The intimidating valley sides of Glencoe, Scotland, form the backdrop to ten seconds in the life of my younger son, wrapped up warm on a blustery, rainy day.
Last weekend — what with it being the summer holidays an’ all — I thought it would be fun to concoct an impromptu camping/photography expedition to Scotland with my younger son.
Stocked with food, chemicals and 110 year old cameras, we headed north from our home in Newcastle upon Tyne.
We had a ball, wild camping in Neena with wondrous sights aplenty…
Thankfully, I had the foresight to pack insect nets and repellent; I’m all too aware of how the Scottish midge can turn a perfectly nice time into a humid, swarming trauma.
Sure enough, having settled down to make some photographs beside the stunning River Etive, clouds of the interminable bug descended as I poured my second plate.
At one point, I looked down at my gloved hands and I couldn’t see them — they’d literally come alive with a swarm of midges, looking like some kind of organic techno prop from a sci-fi movie.
It was time for a sharp exit but I had to finish making the plate before we could pack away and move on…
Pouring the 10×12″ Tintype, I was doing my best to keep the little critters from flying into the collodion.
Then it dawned on me — if I simply let them ‘do their thing’ I’d be making full use of this photographic process.
I’ve written before about capturing the weather in a glass plate. Now, I’d not only be creating a unique one-off photograph on metal, I’d also be capturing another important facet of the Scottish landscape — the midge!
Into the collodion they flew, ready for a lovely soak in a bath of silver nitrate. And so, it came to be that a handful of midges died in the name of art.
Now, to think of more ways to reduce their numbers…
For more recent work, check out the Gallery.
There’s excitement afoot but more on that later in the month.
In the meantime, whet your appetite with this short clip broadcast last night by the BBC Look North team. You’ll also discover why I made the Tintypes below…
Swan, Billy Mill and Cowgate — when strung together, these names could perhaps be mistaken for the title of an obscure new advertising agency.
Instead, if you ask a Geordie to name three roundabouts, I expect those are the names that would spring to mind first.
Hen, an old pal of mine, recently asked me if I’d make a photograph of Cowgate Roundabout, which lies at the northern end of Newcastle’s central motorway.
Even though it’s certainly a local institution, this could be perceived as a slightly odd request. There is, however, a simple reason behind it…
You see, when Hen was only fifteen years old, his father — Jimmy Henderson — passed away.
Jimmy used to work for Newcastle City Council and one of the only lasting relics of that time is his contribution to the construction of Cowgate Roundabout.
Hen even retrieved this treasured print of the construction crew, taken in the late 1960s just before work began:
It recently transpired that a £3m improvement plan has been given the green light — a plan that includes the removal of Cowgate Roundabout as we know it today.
With works due to start this summer and months of disruption ahead, it was time to get moving with our photograph of the site.
So, we mobilised Neena very early on Sunday morning. Our aim was simply to record the roundabout — usually extremely busy — in a peaceful state without any traffic.
In memory of Jimmy Henderson, our efforts resulted in this finished plate :
Behind the Scenes…
We made a lovely morning of it, not only loading Neena with the necessary photographic paraphernalia but also making sure we had a stash of fine coffee and treats.
Here are three of the images I shared on my Instagram feed at the time…
It’s been a curve-curve ball of a week…
A while back you may remember that I was inspired by the work and adventures of Ian Ruhter who makes huge Tintypes in The States using his old blue van as a giant camera — a van he affectionately calls The Time Machine.
If you haven’t seen his now-famous Silver & Light video, I’ll include it at the bottom of this post for you. Watch it. You’ll love it.
At the beginning of my own journey in wet plate collodion, I’ve been fantasising about the kind of vehicle I might own one day to use as a mobile darkroom. So, I’ve been keeping a weather eye focussed on eBay to get an idea of what’s out there for when the time comes.
As you might imagine, there’s a plethora of weird and wonderful machines available. Two weeks ago, a decommissioned NHS ambulance came up for sale and I knew instantly that it would be perfect but, in all honesty, the timing felt too soon.
Mournfully, I watched it slip away — sold to some lucky buyer who I now envied…
Envy isn’t a pleasant emotion, so I quickly expelled the memory from my consciousness and endeavoured to move on. I managed that until eBay sent me a tantalising email stating:
“An item you were watching has been relisted.”
Shucks. Now it felt like destiny. The urge was strong to see if I could possibly bring this wondrous vehicle into my life. And thus, to cut a long story short and after a marathon return trip to Cheltenham yesterday, it became so.
This vehicle — shortly to be my wet plate collodion darkroom — is simply incredible. A ready-made lab on wheels. It’s built solidly, crammed with loads of gadgets and has effortlessly awakened childhood memories (mainly involving Lego, toy cars and Ghostbusters).
The previous owners named it Neena — get it? — a name that I’m still pondering whether to keep. What say you?
Anyway, I can’t wait for the adventures that lie ahead. Here it is — my new ambulance:
As promised, Ian Ruhter’s Silver & Light:
Two weeks ago, Julian Calverley invited me on an impromptu visit to the Isle of Skye, a stunningly beautiful wilderness in the far north of Scotland.
I’ve known Julian for a long time, I’ve made his edition prints for years. Now, I was presented with a new treat — to capture him in one of his favourite stomping grounds for a new book being released later in the year.
I could only seize the chance and, thus, the Ambrotype above was made.
Whilst working with wet plate collodion, I’ve come to adore and embrace the fact that everything within a plate tells a story.
Experienced collodionists are able to pore over a plate and know where things went well and where they went wrong, what worked and what didn’t.
For example, the waviness to the left of the photograph? That’s the wind at Elgol trying to have a say, blowing my collodion as I poured it onto the glass in the dawn breeze.
Not only have I recorded Julian working with his camera, I’ve also captured the weather.
So many elements of that early morning are now immortalised with a piece of glass and a box of chemicals. That’s beautiful to me. I love it.
Working on location with this process can be physically gruelling as there’s simply so much paraphernalia. It’s a labour of love and you soon find out why there aren’t many people working on location in this way.
However, the rewards for all those efforts are wonderful and even just one or two great plates make it all worthwhile.
Online, it’s impossible to relay the experience of viewing an Ambrotype in the flesh.
As I’ve mentioned before, they carry entrancing three-dimensional qualities — almost holographic — leaving me with a sense that I’ve captured a slice of time, that I’ve actually created some kind of time capsule.
In short, the plates are unique, unreproducible and irreplaceable.
Wet Plate Gallery
The eagle-eyed will have spotted that I’ve now created a Wet Plate Gallery in the menu bar at the top of the page.
Take a look to see some of my favourite plates so far. Watch this space for more soon and, remember, there’s no substitute for seeing them in the flesh…
There’s another event that coincides with the release of this image — NASA celebrating its 45th anniversary of the 1969 lunar landing.
In recognition of this milestone and to acknowledge the moon’s place in our imaginations and culture, BALTIC 39 is currently staging ‘They Used to Call it the Moon‘, a beautiful exhibition dedicated to our nearest ball of rock, exploring the enduring presence of the moon and the rich iconography of space on the popular imagination of artists.
I was — ahem — over the moon when BALTIC invited me to include my recent creation in the exhibition. I’m very happy to announce that you can now buy numbered, signed and embossed prints directly from BALTIC Shop as well as from my New Prints page…