Skye Glass

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

Julian Calverley working at Elgol on the Isle of Skye (Half Plate Ambrotype)

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.

No hiding…

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.

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

Pouring collodion… (by Julian Calverley)

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.

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

It’s no mean feat working in the field with wet plate collodion…

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 collodion process, half plate, ambrotype, large format

Undercover, probably working some magic… (by Julian Calverley)

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

My half plate 1905 Thornton and Pickard Imperial Perfekta — brass-bound mahogany joy…

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

Remember ‘Sketch for a Darkbox’? Click on the image to see what I mean…

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…

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

A quick capture by Julian while I made his portrait…

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…

The Draw of the Sea

There’s something about the sea, isn’t there? Something stirring and primordial; to gaze out to the distant horizon is so many things to so many people.

Solace, hope, comfort, adventure and inspiration all spring to mind.

How many times have you driven along a coastline and seen people of all ages taking a stroll or simply sitting on a bench, looking so relaxed in a trance-like state as they stare wistfully towards the horizon?

How many times have you done just that yourself?

Tynemouth 1, Photography by Jack Lowe

Tynemouth No.1

The draw of the sea is strong within my soul. At the moment, it’s not fully nurtured. I miss being among the waves and long to return to my love of sea kayaking some time soon.

Way back when, my father enjoyed a spell in the Merchant Navy and was also a deep sea diver in the North Sea.

Indeed, we spent the first few years of my life living on a beautiful old boat, so I’m sure these are just some of the clues that point to why I love the watery stuff so much.

A while back, I was invited to make a photograph on the theme of emotion for an NSPCC charity auction being held at the The Old Truman Brewery in London.

My choice of subject? To return to my birth town, Aberdeen, and photograph the sea…

Aberdeen, Photography by Jack Lowe

Aberdeen

— My First Photo Book

On seeing his beautiful show at The Zelda Cheatle Gallery, the first photo book I ever bought was The Shipping Forecast by Mark Power.

The cover image still holds the same attraction to me now as it did then…

On the institution of the BBC’s Shipping Forecast, David Chandler writes in the foreword:

“The forecast stirs our residual contact with the sublime, our fading sense of epic scenarios, places where great, life-threatening forces are continually unleashed and where nature’s vengeful power always hovers over the horizon.”

Stirring words that certainly tap into my psyche, capturing the essence of what I still love about Power’s body of work.

— The Sea Collection

Sunrise at Llanbedrog, Lleyn Peninsula, Wales, Photography by Jack Lowe

Llanbedrog Sunrise

The Cobb, Photography by Jack Lowe

The Cobb

As you might imagine, I’ve made many nautical photographs over the years.

You can browse and purchase my Archival Pigment Prints of the sea by clicking here.

Each print is made, signed and embossed by me, shipped to your door to provide a new window through which to wistfully gaze…

Digital Archival Pigment Print of Llanbedrog on the Lleyn Peninsula by Jack Lowe

‘Llanbedrog Sunrise’ from The Sea Collection

— Further Inspiration

Here’s a short film that I’ve always loved, Dark Side of the Lens, and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy too:

“Subtle glimpses of magic others might pass by…something worth remembering with a photograph or a scar.” — Dark Side of the Lens

 

— The RNLI, Saving Lives at Sea

A final word…

You might well have guessed by now that my favourite charity is the RNLI.

As an island nation, the dedicated volunteers around our coastline are vital to ensuring the safety of those at sea for whatever reason.

I’ve been a fan of them since I was a boy. I loved this clip they posted of the Plymouth Lifeboat heading out on a shout in a Storm Force 10 gale at the back end of last year.

Hold tight…!

Portraits 1997~2005

Kath (2004), Photography by Jack Lowe

Kath, 2004

I always think of myself as a landscape photographer.

Why I think that, I don’t know; I photograph all sorts of subjects all of the time.

Like many of you, I guess, I often make portraits — usually of my nearest and dearest.

I love making them but, moreover, I love that I only ever make them for pleasure with no commercial angle involved.

Photography is intrinsic to my makeup and it feels wholesome somehow to keep a part of it set to ‘hobby status’.

You can see more of my favourite portraits in this Behance Collection

Ethel and Peter (2001), Photography by Jack Lowe

Ethel and Peter, 2001

London: A Painterly Portrait

London from Primrose Hill, Photography by Jack Lowe

A portrait of London at sunrise from Primrose Hill…

Imagine you are standing at sunrise on Primrose Hill, looking south across the vast cityscape of London.

Now rewind the clock to the turn of the Century: ‘Pre-Shard’ and ‘pre-Gherkin’, it’s hard to believe that the newest structure on the horizon was the London Eye (the Millennium Wheel).

Construction cranes can be seen in the distance, beavering away to build the new future that seems so normal today and, unusually, there’s not a single human in sight.

My peaceful, painterly portrait of London heralds the new Millennium — a slice of time from a skyline that will never look the same again…

London from Primrose Hill, Photography by Jack Lowe

Print Detail — The trees at the bottom of Primrose Hill, with the silhouette of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance…

London from Primrose Hill, Photography by Jack Lowe

Print Detail — The Snowdon Aviary of London Zoo nestles among the trees and the BT Tower in Fitzrovia makes its iconic statement on the skyline…

If you would like to own one of these beautiful prints — made, numbered, signed and embossed by me — you can buy it directly from my Cornerstone Collection.

London from Primrose Hill, Photography by Jack Lowe

Click the image to see the 12×8″ Archival Pigment Print in my Cornerstone Collection…

 

 

Platinum: King of Photographic Prints

Video

Have you wondered why I put so much love into pursuing such an old print process as Platinum printing?

It’s true that the process doesn’t fit snugly into our modern fast-paced life — the prints are expensive to make and each one requires a fair amount of time to create.

I’ve described the beauty and rarity of Platinum printing on this process page.

Sometimes, however, it’s also good to hear about it from another angle and perhaps none better than this short video from George Eastman House…

I now have four beautiful prints available to buy in my Platinum/Palladium Collection.

My last post, Rum at Dusk, describes one of the images in more detail.

Rum at Dusk

The Isle of Rum from Camusdarach, Scotland, photographed by Jack Lowe

“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.

For Example…

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)…

The Island of Rum from Camusdarach, Scotland, photographed by Jack Lowe

Visit my Platinum/Palladium Print Collection to buy this print and have it delivered to your door. Alternatively, feel free to contact me for further information.

If you’d like know more about Platinum/Palladium Prints, you can learn all about them by clicking here.

My thanks to Paul Kenny for our discussions about wild places and for pointing me in the direction of the The Shipping News once again.

I’m currently re-reading this beautiful book…