I was closer than I thought to the coast and so had time to make quite a few tintypes before the sun went down.  I won't bore you with all of them, but here is an image of Gilli on the beautiful California coast and a couple of my favorite plates taken by the town of Pacifica.

 

  On Thursday I headed back to San Jose area and once again stayed the night at James Pollard's place in Campbell.  The next day I had a tintype shoot scheduled at SJICA and this was to be my first real shoot using strobe lighting, so I wanted to practice one more time to nail down the exposure and all that.  We waited till pretty late at night to start the shoot (which might explain the expression on James' face), but I pretty much nailed the shot from first plate (to be completely honest the very first plate was ruined by me forgetting to take the lens cap off, but the first plate that did receive light was the one that worked out, so I count that as a win).  Here is James once again, but under artificial light:

  Friday I pulled up to SJICA earlier than need be and parked Gilli right in front.


  Because it was still light out and I thought that people won't start showing up till much later I decided to walk up 1st street to see how San Jose has changed in the past couple of years.  Well, it hasn't changed too much, but imagine my surprise when I ran into Dora Lee - an old classmate of mine from back in SJSU days.  We had a good time catching up and she later stopped by the shoot as well.
  I got back to the bus just before 5 thinking that I'll have plenty of time to set up, test everything, wait for the light to go down and then start shooting.  Well, that was not to be so - there was already a couple with two kids waiting by the bus to have their tintype made!  I scrambled to set up the background (which, by the way, I have sown magnets into so now it's really quick to attach it directly to the bus and it will NEVER blow over!), the camera and chemistry.  While doing all that I gave my first customers a brief overview of things pertaining to collodion and showed them my samples.  After I set up the chemistry and camera it dawned on me to ask what size image they would want.  I was offering 3.5x4.5, 4x6 and 8x10.  To my delight they decided to go with the 8x10.  That meant a quick change in the darkroom setup, but they were very patient and looked over my movements with interest.  Also, by the time we were set to go the sun was still out and though the background was in the shade I still think it would have given us a ghost image if I was to do a natural light in combination with flash, so I decided to go all natural with exposure time being about 12 seconds.  That is a LONG time for anyone, but especially a 4 year old boy to sit still (I think that's how old the youngest one was.... I'm not good at estimating these things).  We had to do two plates in the end - in the first one both he and his sister were pretty fidgety and came out as classic collodion blurs, while during the second exposure the girl sat vary still and the boy only moved for a second, so came out much better than the first time.  Here is that 8x10 after varnishing - I think it came out rather well considering the circumstances.

  Next I did a couple of portraits of some of the staff of ICA and this time there was no problems with movement at all because the flashes were in use.  Here they are while still in the wash.

  There was a steady stream of people coming by all the way till 10pm, but I can't say that too many of them were there to have their portraits taken, still I made just enough money to pay for the gas on this trip and that made me happy.  What was also cool is that someone stopped by with a Impossible Project Daylab - this is a new gadget on the market made by the guys who are bringing back Polaroid film.  The interesting thing about this thing is that it takes your iPhone image and prints it on their instant film!  So here is an image that crosses into 3 centuries - a man (me) born in the 20th century, looking through a lens made in 19th century, captured with 21st century iPhone and then printed on instant film the technology for which was developed again back in 20th century!  What a trip! By the way - their films have come a long way since they first started putting it out and now I'm really close to being able to say that they are actually good....

  After the shoot I went out for a beer with some of my old San Jose friends and then started to drive back south.  
  It was another uneventful drive I am now sitting in a coffee shop in Glendale and waiting for Lori Pond to get back home so we can start to work on her wet plate darkroom.  Tomorrow we should install the vent and the sink and then we'll get a chance to test out all her gear and chemistry, that should be fun.
  And so comes to the end my short trip up to the Bay Area.  It was fun and I hope to do this again - I think CA is a great place to travel in the winter - it's big enough and most of it doesn't get cold enough to be prohibitive to Gilli-the-Gillig.

