The Midges that Died for Art

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…

Stag at Bridge of Orchy, Scotland

From Instagram: The sight that greeted us on our first night at Bridge of Orchy…

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…

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Glen Etive, Scotland (10×12″ Tintype), complete with embedded midges…

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…

wet plate collodion process, tintype, large format

The Midge: Dying for my art…

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A tiny crop from the plate — not bad for a 110 year old Emil Busch brass lens!

For more recent work, check out the Gallery.

Neena, wet plate collodion process, ambulance, darkroom

From Instagram: Neena — mobile darkroom and bed for the night…

Skye Glass

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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.

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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.

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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…

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A quick capture by Julian while I made his portrait…