New Curtains

As part of our commitment to improve upon our presentation while inviting people to participate in the wonders of wet-plate collodion photography.  We are excited to be able create a new feeling of warmth through the addition of curtains to some of our mainstay backdrops.


Using the latest digital technology I had my daughter briefly pose to show how the curtains can be used to enhance a portrait




19th Century women photographers

When I was 1st thinking about the idea to do an impression as a photographer I held a commonly shared idea that there was a limited few women during the 19th century who were photographers and that most learned from their husband, brother or even father.  As I started developing my skills and researching the impression, I looked at my own family history to build from as well noting that a great number of early photographers within the states, learned in New York. As my grand parents on my fathers side being native New Yorker’s, and my Great, Great Grand Father on my mothers side, being the infamous New York Senator, who shot and killed Philip Barton Key II, and successfully plead temporary insanity.. Some of you may have heard about Major General Sickles – Thus my story developed of learning the trade from my late husband, and eventually taking over the gallery in New York.





Perfect idea for an impression, right?






This brings us to question from teachers and the general public at civil war reenactments “where there many women photographers during the Civil War?”  After all it seems everyone has heard about famous civil war photographers like Mathew Brady, and or even perhaps Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan but these are only 3 people amongst the thousands people flocking to this new in vogue art utilizing common knowledge science to create perfect renditions, by drawing with light.  By the time the American Civil War official broke out in 1861 we have to remember that the idea of Photography was just 21 years old, with introduction of wet collodion photography having been just 9 years before hand.  I can often be heard exclaiming at civil war reenactments that we aspire to using the newest photographic processes and the latest in apparatus to capture the finest details – think about it, this was truly amazing,  within a very short time, you could have your likeness captured and reproduced on a card then send it to your relatives. It’s difficult to compare to anything in today’s world. We are so inundated with technology that we take for granted, such as smart phones and computers. But if you think back just a very short time, there were hundreds lining up to buy the latest Iphone..  So think about it this way, you can almost compare the common place of a photo during the civil war as how common it is for people today to have a cell phone.


What is photography? How do you classify it? Is it science, or is it art, the very word photography implies Art. Even today it seems there’s still confusion at times. The world at large didn’t know how to classify this new thing.. But everyone wanted it,  leading to thousands of men and women alike learning about and setting up studios and galleries with the idea being consider more of a hobby rather than a business that needed to be registered. But amazingly people like E. & H. T Antony helped create an industry that employed any number of women, who did everything from colorizing photos, making prints to making the small wooden boxes to carry one’s Daguerreotype photo in, they were even photographers themselves.


This made it very easy for any number of women to become photographers, starting smaller galleries and studios within their residence, after unless you happened to be making and sell camera’s cabinet cards of famous sites and locations you, you were not running a real business.


Looking at people like Julia Margaret Cameron – she was given a camera as a present in 1864, as a novelty item, she using the wet collodion process started take photo’s with the aim to recorded “the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.”   To do this she did things like using soft focus, black backgrounds or using lighting that broke the standards of reproducing a scientific copy of what seen.. Thanks to her, we have amazing striking photos of people like Sir Henry Taylor, and Charles Darwin.


I believe it’s safe to say, that women played a significant role in helping define photography more as an art, than a novel way to record images..


For now, I’ve just hinted about women photographers, mentioning only one woman in England, but what about women in the United States?


There are hundreds, and yes someone learned from their husbands, while others learned to do daguerreotypes in the 1840’s via studios in New York – then opened their own studios some becoming itinerant photographers, while others moved, though out the country. It’s difficult to say how many women photographers there where, as they were not registered as businesses. –


As I write more for this posting, we’ll explore some of those women.



reference links:

19th Century San Francisco 

MPR News


World Photography day

Today August 19 2016 is the official World Photography day,  the art of photography just a 177 years old. for the most part I worked on this website, purchasing the domain name and so on, however I did take a break to flow some collodion, and mix up some fresh developer and replenish of working stock of fixer.

here’s the final resultquarter plate 8-19-16 this is a quarter plate Tintype flowed with month old rapid clear collodion – curiously the raw collodion was old/expired collodion mixed with equally as old salts, which turned this ripe red color, that’s settled down to this, in my opinion perfect orange.