Anton Orlov

Friday, October 11, 2013

Found In America - Route 66 Tintype Project

  OK,  it's been a week since Gilli and I got back home to San Diego after 4 months on the road, and only now have I had a chance to catch my breath and to sort through most of the plates made while traveling.  It's been an incredible trip and I can not even begin to recollect all the great things that happened along the way - thank goodness I have the previous blog entries to remind me of all of it in the years to come.  A quick and rough count revealed that there are about 350 3.5x4.5in tintypes that were created in 4 months, but that doesn't include all the ones that got sold or were commissioned to begin with and it also doesn't include larger size plates, so I think it's close to 400 overall.

  As promised in the previous post this one contains tintypes from Route 66, which is the route I took home from Chicago to LA, and the short recollection of that stretch of my travels.

  A bit about the project.  I call it 'Found In America' for several reasons.  First off I, as an immigrant, am still finding the parts of US that are forgotten by media lime light to be fascinating.  After finding myself here at the age of 16 I have never stopped looking for new aspects of this country be they it's history, current culture or lanscape.  Secondly the imagery is of completely empirical nature with no guidance from elaborate travel booklets or inviting road signs.  Whatever scenes the road was to present me with would be immortalized in tintype format with equal attention.  Lastly, by now Route 66 pretty much HAS to be looked for and discovered.  Large stretches of it have been completely incorporated into modern freeways, some sections have been abandoned and are no longer drivable and a lot of parts wind through towns and countryside without any clear signs pointing one where to go, so the process of discovery was to be a big part of this project.
  Some of you may know that Route 66 is known as the Mother Road.  For a few decades before completion of the interstate highway system this road was the major route for travelers to take from mid western US to the Pacific.  Built in late 1920s the road retained it's popularity into the 50s and 60s, but now is completely overpowered by highways travel and lays nearly forgotten.  I wanted to find out for myself how The Road looks - to me that meant that I should concentrate on the Actual Road in my photography.  None of that 'exploring the sites' stuff - what does The Road itself offer as far as imagery?  What would travelers of today see if they were heading west down the Mother Road?  How would the landscape change and what would that look like if we were to be looking west in the direction of our travels.  Sounds like a simple enough assignment, right?  Well, try adding a tintype format into that mix and you might think differently...


