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.
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…
“All the complex wires of life were stripped out and he could see the structure of life.
“Nothing but rock and sea, the tiny figures of humans and animals against them for a brief time.” — Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
Annie Proulx has eloquently put into words an issue I’ve been pondering of late…
When I first step out of the car having journeyed to a place such as the west coast of Scotland, why is it that I always feel so readily and notably at ease?
Any cares or concerns fritter away in the breeze (there’s always at least a breeze in Scotland) and my mind seems instantly able to function with a new-found clarity.
It’s a sensation rather akin to drinking a lovely cool glass of water on a baking hot day.
In August my wife and I travelled to a spot just south of Mallaig in Scotland. I wrote about it shortly afterwards on these pages.
The thing is, this site didn’t even exist at the start of that week and now it does — a direct result of the clarity gained from being in a location so wild as the west coast of Scotland.
On the day this site was conceived, during that week in August, I made my first new photograph in years — one that I knew would be among the first to grace these pages.
So, here it is, a sumptuous Platinum/Palladium print capturing the beautiful Isle of Rum at dusk (as seen from the mainland at Camusdarach)…
If you’d like know more about Platinum/Palladium Prints, you can learn all about them by clicking here.
I’m currently re-reading this beautiful book…
The Ordnance Survey maps I mentioned in my last post really are extraordinary.
We’re so fortunate to have such beautiful artworks made for us…
This photograph is taken from the Ordnance Survey Explorer Map No.398, a particularly fine example.
Have a Favourite…?
Do you have a favourite sheet number you like to pore over?
Leave a comment and let me know — I may have to add it to my small but growing collection!
Photograph of Ordnance Survey Explorer Map No.398:
Recently, with our boys away, my wife and I set off on a small road trip. We headed north from our home in Newcastle, bound for the west coast of Scotland.
Back in our youth, before we knew each other, we were both very fond of Scotland — well, I was born there — and for years Kath has been keen to return to Camusdarach, the coastline where she enjoyed family holidays as a child.
Now, one of the things I love about human life is the infrastructure we build for ourselves. Not all of it, but some of it.
I love the machinations, how it all comes together in order to move people around. My friends and colleagues will know that railways tick the biggest box for me but I also got pretty excited when I learned that we were making use of the Corran Ferry on this little road trip of ours.
From the photograph above you can see that the crossing is very short but it’s certainly one of those wonderful pieces of infrastructure that I so enjoy.
The ferry powers against the current (ferry glides) to reach each side and I noticed that the loading ramp is specially angled so that it can sit against the flow while vehicles drive on and off.
As I watched the water boiling past, herons flew up and down, seemingly so close to touching the surface; I relaxed when I realised they probably knew what they were doing.
Memories also started to flood back of the last time I was at the Corran Ferry. It was with my Dad, Step-mother and Sister (then a toddler). We were travelling to spend Christmas with friends on Ardnamurchan way back in the winter of 1995.
On my return, I knew that I would have to dig out the photographs from my archive. I did that, loved what I found and I’ve scanned the prints to share them here with you.
Here’s how the Corran Ferry looked in that freezing winter of ’95, as captured by my Dad…
Once we’d made the icy crossing, we headed along the A861 from the ferry and then the B8007 to our friends’ home.
My lasting memories are of the snow, the ice, the cold, the starry nights and the magical climb of Ben Hiant on Christmas Day.
And let’s not forget the lovely sounds of my trusty old Nikon F3HP, which is now resigned to simply looking handsome on my studio shelves…
Time to Print…
Both my trips to this area in 1995 and last week have been perfect. We plan to go back again and again.
Perhaps most of all, I enjoyed making the time to nurture my own photography. This week, I have been collating the images and making digital negatives of a selected few in readiness for creating Platinum/Palladium Prints, which I will show you once they are ready.
Not sure what I’m talking about?
Don’t worry, all will become clear in time as I beef out the pages of this new blog with photographs and descriptions of the processes involved.
Our Route to Camusdarach…
The journey we planned worked well for us. If you think you’d like to pay a visit, you might find the following helpful…
We drove north from Newcastle on the A68 via Jedburgh (narrowly dodging horrendous rain storms and flash floods as it transpired), eventually making our way to the epic scenery of Glencoe on the A82.
Beyond Strontian, we stopped off for a few short walks (there are many dotted along the route) on our way to Camusdarach campsite.
Our return journey was similar but we took the faster route via Fort William, avoiding the Corran Ferry, breaking the journey at the beautiful Knockderry House.
I’m a little addicted to TripAdvisor (particularly the 1 Star reviews!) and you can see my reviews of these locations there…!
Many Britons have yet to discover the truly stunning locations we have right here on our doorstep, so let’s not talk about it too much, eh?
We found these publications helped enhance our travels…
As I mentioned on Twitter recently, we’re so fortunate in the UK to have the Ordnance Survey making such detailed maps for us. We used these three on our trip — the Explorer range are particularly detailed for fans of the great outdoors:
The short walks I mentioned? We found those in Walks Mallaig and Ardnamurchan (Hallewell Pocket Walking Guides):
Dreaming of the Future…
For idle moments, I took this book from my shelves at home in the hope that I might rekindle another side of my life, kayaking.
I had a good read of this whilst lying in the tent and dreamed of the future: