Gilli's back and she has a new transmission! She is running great and now I do realize that the entire time I had her there was a roughness to the way the gears shifted, so this must have been coming all along. I attributed it to the fact that it's a big rig and thought it was normal for beasts of this size. Now that shifting is smooth as butter I can see that I have a lot to learn still.
I would like to express my gratitude to all those who have helped me during the down time. Your moral, physical and financial support came at a crucial time and it will not be forgotten. Thank you!
So, to get back to adventures. Last I post ended with me being at a farm of my friend Justin Edelman's family in New Jersey. Justin is a great videographer and is a budding analogue photographer as well. His family gathered there for a mini-reunion and they were extremely generous to include me in the festivities. His mother is a talented painter working with large scale pastel chalks and his stepfather is..., well I'm not sure what his exact title is, but he explained what he does to me and it sounded almost as fascinating as painting. He goes in and fixes financial woes of troubled companies large and small by either streamlining them or laying out the facts before investors and owners to quit losing money and dissolve the enterprise. They are both very kind and smart with great sense of humor and spending time with them was a real treat. To top it off the farm is huge and heavily wooded, so there was plenty of hiking and nature time. A state park with a very picturesque lake was within hiking distance, so here is a shot of Justin's brother Fred on it's shore.
Knowing that Gilli won't be fixed for about a week I didn't want to impose my presence for the entire time and so I looked for a way to get to New York City for a while. As it happens my friend John from San Diego was actually working in Queens and even had an extra unoccupied hotel booked already. He gladly drove out to the farm and picked me up and we spent a few days in Big Apple. It was Labour Day weekend, so John didn't have work and so we got to venture into Manhattan and visited the 911 Memorial. It was strangely eerie to be standing by the two large pools that were positioned where the Twin Towers had once stood. Last time I was there it was 1994 and I went up on the observation deck of the north tower. I had just moved to the country less than a month ago, and looking down on what seemed like all of the creation I felt strangely American. Now nothing but deep pools with perpetually cascading streams of water fruitlessly filling them up were before me....
I had time to visit other friends while I was in NYC as well.
Maria, whom I've known since we were both little kids, is a daughter of my mom's coworker and dear friend Irina. Interesting thing is that Maria now has a son and he is 5.5 months old. When I was leaving San Diego on June 9th Maria happened to have been there visiting her mom and so I got to see little Valodia when he was 2.5 months for the first time. Seeing him at twice the age he had been and on the East Coast was a treat and so was meeting Maria's husband. As it happens Maria is a costume designer and is now going to fly out to California again to attend the Emmy Awards for which one of the shows she's is working on has been nominated (don't ask me which one - I am bad with names and on top of that have not watched TV in over a decade...). Good Luck Maria!
Greg McMahon is a camera assistant in NYC and we've known each other over ten years now, so I had to stop by and see him too. Apparently his place was just a short walk from the hotel, so for once I didn't have to navigate the subway system (where either PA announcements had gotten A LOT clearer in the last 19 years, or I have learned enough English to start to barely understand them... still a long way to go though). He just returned from Burning Man festival and was happy to show me stereo slides from both there and this year's Montana Rainbow. Greg uses a great medium format camera that I recommended to him many years ago and is now getting quite excellent at stereographic photography.
Finally I also tracked down one of my college classmates Raymond Yeung. He does video work in NYC area and invited me over for a little BBQ get together, which was a lot of fun. He also was very kind to drive me over the shop where I picked up Gilli and we took a little drive to test out the chemistry and to make the following two images.
Driving Gilli for a while I realized that indeed the entire time prior to repair she was shifting a bit rough, so the transmission woes were coming all along without my awareness of it. Now she was going from gear to gear smooth as butter. I went back to the farm of Justin’s folks and made a few tintypes there including a portrait of those family members that were still there after the reunion, which I left to them as a token of my appreciation for their hospitality and kindness.
After spending the night at the farm I headed south to Washington D.C. where I had a few workshops booked. On the way there I had a chance to meet yet another wet plate photographer Brady Wilks and spent the night at his farm house. We went out for a shoot the next day and and here are the two resulting plates. Wish I had time to drive around a bit more, but I had to be on the way to the capitol.