  Route 66 heads almost directly south from Chicago, then curves south-west around Missouri before running almost directly west from Texas to California.  That meant that I had to shoot in the direction of the sun for about 60-70% of the time!  That was challenge #1.  Challenge #2 was the fact that wet plate photography requires that the bus be stopped and parked (preferably on a relatively level surface), chemistry and camera must be set up and the plate prepped, exposed, processed and washed before chemistry and camera were put way and the bus started up again...  Route 66 runs just over 2.400 miles and I managed to get 118 plates done during 12 days.  So on average I was stopping every 20 miles.  That means that the huge CAT engine had to be started over 100 times and sometimes up to 14 times a day...  I don't know what that did to the starter and pistons, but I just thank god that I made it back without another major mechanical issue popping up.
  The first sign for beginning of historic Route 66 is located downtown Chicago on a very busy Adams street.  I was determined to start the series with that image, but that meant navigating a 35ft bus through Chicago traffic and then praying for a suitable parking spot withing sprinting distance from where the camera had to be set up.  Chicago does have some heavy traffic, but I managed to get to Adams St. and when I was rounding the turn I quickly realized that any hope of a parking place was in vane - skyscrapers all around, left side of the one way street completely full of cars parked in metered slots and the right-hand lane reserved for city buses only!  What was I to do..?  Thinking on my feet I decided that I will do my very best to get this shot done in the minimum amount of time possible and that in the 15 minutes or so that I will be there I will just hope that no parking enforcement will take place.  So I boldly pulled right into the Buses Only lane (after all - Gilli is a bus, right?), turned on emergency flashers and, with cars zooming by and pedestrian rushing in a steady drove past Gilli, I hustled in the darkroom as fast as I possibly could.  In fact the location was so picturesque that I decided to pull one more plate after the first one was secured, so I was probably parked there for about 20-25 minutes and indeed didn't attract any unwanted attention!  It wasn't even 4 blocks from that location that I again saw a composition that demanded to be captured and so again I quickly chose a totally prohibited area to park in, and again nobody bothered me during the making of the third plate!  I think that was the most exciting moment in the whole trip and so I thought it deserved a special mention.
  After downtown Chicago the road quickly dives into suburbia and then into the open fields of Illinois.  From then on parking was no problem all the way until I got to Los Angeles. I followed turn by turn directions given by www.historic66.com, so I had some idea where to go.  I found that the route is marked best in Illinois, followed by New Mexico.  In some parts of it there were no plaques at all distinguishing it from an average surface street that runs through any small American town, so I had to follow those directions pretty carefully (can't even recall how many times I got off the road and only realized it many miles later).  The guide recommends driving down a small access road during parts of the road that at swallowed by a larger freeway - those roads are very poorly maintained and after taking a few of them I decided to opt out of that and to go on the highway until Route 66 splits back off from it.  I still got onto those access roads here and there, but also did a lot of highway driving.  The completely abandoned parts that are not drivable now were also off the list as Gilli is not an off-road vehicle, driving around all the potholes in all the little towns was already hard enough on her suspension.  I do think that considering these circumstances I did stick to the actual Route 66 for about as much as it was humanly possible, so I'm pretty happy with that outcome.
  So, what did I see?  Well...  America is a large country and one gets a really good feel for that when one is out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on a two-lane highway.  There were many towns built around the tourist traffic brought in by the road - now a lot of those towns lay either completely abandoned or are dilapidated to the point where they probably should be abandoned.  Some places had other things going for them, some other industries to keep the town alive after the tourists were gone.  Those cities and towns have almost invariably homogenized into average culture-lacking dwelling concentrations with same shops and fast food joints lining the street no matter which state they are in.  There are however some little towns that are probably surviving on local agriculture, but which are too small for major chains to get into, so they lay nearly intact as they were in 1930s in a state of suspended preservation.  Those places offered me a glance of what pre-WWII America must have been like and I really appreciated that.  I have to say that the landscape itself and it's gradual changes from the forests of the east to the western deserts was quite a marvelous thing to experience.
  I drove steadily westward, stopping to make about 10 plates a day.  I slept mostly in the bus and chose locations to park overnight so that in the morning I would often make the first exposure right from that spot.  A couple of times I did get motel rooms, but found that although the experience of sleeping in a real bed was gratifying beyond words, the comfort was too much and I would wake up too late for my liking and the sun would be almost ready to dip into that western part of the sky making all my subjects back lit for the rest of the day...  Very frustrating!  In either case though, I believe I managed to pull some good plates and that's all that matters.
  As most people know, and others refuse to believe, there are some good people everywhere you go.  Wherever I pulled over for the night I met some friendly locals or those rare tourists who were still looking to recapture some of the glamor of the old Mother Road.  Whenever possible I would show them the process of making tintypes and invariably they were grateful for that opportunity.  I had great weather accompany me (now that I think about it, the weather was actually amazingly nice the entire 4 months of the second cross-country trip!) and it rained only once and even then during the night when I was tucked away in a hotel bed in Texas.  The rest of the time it was sunny and warm, only in the deserts of Arizona and eastern California did it start to get a little too warm for comfort, once again making me wish I had the funds for an A/C unit...
  I loved seeing all the quaint Main Streets in small towns that I passed through.  The little mom and pop shops that are still surviving amid the boarded up buildings and shiny new Wallmarts made me think about the resilience of American entrepreneurs and the strength of the will to be your own boss.  More power to them - I supported as many local shops along the way as I could, but I'm sure they can use a lot more help.
  The middle of the stretch was the hardest.  The road goes through the panhandle of Texas and there it's completely barren, straight and devoid of any visual stimulus...  You'll find some of the images from stretches like that below - they are easy to spot.  When the road goes through New Mexico and Arizona it actually follows the higher plateaus of those states and so that makes for some really stunning scenery, I highly recommend that area for your next vacation getaway.
  When I got close to the overwhelming urban sprawl that is Los Angeles I was quite ready to call the whole thing off.  I was tired, it was starting to get hot and I was only 120 miles away from my home!  From Barstow I could have just taken I-15 south and would have been back in 3 hours...  How could have I abandoned the project though?  Never!  I pushed onward and stayed on the road one more day.  I fought through LA traffic, weaved on and off it's many freeways and parked where no human was meant to be parked - all in the name of Art.  I think the ending was most symbolic.  While the rest of the road contains a lot of neatly mounted historic markers they are almost entirely absent in the city of angels and in fact the spot where the mighty Route 66 finally comes to an end there is NO marker at all to commemorate that.  So physically Route 66 ends in complete obscurity, just like it seems to be ending in the history of America's development as a country.  I parked in the lot of Western Dental on the corner or Lincoln Blvd and Olympic in Santa Monica, made exposure #118 and that was it!  
  
