New Course Charted

In allowing myself a bit of thinking space, it’s been a over month since I last posted — a month that has seen the culmination of so much research, learning and planning.

Looking back over previous posts has been enlightening this afternoon. I can see the mindset I’ve occupied at various points over the last two years, points along a path that I recognised as becoming increasingly unknown and further out of my comfort zone.

At times, my heart’s been in my mouth with a sensation that I can only liken to one I experienced as a young boy, the time I was obliged by my swimming instructor to leap from a 5 metre diving board (you’ll never see me do that again, by the way).

I’ve seen and heard clips from luminaries reassuring me that these feelings are a good thing. So, I’ve trusted them and gone with it.

Finally under my own steam…

A little over two weeks ago, it dawned on me that there was no more planning to be done; I was finally in a position where I’d harvested enough paraphernalia and knowledge to make my first photographs using a Victorian process known as wet plate collodion.

I’ve been micro-blogging about the various milestones on Instagram (yes, I’m back) and on my Facebook Page over recent weeks.

The first day was terrible. By the end of it, I was nearly crying into my collodion. Nothing was working but, with a little help from a friend the following morning, it transpired that my problem was simple — my darkbox (portable darkroom) was too light.

I cobbled together some shutters to reduce the levels of light hitting the interior of the box and made this, my first glass wet plate — an Ambrotype — under my own steam:

wet plate collodion process, half plate, ambrotype, large format

‘Foot of the Castle Keep’, the first successful ambrotype made under my own steam…

The plate will always be very precious to me as it signifies a moment I’ll never forget; the coming together of so many factors and a whole future being unlocked.

It was the first photographic object I’d created with my hands for a very long time without a computer in sight; the first time since my teenage years when I used to tirelessly process film and make prints in my bedroom.

That Sunday, I couldn’t stop making plates until the light finally faded…

wet plate collodion process, half plate, ambrotype, large format

Kath (Half Plate Ambrotype)

Decisions, Decisions…

In returning to my own photography, I chose wet plate collodion for several reasons.

After working as a digital printmaker and retoucher so intensively for the last fourteen years, I wanted to pursue a route that didn’t involve computers. Not only that but one that didn’t require the processing of film or, furthermore, reliance on a lab.

In short, I knew I wanted to produce truly unique — even unreproducible — photographic objects that I’d crafted at every stage with my own hands.

Anybody seeing my new work would know that it was both special and unusual in the modern era.

That pretty much left one route to pursue, the process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 during the very birth of photography.

The Magician…?

To start with a camera, a piece of glass and a box of chemicals is one thing. To end up with a positive image fixed on that piece of glass is quite something else.

Digital scans of plates posted online as JPEGs can give you an idea but that really is no substitute for seeing them in the flesh.

They carry entrancing — almost holographic — qualities leaving me with the sense that I’ve captured a slice of time, that I’m actually holding some kind of time capsule.

Last weekend, I was working with some friends near the Fish Quay in North Shields. At one point, as I was preparing my next plate, I could hear some chattering voices.

“Look, Mam, it’s a magician!” said one of the girls.

As I stood there in my work apron with my quirky setup around me, I could understand why they came to that initial conclusion.

“Don’t be silly!” replied the mother, “He’s not a magician, he’s a…he’s a…”

I helped her out by telling them I was a photographer but, in a way, that the girls were right, I was also a magician of sorts.

I asked them where they were going.

“We’re going over there to get fish and chips for our tea.”

“OK…” I said and showed them a blank piece of glass.

“…stop by on your way back and I’ll show you this same piece of glass again.”

They seemed excited and intrigued. Sure enough, they stopped off with their fish and chips in hand and I showed them what I’d done to the glass.

“See, Mam, he IS a magician!” they gleefully told their mother who looked at me and smirked with a slight air of concession.

What a treat, I thought, to find myself in a position where I might be perceived to be a magician; such an old process capturing the imagination of children.

What did I show them? This portrait of Paul, the man who’d sold me the camera…

wet plate collodion process, half plate, ambrotype, large format

Paul, the man who sold me my 1905 half plate camera (Half Plate Ambrotype)

Doors opening…

As I come to the end of writing this post, I’m excited for the week ahead.

New doors have been opening ever since I started showing my first plates just two weeks ago.

People have already been asking if they can have their portraits made like that too and I’m thrilled to have received an invitation from Julian Calverley to hook up with him mid-week on the Isle of Skye.

I’ll be making a portrait or two of Julian for his upcoming book, capturing him at work in one of his favourite stomping grounds.

Of course, I can’t wait to make some landscapes while I’m there too, so I’m hoping I’ll have some beautiful work to show you on my return…

Chapter Two: New Beginnings

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that this video clip had a new relevance for me.

I’ve been asking myself some pretty straight questions recently. As a result, my eyes and mind have been opened up to a photographic sub-culture that I always knew existed but only ever dreamed about — until now…

On Thursday, this culminated in making my first ever glass Wet Plate.