In D.C. I stayed at the house of my old Rainbow friend Allan – right on 16th street just a couple of miles from the White House. It was great to reconnect with him and we even went out to his orthodox synagogue for the celebration of the last day or Yom Kippur. Yes, I am a Russian Jew in case you are wondering, but I am not really a practicing one, so I had to follow along reading all the prayers in English to myself while Hebrew songs rang out from all around me. A slightly awkward experience, but I was very happy to be there and have a chance to recollect the difficult plight of my ancestors. As for the current policies of Israel... Well, that’s best left for a whole separate conversation…
September 6th, 7th and 8th we filled with ‘tintype experience’ workshops. Yuri Long was extremely kind and efficient to have set up this little marathon of classes and during the first two days a total of 16 people got to make their first plates under my supervision and guidance. I don’t know if it’s just because most of them had previous darkroom equipment or because people in Washington area are just smarter than average, but they all did a fantastic job pouring plates and followed the procedure to the T. Here they are marveling at their creations.
While I was in D.C. I noticed that the iconic Washington Monument was having repairs done on it (apparently to the damage caused by a relatively recent and rather rare earthquake), so I decided to try to get a couple of tintypes made of that scene. I was determined to shoot right at sunset when lights on the scaffolding were turned on to illuminate the monument. As you can imagine parking and traffic in downtown D.C. is pretty insane. I was extremely lucky though. I drove up to the perfect spot with a great vantage point just minutes after parking was allowed on that stretch of the street, so I got an absolutely perfect spot and was able to shoot right from the window of the bus, which gave me a great elevated perspective. Here is a quick iPhone image taken during one of the following exposures. You can see how perfectly we care parked :)
Next day, on Tuesday, I had an appearance scheduled in Maryland at Anne Arundel Community College. My friend Vera, who teaches there now, had arranged this and I was happy to provide bus tours, little tintype experience and a Magic Lantern Show. Here is a shot of the bus parked on campus. I had a good stream of people coming throughout the day and everyone seemed to enjoy the history of photography display.
From there it was on to Washington Grove - a small town in Maryland where a Facebook friend had asked me to come by and make a commissioned portrait of him on his back porch. Allan Janus works as a conservator with the Smithsonian and used to do wet plate images back in late 70s and early 80s. His place was filled with curious images and photo artifacts and we had a good time conversing into the night. Among other things this wonderful Afghani rug caught my eye. I heard about these traditional rugs that incorporated military items, but have never seen one in person. Seeing one in front of me really made me think of the hardships that a culture must experience to be including such things as tanks, bombs and rifles into their traditional art... I hope peace comes to that region at some point in the future....
That was Wednesday morning and after that I thought I had a little break. A while back there was talk of doing the workshop in Troy at Photo Center. I have not heard from it's director Nicholas Argyros in a little while, so I assumed that there wasn't enough interest and took my sweet time making my way north toward Buffalo. I stopped to make plates in Gettysburg and then again in Enola PA.
It was 7pm and I was consuming some dinner when I decided to give Nicholas a call just to confirm that we are a no-go for the workshops. To my surprise he said that there were indeed 4 people ready to go and that we were on for tomorrow at noon! That meant that I had to hop in the bus and get on the road as soon as possible. Troy was more than 300 miles away from where I was and with Gilli not going any faster than 55 mph on a flat and down to 30 on an uphill the trip took 7.5 hours! It was all worth it though. Not only did we have a great workshop, but Nicholas and Susan Mayers, one of the students, actually bought one plate each from my collection, which made my day even better. The only bummer was that a very heavy rainstorm set in right in the middle of the workshop and we were forced to do a couple of plate in the bus with the shutter open and popping multiple flashes off a DSLR camera. Incidentally that actually works pretty well - it takes about 20 close-range hits from one of those little pop-up flashes to make a very decent wet plate exposure.
After the workshop I had a pleasure of visiting Fulton Street Gallery where Susan had an exhibit of her giant cyanotype prints. I got to say that these were the largest ones I have ever seen and they were also done very well. I know they won't translate well in your screen, but believe me - in person they are VERY impressive.
