My first tintype

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my very first tintype at John Coffer‘s workshop. It turned out well, don’t you think? That’s because John was standing behind my shoulder at every turn, telling me the exposure time and working with me to develop, fix, rinse, and varnish it.

Ashley, Alex, Bob and I had a great time. After the first half a day or so, John turned us loose on his equipment, producing tintypes to our heart’s content. Between him and his assistant, Travis, we nailed most of our attempts at correct exposure and development.

Happily, I made some of the most basic mistakes of novice wet-platers during the workshop, including putting the plate in the holder the wrong way. Most mistakes happened, unsurprisingly, when we were either tired or rushed or both. Or sometimes the chemicals just didn’t play nice, like with this plate:

The fogging is a result of contamination of some kind. John is a great model, however, and posed until I got it right on the third plate:

Experienced wet plate photographers will be able to see developer pour problems and fogging, perhaps from the hot weather, at the bottom right. But I like happy accidents.

The tintyping bug bit me on the workshop, and I’ve since started assembling the bits and bobs needed to start shooting at home. It’s throwing up challenges at every turn, from fitting a lens to a lens board, to ordering chemicals, to finding a tripod. Stay tuned.

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Camp Tintype

In June I went up to Dundee, New York to take John Coffer‘s wet plate workshop. On the last day he gave us the option of doing two mammoth plates, but I chickened out. A whole plate is about as much as I could manage. Brave Ashley Julin gave it a go and produced a wonderful portrait of Travis Hocutt, John’s assistant for the summer.  The Big Travis plate was a very organic piece of art – bugs and assorted flyaways adhered to varnish as it was drying.

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Trying a new system…gallery view instead of single picture uploads.

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Glass Negatives Update

Thanks to sleuthing friends around the world, the mystery of the glass negatives has at least been partially solved, and its more interesting than I could have hoped for.

One friend, Chiharu, said that the girl on the left on the third photo is wearing a typical Japanese school uniform, and the person in the seventh photo is dressed for some kind of farm work.

The plaque identifies the young man as the winner of the Odaka Youth Speech Contest at an event held by the Odaka City Crime Stopper Association. At the bottom, it says, “Given by Youth Association of Chita County, and Prefecture Assembly Member Isao Mori.” According to Chiharu, Odaka is now a part of Nagoya city, Midori-ku.

However, another helpful translator read the town as Odako-cho in Aichi, not Chita (or Chiba), and the name of the assembly member as “Isamu” not “Isao.”

This raises the question of what a Crime Stopper Association is and why it was necessary in Odaka (another friend translated it as “anti-crime assocation”). In any case, if anyone has more info on Japanese crime stoppers of the 40’s, or has some ties to Odaka, please do tell me more.

With huge thanks to Bob Stresino and Chiharu Yarling; Yumi Goto; and Katharina Hesse and Momoe Okabe.

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A Mystery in Glass

I found these in a Fuji glass plate box in a local antiques store in Fort Myers, Florida (I’d love to tell you what the place is called, but it doesn’t really have a name. Just a sign that says “ANT” since the rest fell off). They’re maybe from the 1940’s, probably from Japan. The last one is the odd one out but I threw it in because it’s as much of a clue as the rest are.

There’s nothing identifying on the box itself, except a torn sticker with a couple of Japanese/Chinese characters on it.

Perhaps these are photos of Japanese immigrants to the United States? That may explain the fashions. I’d love to know what the traditional dress is in one of the photos. However, one of the men is holding up a plaque with characters on it, which suggests it’s from Japan rather than an event in the US.

EDIT: And here’s a close up, as requested, of the plaque (click on the photo for the full size):

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My gorgeous grandparents.

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Sunshine State

After readership figures reached an all time low, I thought I should post some more recent photos to get a bit more up to date. I’ve been dabbling in other photographic mediums and thus the blog has fallen aside a bit lately. I do pull my trusty Mamiya out now and again to go for an outing in my home state. Herewith, random adventures from the first half of the year.


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Great Rift Valley

Great Rift Valley, Kenya, October 2010.

As I look over the fence, leaving the stall holders pleading for attention behind me, I look at The Start. The Great Rift Valley is where they say it all began, where humankind started to diverge from the other apes.

This part of the valley is now filled with greenhouses sheltering hothouse flowers flown to cold Europe. Many of the workers live in cottages that are not dissimilar to ones that housed factory workers in England during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

But from high above, none of that is apparent.

“All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.”

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.”

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

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Good wells

The average Cambodia village looks like this – rice fields, simple one-room homes on stilts, some chickens scratching around. The rustic dwellings may lack certain comforts – a fitted kitchen and bathroom spring to mind – but most families seem to make do with what they have, except when they are without one crucial element that most Westerners take for granted. Many people in rural areas live without a clean and nearby water supply, and either have to travel long distances to fetch water every day, or have to purefy the water they have by boiling it.

There is a fix to this – a well equipped with a hand pump that the provincial authorities can install for around USD$500 or less.

This simple piece of equipment (which my friend Bo is helpfully demonstrating) provides enough water for 5 neighbouring families.

The second place we visited benefited a family with four children, as well as their neighbours. Immensely relieved by the fresh water supply, this woman bears the heavier burden in providing for the family, and not having to boil their water for ages is a great help to her (the well below was their old water supply).

If you do a quick search online, you’ll see there are dozens of organisations raising money to build wells in Cambodia. I can’t recommend any from personal experience, as these wells plus a third were funded by a Korean Rotary Club who asked Bo find locations for them and supervise their construction, but I do know that a small amount goes a long way.

Happy New Year 🙂 .

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Angkor Photo Festival

The Angkor Photo Festival now has a blog, in case you’re wondering what we’re getting up to!