The Wet Collodion Process

14031075_10153722089821921_679977314_nFrederick Scott Archer was the son of a butcher from Hertford who went to London to take an apprenticeship as a silversmith. Later, he became a sculptor and found calotype photography useful as a way of capturing images of his sculptures. Dissatisfied with the poor definition and contrast of the calotype and the long exposures needed, Scott Archer invented the new process in 1848 and published it in The Chemist in March 1851, enabling photographers to combine the fine detail of the daguerreotype with the ability to print multiple paper copies like the calotype. In publishing his discovery, he did so knowingly without first patenting it, giving it as a gift to the world.


This process originally called the wet-collodion process, or simply the collodion process, and as we call it today the wet-plate collodion process. This process involves adding a soluble iodides & bromides to a solution of collodion (cellulose nitrate) and coating a glass plate with the mixture. The plate is then immersed in a solution of silver nitrate to form silver halides. The plate, still wet, is exposed in the camera. It is then developed by pouring a solution of pyrogallic acid or ferrous sulfate over it and then is fixed with a strong solution of sodium thiosulfate, for which potassium cyanide was later substituted. Immediate developing and fixing were necessary because, after the collodion film had dried, it became waterproof and the reagent solutions could not penetrate it. This process was valued for the level of detail and clarity it allowed. A modification of the process, in which an underexposed negative was backed with black paper or velvet to form what was called an ambrotype, became very popular from the mid- to late 19th century, as did a version of black lacquered metal known as a tintype, or ferrotype.


The Silver Sunbeam list 10 different steps to process a single positive wet collodion photo. Those Steps are described as follows:

  1. Preparation of Glass: A piece of glass is thoroughly cleaned, sized and polished. This step is skipped for tintypes.
  2. Coating with collodion: While holding the plate in a horizontal position the collodion is flowed onto the plate to make a smooth and even coating on it.
  3. Sensitizing it: The coated plate is then placed into a bath of silver nitrate for several minutes to sensitize it.
    1. In darkroom conditions, the plate is removed from the bath and placed into a lightproof box, called a plate holder. the plate holder is carried to the camera, locked into place with the dark slide facing the lens.
  4. Exposing it in the camera:  The dark slide is removed; we are ready to take the photo.  The exposure times vary based on the lens, light, weather and the chemicals, but is generally just a few seconds. This is done by removing the lens cap and replacing it.
    1. The plate holder is closed up, and taken back to the darkroom.
  5. Developing the picture: Back in the darkroom the plate is then removed from the plate holder and developed out by pouring a developer solution over its surface. When the plate is judged to be fully developed, it is stopped from developing any further and rinsed using clean water
  6. Fixing the image: Out of the darkroom the plate is then fixed by placing it into a chemical solution sodium Thiosulfate, generically called Hypo or Fix which dissolves the remaining unexposed silver, and prevents the silver from further darkening. Permanently fixing the image. It is then thoroughly rinsed in clean water.
  7. Drying the plate: The plate is then dried either by air or by use of a small alcohol burner flame.
  8. Coloring: The image is then hand-colored to give life to cheeks, or color to curtains, and so on. (this step is typically omitted) 
  9. Varnishing: The plate is then warmed and varnished to protect the image.
  10. Backing: Then finally for ambrotypes. The plate is coated with asphaltum or provided a backing made from paper, velvet, or an unused tintype.

For the different solutions, we use modern adaptations of historic recipes, we choose not use potassium cyanide as our fixer to avoid the potential risk associated when working with the public. The chemicals used in modern wet-plate photography are considered ORMD and are still considered as toxic if not treated with respect for what they are.