Next was another marathon drive from Troy to Buffalo. This is normally a 4.5 hr drive in a car, but with the bus and some hills it took a good 7 hours - way longer than I really would like to drive on a single stretch, but I wanted to make some images in the morning before heading over to a gallery reception at night. Pulling in at about 2am I parked by the same grain elevators that I shot last time I was in town. This time for some reason the lights on that stretch of the street were on, so it was nowhere near as dark in the bus and I didn't sleep so well. On the other hand I woke up early enough to have good light on my subjects and made the following plates.
Usually I'm not a fan of crazy artifacts from some stuff going awry with the collodion process, but I really like what happened in that last plate. (Are you falling asleep yet? Maybe it's time for another coffee break?).
In the evening I pulled in front of Hallwalls Gallery in downtown where there was a great reception for the opening for the show by Clifton Childree. His exhibit was a perfect match for the nostalgic feel of The Photo Palace Bus and I think the pairing was great. He collected thousands of rolls of player piano scores and made a rather incredible installation that filled two or three rooms. Clifton also works in motion picture medium and actually uses FILM (major kudos!), so in one room there were 8mm projectors pointed at white walls and viewers were encouraged to come up to the machines and crank the film through to project the clips. It was a wonderfully tactile experience. All the rooms were fairly dark, so pardon the poor iPhone snapshots of the scene...
Next day I had another appearance at one of my favorite photo stores - Delaware Camera. I was planning on doing tintype portraits and Eric Jensen was very kind in promoting the event. There were about 6 people who had their portraits taken and here are a couple of those plates, copied before varnishing and giving them to their respective owners. I got to say I had a blast shooting that dog image below - it's a challenge enough to shoot humans with wet plate, but when you are working with a pretty hyper puppy dog.
On Sunday morning I was determined to shoot the iconic Electric Building, which towers over downtown Buffalo and has wonderful art deco detail in light stone. Thankfully I met a great guy and a talented artist by the name of Scotty Bye who lives right across the street from the Electric Building and Scotty said that we could get on the roof of his place to have a great perspective. I was super excited to do this, so I got up relatively early and made my way to Scotty's loft. By the way - rent in Buffalo is amazing! Scotty said that there were only 6 people living in the entire building and each one of them had a 2000 square feet space with rent under $800! When inside I was confronted with a barrage of visual stimulation including pieces of Scotty's sculptures, old motorcycle parts, painting and so on. Scotty makes large outdoor installations and I highly recommend visiting his site. Here he is holding a promo piece for one of his current pieces with a part of his old sculpture behind him.
Getting on the roof above the sixth floor was easy, but it was quite a feat going up and down and down and up with wet plates in an old slow industrial elevator. To save us some time I decided to cut the number of trips in half by sensitizing the plates first and only then setting up the camera on the roof once we got there. This was the first time I did that and I think it worked pretty well - because it was not a hot day with moderate humidity plates stayed pretty wet. These are the plates I came out with from that shoot.
Starting at noon there was a workshop and Magic Lantern Show set up in Locust Street Art Gallery. That space is really cool - an artistic mecca for Buffalo where they teach painting, ceramict, animation and photography. It's a large three story tall building with every room functionally set up for creativity to flow freely. Here are a couple of pictures of some of the spaces there.
Two people showed up for the workshop out of four expected, but we had a good time nonetheless. Here is a shot of the staff of Locust Street Art Gallery that I did as a demo and the two plates that workshop participants made afterward. Notice the cropped person on the right - I had already set the camera up and the plate was in the holder when someone decided to be added to the shot... This was shot with a 90mm and I thought I might still have them in the frame, but apparently I got most of him...
I thought the building right next to the gallery was very iconically middle-American, so I decided to shoot it before wrapping and starting the wash.
