Craftwork; Jody Dole’s Chemical Romance Page 2

Which he’s prepared by coating a black metal plate with a collodion emulsion (plain collodion USP mixed with ether, grain alcohol, cadmium bromide, and ammonium bromide). The coated plate is then sensitized for three minutes in a silver nitrate bath, blotted dry and inserted in a holder to receive the image; the plate is then developed (the developer consists of ferrous sulfite, distilled water, glacial acidic acid, and grain alcohol). Eventually the fixed, washed, dried, and varnished metal plates are scanned to digital files so Jody can make prints…or supply magazines with digital versions of the images. (In many of his wet plate photos there’s distinct texture, which is the result of Jody going to work on the metal plates with a fine steel-wool pad.)

Sailboats at the America’s Cup trials were captured in a digital image that was output on Pictorico OHP transparency film, creating the positive transparency that was used to make the tintype.

Which leaves us with one obvious question: in an age of instant this, automatic that, and see-it-now immediacy, why all this work? Well, the cyanotype look-alikes are mostly play, done for fun and to see what he can come up with. But the wet plate work? “You just gotta love it,” Jody says, “and I do. It’s part of a life-long love affair with old processes, an immersion in nuts-and-bolts, hands-on photography.”

And there’s one more thing. “I wanted to go back to a process that not everyone was doing. When I got involved in digital photography, in 1991, I had the first high-res digital camera back in Manhattan. No one was doing digital. I thought, well, this will never catch on, but I felt that from a competitive standpoint, it was good to explore what others weren’t doing. Now digital’s the norm, and it’s time to look for things that others aren’t doing. And with these processes, it’s something that has high standards and real craftsmanship.”

A tintype of antique bottles that once contained Daguerre-era chemistry.

For More Info
An Internet search for collodion wet plate photography and cyanotypes (if you wish to go beyond look-alikes) will turn up thousands of references to the processes.

If you’re looking for chemicals, you might check Jody’s source, ArtCraft Chemicals, Inc. His source for new metal plates is the Main Trophy Supply Company; he’s also tracked down old plates discarded from 19th-century photography studios, but he’s not talking about how he did that. The glassware for storing and mixing the chemicals comes from various laboratory glass supply houses.

Books on the processes are plentiful, but Jody suggests two in particular: “The bible for all the old processes is The Silver Sunbeam, the 1864 facsimile edition from Morgan & Morgan. It’s out of print, but you can find sources for copies online. The other good book is Blueprint to Cyanotypes, by Malin and Gary Fabbri, and it’s easily available.”

Jody borrowed a Daguerre-era Lewis camera, photographed it and sent the photo, along with lettering instructions, to an artist who reproduces 17th- and 18th-century American tavern signs. When the wood sign came back he photographed it, then applied the Photoshop cyanotype method to the image.

He adds that the best way to get started might be to visit the website of the Center for Alternative Photography. The center, which is located in New York City, offers workshops in the various processes.

A final word: know what you’re doing before setting up your chemistry set. The chemicals involved in these processes must be handled carefully; many are flammable or caustic. You’ll need lots of rubber gloves and many glass containers.

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