And here it is:

Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys by Jack Lowe

From left to right, 5 minutes in the life of Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys

It’s a portrait of the team who rallied round to share their wisdom with me — new folks in my life to whom I’m extremely appreciative.

You’ll see the plate’s a bit of a mess due to my novice-like pouring technique but it still has a certain something, don’t you think?

Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys by Jack Lowe

Detail from my first Wet Plate (Alastair Cook)

Paul Cordes, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys by Jack Lowe

Edge detail from my first Wet Plate — this one’s for Paul Kenny!

Actually, I’m in there too. During the five minute exposure (it was pretty dark), I strolled slowly in front of the lens to make sure I wasn’t left out.

The plate also now features in Bastards’ First Plate Gallery at Collodion Bastards (Wet Plate Work of Questionable Parentage).

My sincere thanks to Alastair Cook, Jonathan Keys and Paul Cordes for their help, great company and for rounding off the year perfectly.

Afterwards, we decamped for cake and coffee at Heaton Perk to take away the taste of collodion in the back of our throats.

Bliss.

With best wishes to everyone for 2014, when there’ll be more to report on these new beginnings…

New Platinum Print: Hérault Mountains

In the depths of Southern France there’s a scene that’s kept me entranced for many a lazy afternoon over the years…

Hérault Mountains, France, 1999, photographed by Jack Lowe

Hérault Mountains, France, 1999

I’ve photographed the view many times, even made a time lapse once, but none of them encapsulate the feelings evoked as neatly as this one.

Now available as a Platinum/Palladium print, Hérault Mountains joins a growing collection of photographs using this very traditional printing method — read more about the process by clicking here.

Hérault Mountains, France, 1999, photographed by Jack Lowe

Print detail…

If you’re thinking of buying any of my prints as Christmas gifts, please allow as much time as possible — now is a good time to order.

I do hold a small amount in stock but Platinum/Palladium prints such as these can take a little while to make.

If you would like to buy Hérault Mountains as a signed, numbered and embossed print, you can find it nestled here in my Platinum Collection.

Hérault Mountains, France, 1999, photographed by Jack Lowe

New Platinum Print: Paddington Station

If you’re a photographer, you might empathise with this — occasionally (or regularly) making a photograph that you know you like but you’re not quite sure how or what will be the right way to finish it off, to properly close the loop…

I must say, it doesn’t normally take as long as fourteen years to come to a decision.

However, back in 1999, I captured the layered platform rooves of Paddington Station, a mainline railway station in West London.

Although I loved the graphic simplicity of the scene, it was an image that went on the back-burner.

Finding the photograph a couple of weeks ago put me straight into the mindset of a vintage Paddington Station.

Some of the buildings are clearly more modern but nevertheless it reminds me of a time gone by.

I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the weightiness or the puff of white rising from one of the platforms; maybe it’s simply the fact that it was shot on nostalgic ol’ black and white film with my Nikon.

Whatever the reasons, I knew instantly that it would make a fine Platinum/Palladium print.

I set to work making the Digital Negative and sent it off to Richard (take a look at the process here).

When Prints No.1 and No.2 arrived back, I was over the moon — just what I’d hoped for:

Paddington Station, West London, UK, 1999, photographed by Jack Lowe

In hindsight, I think I was a little ahead of myself when I released the shutter on this scene.

Rather than the photographic tastes I had then, it was as if I was seeing ahead to the tastes I would have now with an older head on my shoulders.

Perhaps that’s why it’s taken so long for me to close this particular loop.

Anyway, I managed to find a clip of The Last Journey, a story about Bob Holt’s last journey as a railway engine driver before his retirement.

The clip depicts Paddington in the 1930s, a time when Platinum printing had already become scarce due to the war effort, and a good example of the station back in the day:

If you would like to buy one of these beautiful signed, numbered and embossed prints, you can find it nestled among others here in my Platinum Collection.

Paddington Station, West London, UK, 1999, photographed by Jack Lowe

New Print: Peel Island

In August last year, I wrote a post entitled The Lake District and I.

One of the photographs from that camping trip has always stuck in my mind — the view over Peel Island (of Swallows and Amazons fame) on Coniston Water.

Peel Island, Coniston Water, 2012 by Jack Lowe

Over a year on, I’ve finally made the time to work on the print of this photograph, one that encapsulates so many of my experiences and feelings about the Lake District.

Largely, as you can see from the sky, I guess those feelings tend to revolve around an imminent drenching.

Indeed, at the time, I mentioned beauty in dankness.

For those who don’t know — if you’re vaguely dry in the Lake District, it’s about to rain. If you’re soaked to the skin, it’s raining already…

If you’d like a stunning signed, numbered and embossed Archival Pigment Print of this photograph, you can purchase yours from my Lake District Collection.