The lantern show went well as usual. I'm perfecting my presentation still, but I don't think I had too many slip-ups and upside down plates, so that's a success in my eyes. We had about 20 people attend and for the size of the room it was perfect. After the show a few of us went out to dinner. Rob McElroy, in whose parking lot I spent my Buffalo nights, mentioned that he might want to use me as the subject for his first 8x10 daguerreotype portrait taken with flash power. I might have mentioned before that by now his lighting setup was up to 60.000 watts of power and so I was both hesitant to sit in front of that amount of lights and extremely honored and excited at that opportunity. By the time we were done with dinner and a tour of Charlie's place, a photographer who lives above Rob, it was about 2am. Still, when I said that I was up for it Rob said he was as well and Eric wanted to see the process as well, so we headed down to Rob's and started on the whole process of making an 8x10 daguerreotype. This time the process went by a lot faster than during my last year's Buffalo visit and within an hour I found myself surrounded by a hugely intimidating lighting setup with 16 power packs clicking and buzzing in the seeming darkness beyond the reflectors.
Rob is a real perfectionist and so he was trying to not only make an excellent plate as far as the technique of daguerreotype process, but also was planning to have perfect lighting AND use one of the lenses by Howard Beach (the adventures in whose house you can read about in my earlier post). Wanting to perfect the light he wanted to have it bounce off the white reflector cards rather than having all the bare bulbs blasting in my face and having my features in sharp harshness. Rob asked me how I would like to be photographed and having just done a Magic Lantern show I decided to have the lantern in the shot with me and to have the image look like it was being taken during a show and the light was coming from a lit up screen. We set up the lights, did a bit of focusing (well, quite a bit - did I mention that Rob is a perfectionist?). The plate was inserted and the modeling lights were switched off... Then Rob counted down and I braced myself for the tidal wave of light that was about to hit me... Let me tell you - NOTHING can prepare one for that much light entering a fully dilated pupil! NOTHING!!! The entire world went green - a bright fluorescent type of green that glows like northern lights. It made no difference if I had my eyes opened or closed... I thought I was completely blind, but in about ten seconds the green faded to purple and then blue and in a couple of minutes I could almost see again. Hooray! I stumbled down into the darkroom and saw what I could make out of the processing. Even having 60.000 watts was not enough to give a proper amount of light for the 0.01 ISO of daguerreotype emulsion... Now I say this because indeed the plate was a bit dark for a 'normal' portrait. Rob was definitely disappointed. I on the other hand truly liked the result because it truly captured the atmosphere that I was hoping the image would portray - a darkened room with the glow of the screen illuminating the projectionist's face. I hope Rob won't be too mad at me for putting this quick iPhone copy of an image he considers to be sub-par on here. I REALLY LOVE IT ROB!!! Don't wipe it! (I mean, yes - when you compare it to the flawless bright plates you see below it you can see that it's dark, but again - the atmosphere of a slide show is perfectly captured!)
By the time all as done it was close to 4:30 in the morning and I crashed out on Rob's couch. I had to get up pretty early in the morning because by 10:30 I had to be in Nichols High School - one of the very best high schools in the entire country. There I had a class of art students come through and view the bus and the history of photography display. They loved the bus and I think I inspired some youngsters to pick up a Fuli Instax camera by taking a shot with one and letting them watch the image come up. That Fuji Instax was a generous gift from Eric Jensen and I am eternally grateful for it - I will indeed put it to good use! Nichols School was actually amazing with a clean darkroom and plenty of lively and smart students. Here is a shot of their darkroom and one of my favorite art pieces that sat in the classroom.
I was totally going to leave for Chicago (I had to be there on the next day and it's an 11 hour drive), but Rob texted me and said that he was up for another try with the 8x10 daguerreotype portrait and so I gladly went back to his studio. Rob said that he had two plates all fumed and ready to go and so it wasn't going to take more than an hour or so... We messed with the setup and tried to get more light into the camera again and again and before we knew 5.5 hours flew by! We did do the two shots, but again my skin tones were too dark for Rob's liking. Here is the second plate where a hair light was added, which revealed a nice separation from the background and added a great reflection onto the Lantern. Again - I really hope it's OK with Rob for me to post this image - it's really below his professional standard, but AGAIN - I REALLY LIKE IT! C'mon - look at it - doesn't it look like it's taken during a show in a dark room with the projector glowing back at me? By the way, this time I asked Rob to keep modeling lights on and so I didn't have quite a shock to my eyes when the flash was released. Still, 60.000 watts all at once is an intense and a bit disorienting experience...