  Here are 117 images (I must have missed one plate while copying them yesterday, so there is a 'mystery plate') from this project.  I chose to display them with only plate #1 being in order - the rest of them are as random as the project itself.  The road goes on forever with the asphalt and the westerly view orientation being the only constants.  I did not varnish the plates right away, but kept them in 4x5in sleeves inside a Beseler binder - some of them survived perfectly well, but a few (I think there are 4-5 of them) have chosen to jump out those sleeves and got pretty badly damaged due to a thousand miles worth of traveling free.  I guess that just adds character and road-cred to them.  I copied them using a Canon 5DII and 100mm macro lens.  Here I again must make a note - there is NO WAY to copy all the information on a plate by using a modern camera or even a high resolution scanner AND on top of that you are looking at a screen-resolution JPEG, so....  yeah.... the plates are a lot more beautiful that one can imagine.  I am hoping to exhibit this whole body of work and would love to hear of any offers for such an exhibit from my readers.  At the exhibit I would I would like to provide a high-power loupe by some of the plates so those who wish could really get into the real details of the image.  Let's just say that with an average magnifying device I was able to very clearly read the word 'Australia' on one of the stickers on the pole below the Route 66 Begin sign in the first frame, in these JPEGs you probably won't even be able to distinguish that there is indeed an sticker there with an Australian flag....
  I am open to making prints (up to 20x30in) of these plates.  If you are interested in purchasing them, please feel free to contact me via email.  While the images below are very quick digital copies with minimal attention paid to tonality the prints for sale would be scanned at very high resolution and adjusted so they are the closest possible representations of the original tintype plates in tonal range and color.






















































































