Meet the lenses

With in the last few of years, we’ve had some luck with fortunate opportunities to collect a few different lenses, at present, I have used each of the lenses, each of them offer different unique prospective, as well as some interesting histories. I’m listing them in chronological order of acquisition

Darlot Rapid Hemispherical

darlot lenses.jpg

I suppose, aside from the lens on our Gennert Cycle camera our first historic lens, came on a camera, that I like to call the Franthony (french made camera using Anthony hardware and design) it came with Darlot rapid hemispherical #2 size lens. this lens is composed of two doublets – another name for the lens is Rapid Rectilinear or RR540px-Rapid_rectilinear.svg


It’s interesting that Darlot’s catalog entry states that the #2 covers 10×12 but more often then not people use it a smaller format camera thinking its only good for 4×5 or 5×7 – I typically use it on my 5×8 Rochester Optical, but have used it without any issues on my 8×10


Darlot Rapid Hemispherical #2 with it’s flange mounted on the ROC’s lensboard

Continue reading “Meet the lenses”

Alpha working model 1 test

It seems that, the 8th of inch difference doesn’t effect the edge to edge coverage of the plate, however my 1st test, using using the alpha 4×5 model it did basically work except that my dark slide apparently isn’t as opaque as it visually appears, however for this model that’s ok in that the final materials haven’t been decided on, for the next model, I have to make some adjustments, and will likely use an original dark slid, at least until I can replace it with the correct materials.

as labeled this is an alpha version I’m still resolving some of the details.

4×5 Alpha plate holder

Universal Plate Holder

I spend most of Tuesday the 3rd of August 2016 working out details of the universal plate holder. and cutting out via a laser cutter a working model to to test some different idea’s.
At present time the working model is made of a couple different types of plastics – partly due to the thicknesses of the said plastic as well as availability, I’m presently undecided as to what type of plastic will be used if not a combination. My principle reason for using a plastic is based upon assemble, general durability and resistance against the silver used in wet-plate photography.

wet-plate holder
Modern Wet-plate holder


Sadly, one of the biggest issues I’ve run into is a true edge to edge sized image as
traditional with a wet-plate images taken using a specific wet-plate camera. the majority of plate holders were a fixed sized, with corner tabs to support the plate many of those tabs were made from glass or wood, to change size of the plate the photographer would typically use a insert to down size the plate size.




4x5 dry plate holder
4×5 dry-plate holder with film holder insert

Whereas with the introduction of dry-plate and film the industry stared becoming more standardized, through size of plates, film  and camera while increasing the number of shots that could taken via a dry-plate/film holder, this changed how plates and film where held in place, within the holder, it also increased the ability to carry two plates/film per plate holder and later process the plate/film. During this transition from wet-plate to dry-plate/film a number of photographers still used their big camera’s and simply used inserts or a new concept, adjustable plate holders. the insert or adjustable plate holder was soon dropped in exchange for fixed camera sizes in relation to film size. and as roll film quality started increasing the size and weight of the camera decreased.


Today designing, rather than modifying a film holder for a view camera, I’ve encountered the previously described design change from wet-plate edge to edge image to one with boarder, this change is universal to the camera’s rather than being limited to just the film holder. Thus a fixed size modified film holder may not have a boarder, if the holder has been modified to support a plate that is smaller than the said film holder. but if the plate is at the maximum size of the holder, it will always have a boarder of about 8th of an inch. my plate holder are designed to support the true size of the said plate . However based upon the sizing of the camera they will always have a boarder when the maximum sized plate to plate holder is used. this is an unfortunate side effect, that can be used to one’s  advantage.


For example:

Here’s inside of the back from our 4×5 mid 1920’s Ansco Universal, note the space is not a true edge to edge 4×5 – the standardized film holders with with a spring back were designed to fit a 4×5 sheet of film, but also created a boarder on the film – this boarder offers several advantages and is typically cropped when printing