Anyhow, I left Buffalo when the light was fading and started driving west toward Chicago. After driving until I could drive no longer I stopped and slept in a service area off the 90 throughway. Woke up a bit late and started driving again. Long stretches of highway do a bad ting to my body, but I had one very important thing to look forward to and so I was determined to make it to Chicago by the evening. What was that important thing, you may ask. Well, one of my Facebook friends, Joel Ferguson, along with other folks had been working for Dennis Manarchy who has designed and found sponsorship for the world's largest mobile camera and on Wednesday there was to be an opening ceremony in downtown Chicago for it. I was anxious to see this marvelous beast for which I remember seeing an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign a while back. Now Dennis had found private sponsors and companies that donated a bunch of custom work to make his dream of 30 years a reality. 'Butterflies and Buffalo' (the name of the camera) is capable of taking 6x4.5ft NEGATIVES. I applaud Dennis for working not only at that size, but also doing it with analog means. When I got to the garage where the final touches were being put on the giant camera I was truly impressed. Seeing this on a computer screen can do no justice to it, but here you go - world's largest mobile camera still in the garage and the prototype of it, which sits upstairs in Dennis' house with Joel in front of it for scale.
Incredible, right? What is even more incredible was the fact that Joel was apparently supposed to guard the camera that night after it was wheeled out to downtown and somehow I got sucked into that mission and so we were to spend the night sleeping INSIDE a camera amid skyscrapers of the Windy City! There were a few points of confusion and so the camera didn't get delivered to the location until late at night, but here it is being pulled into place.
After we watched it being positioned under the giant prints that Dennis had strung on the building by it we were left with a pack of 12 beers and strict orders to not let anything happen to that camera overnight... It was late and there was nobody around. Aside from Joel and me a lovely young lady by the name of Celina volunteered to stay to keep us company. The three of us quickly went through the beer, walked around a bit to stretch the limbs and then returned to the camera thinking of sleeping. One thing that nobody apparently thought to leave with us was any kind of bedding - no mattress, no blankets or pillows... Also, the camera had been freshly painted, so we could not even sleep in it - the smell was too much. I was the oldest in the group by far and I insisted that some kind of softness was to be brought to the location. That meant quickly going back to Joel's place and grabbing a twin-size mattress and some nominal covers. It was quite a site - us carrying bedding in the middle of the night in a business district. I don't think it was as much of a sight though as us waking up at about 7:30. The sun up and a crowd of work-bound office employees rushing by the three figures rising from a thin mattress and emerging from under ratty blankets in their undies. What a sight! On the other hand - the camera was safe and sound and so we felt good enough to pack up our makeshift nest, push-start Joel's truck (oh yeah, his starter was out, so every time there was a need to go anywhere some pushing was required), and go about our day.
The opening was to be held from 5 to 7pm and Joel and I were planning on doing tintypes there. We arrived to the spot at about 4 and boldly parked Gilli right in the middle of rush hour traffic in a zone clearly marked as 'No Parking - Tow Zone'. I'd like to see them try towing me! It appears that cops in Chicago have better things to do than to worry about illegally parked vehicles and so nobody bothered me in the next 4 hours. Unfortunately as soon as people started arriving and we did our first test plate the rain set in and only got worse as the ceremony went on... This is pretty much what it looked like - small groups of wealthy people under umbrellas huddling in close-knit bundles and shmoozing their hearts out. No place or time for tintypes.... Still, I had a good time - I could just not believe that this thing is real and will someday make images!
Dennis still needs to find more sponsors for the first road trip, but eventually he wants to go around the country and complete a series of portraits of various small enclaves of American subcultures. Other than Native Americans I am not sure who he is planning on shooting, but he had indeed done a few shots of them with the prototype and so a small group of Native American drummers showed up at the opening and did a very soulful performance. I didn't get any shots of that as I was too enthralled in the moment - the surrealism of hearing chants and the steady beat of the thunder drum amid skyscrapers in the falling rain was too perfect.