  Oh - just to frustrate even further the folks upset about the lack of order in the images above, and surely there will be some of those, here is a list of all the plates I did IN ORDER of their creation and separated by day.  Think you can match them all up?  Be my guest!
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1&2- Adams - Michigan
3- Adams - La Salle
4- Adams - Ogden
5- Ogden - Roosevelt
6- Ogden - W 30th
7- Ogden - Harlem / route 43
8- Harlem / 43 - 40th
9- Joliet - S La Grange
10- Joliet along I-55
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11 - Main st. / veterans parkway, Bloomington
12- by Mc Lean IL
13- SE Vine / SW Arch, Atlanta IL
14 - Paul Bunyon, Atlanta IL
15 - 5th / Union st, Lincoln IL
16- Broadwell IL
17- Elm/Main, Williamsville IL
18- Farmersville IL
19- Hamel IL
20- Old Springfield/Center Grove, Edwardsville IL
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21-Bel Air Dr Pontoon Beach‎ IL
22- McKinley Bridge into MO
23,24- Salisbury/14th St. Louis MO
25- Salisbury/ N. Florissant
26- Florissant/21st
27- Florissant/19th
28- 13th/Cass ave.
29- looking down 13th
30 - 13th buildings
31- Convention Plaza/looking down Tucker Blvd.
32- Tucker Blvd/Clark Ave
33- Gravois Ave/S Jefferson Ave, St Louis
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34- Watson rd/Blackthorn, Websters Grove
35- Pacific, MO
36- Highway AT near Villa Ridge
37- Jesse James wax museum, S Service Rd E, Sullivan‎ MO
38- Cuba at Filmore st
39- Elm/Drury, Lebanon MO
40- after Conway
41- before Marshfield
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42- Glenstone onto St. Louis, Springfield
43- St. Louis and National ave
44- St. Louis after Kimbrough ave
45- MO266 Plano ghost town
46- Carthage Drive-In
47- Main/Washington, Carterville
48- Main/5th, Joplin MO
49- Main/4th, Galena KS
50- Rainbow Bridge KS
51- Military ave/E 10th st, Baxter Springs KS
52- Main/Central Miami OK
53- Route 69 between E140 and E150rd OK
54 & 56- 1st/Mulberry, Afton OK
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57- 11th/Atlanta ave, Tulsa OK
58- 11th/Frankfort ave, Tulsa OK
59- Crossing Arkansas river, Tulsa
60- Main/7th, Bristow OK
61- Arcadia round barn
62- Bridge to Yukon
63- El Reno, OK
64- Main/State, Weatherdord OK
65- past Weatherford along I-44
66- 10th street, Clinton OK
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67- 3rd/Madison, Elk City OK
68- bus under oil rig, Elk City OK
69- 4th/Maple, Sayer OK
70&71- 5th/Main ave, Texola OK
72&73- Grand ave/4th, Texola OK
74- 12th/Main, Shamrock TX
75- Leaning water tower, Groom TX
76- Front/Wilkerson, Groom TX
77- Bug Farm near Conway TX
78- 2161 past Conway, TX
79- Amarillo Blvd/Hill st, Amarillo TX
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80- Between Vega and Adrian TX
81- Midpoint Cafe, Adrian TX
82- Glenrio, TX
83- Route 66 blvd/Chactaw st, Tucumcari NM
84- Cuervo NM
85- Route 66/11th, Santa Rosa NM
86- Dilla, Route 84 mile 78, NM
87- Los Montoyas, Route 84 mile 96 NM
88- Ribera, just before town
89- highway 89/Camino Reybal, Pecos NM
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90- Cerrillos rd/Calle del Cielo, Santa Fe NM
91- Camino del Pueblo/ Calle del Norte,  Bernalillo NM
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92- Santa Fe ave/Hall st, Grants NM
93- NM-122/I-40, Thoreau NM
94- 66/Patton Dr, Gallup NM
95- Northern Frontage rd/Grants rd, Lupton AZ
96- abandoned section by Pinta Rd AZ
97- Navajo Blvd/ Hampshire st, Hallbrook AZ
98- 3rd/Pope st, Winslow AZ
99- Old bridge, Winona AZ
100- Route 66/Verde st, Flagstaff AZ
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101-  66/Main st, Seligman AZ
102- 66/Diamond Creek Rd, Peach Springs AZ
103- 66 past Truxton AZ
104- 66/Airway ave, Kingman AZ
105- 95/Shore dr, Golden Shores AZ
106- Broadway/Desnok st, Needles CA
107- National Trails Highway/Sunflower Springs Rd, Essex CA
108- National Trails Highway, Amboy CA
109- National Trails Highway before Ludlow CA
110- Main st/Cal ave, Barstow CA
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111- National Trails Highway, Oro Grande CA
112- Cajon Blvd by I-15, San Bernardino National Forest CA
113- Foothill Blvd/Promenade Pl, Rancho Cucamonga CA
114- Foothill Blvd/ Tindalo rd, Arcadia CA
115&116- W Subset Blvd/Crornado st, Los Angeles CA
117- Santa Monica Blvd/Wilton pl, West Hollywood CA
118- Lincoln/Olympic, Santa Monica CA
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Anton Orlov