That night I slept in the bus in front of Dennis' house. It was a warm night and I was excited to be heading on Route 66 the following morning. Here I am going to make an unusual for me move and skip a part of the tale about me making the first tintypes of that return journey. I would like to leave the Route 66 story for one continuum that will be revealed in the next few posts. I would however like tell you about a little detour I made after doing the first stretch of that historic road.
An online friend of mine, Lyosha Svinarsky runs a Museum of Photography in Urbana IL and he invited me to come over and do a Magic Lantern show, some workshops and tintype portraits and indeed just to meet and have a good time. I'm always glad to meet photographers and even more so when they come from my native Russia, so I hopped off Route 66 and drove a bit out the way to Urbana. I spent a few nights at Lyosha's place, got to know his lovely wife and dog, went out and got a taste a very popular beer here - Dragons Blood (amazing brew if you are into dark, nutty, strong ales!) and had a great time in general.
The lantern show was enjoyed by a good 15 or so people including some kids that waited until about the end of the show to turn on their mobile games (so I think I'm getting better at keeping people's attentions). One interesting thing that happened during the Lantern Show - my lantern almost caught fire! When I was in Buffalo Rob asked me if I had a spare bulb for when mine goes out. I said that no and I have no idea where to get a huge bayonet-mount bulb that's 95 year old. I should have known - Rob pulled out a box from his garage a in it were TWO bulbs that fit my lantern! One of them was the recommended 500 watts and one was a bit more powerful 750. During this show I decided to test out that 750 and in the middle of the performance I noticed a stream of smoke coming from inside the lantern. With the words 'ladies and gentlemen, we need to interrupt this event as we may be in danger of catching ablaze' I stopped the show and the lights went up. Inside the lantern I found the wooden base, which holds prints in the event it is to be used as an overhead projector, smoldering at full speed. I extracted the extremely hot plate and poured water on it. Now the lantern has some serious field character to it! I think I can still use that bulb (the light was indeed quite a bit brighter) if I don't have that wooden insert in... Still, unless it's absolutely necessary I'll stick with the recommended 500 watt ones for now.
Next day I was downtown Urbana - a couple of people came by for a tintype experience and I also made a portrait of another couple in front of the bus. Here I am in front of Lyosha's place with faithful Gilli behind me.
Now I am finishing this blog post while sitting in a wonderful creative space in Bloomington IL called Come Together Studios owned by Matt Erickson. Matt invited me over to give him a chance to make a tintype of his own and so I was glad to come by and present him this opportunity, especially because Bloomington was on my way back to Route 66. Come Together Studios is a long-time dream of Matt's and he is super excited to see it come to fruition. A couple of years ago he purchased a 16.000 square foot building with a rich history stretching all the way back to 1850s and now is slowly but surely transforming it into a space for artist studios and performances of all kinds. They have spaces here printmaking, sculpture, painting and soon to come are capabilities of ceramics and bronze casting. I hope there will also be a darkroom here someday. A total of 8 gallery spaces, artists living quarters and so on and so forth... Here are a couple of images from it - I could have shot more as every room is filled with great art, but I'll spare you as I'm sure by now you want to go to sleep (even if you are reading this in the middle of the day...)
A few emails were sent out and so quite a few of Matt's friends showed up to see the bus. Among them was a local tintype photographer Rashod Taylor and here he is holding one of his 8x10 plates.
It always pleases me to sell my work. Not only do I see what people connect with and see my work gain a life of its own in a different part of the country, but of course I also get some more funds for diesel. I sold 4 8x10 silver prints to those who visited the bus and I am pleased to say that at this point I am literally $200 away from this trip being financially solvent! WOOO-HOOO!!!!
I will stop this novel of an update on this up note and will soon get back to start the update about my travels along Route 66. Let me just say that the beginning of it was intensely wonderful and it resulted in some great plates being made. More about that later though - now you can go about your day and be productive knowing that you have just finished one of the longest posts I have made or will hopefully ever make.