Wet-Plate Workshop: Dale Bernstein
Just back from Indiana. I took a two-day wet-plate workshop with Dale Bernstein. The key thing with this workshop is that we were shooting in a studio without a darkroom, but Dale did bring his DarkBox, and we worked out of that. That alone was an education in itself. The goal was just to shoot and process; shoot and process; not worrying about the resulting photographs. The goal was just to build confidence and shoot a lot of plates. That, we did. The workshop was held in the historic Stutz Auto Factory, in downtown Indianapolis. Huge metal windows; great light everywhere.
Below are four plates from the weekend. Dale had a friend come in, Monica, and we photographed her nice face. I also shot some portraits of the other photographer there, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639672778. Also, in this workshop, I migrated up from quarter-plate, to 8×10 plates, on metal. Next time, maybe i’ll have the courage to shoot on black glass. One step at a time.
Funny story: I took an earlier workshop from Quinn Jacobson, and he warned us of the potential for the plates to ignite during the varnishing process. The final step is a clear gloss varnish, and the plate and the varnish are both heated over a spirit lamp, (open flame, like a bunsen burner). The last step is drying the plate after the varnish is poured. But if you hold the metal plate too close to the open flame, it can ignite, and of course, it happened to me. There I was, working peacefully in my kitchen, with the rear door thrown open on a nice night, listening to music, when WHOOSH, the plate caught fire. I dropped the plate, but the flames dropped down on some protective cardboard below, which also caught fire. Ugh. Anyway, no damage done; I got the flame out in no time, but it certainly woke me up and taught me a lesson.
I’m still not sure why I’m so drawn to this wet plate process. It’s just so nice to use my hands again, and actually touch something. Working again with chemicals; feeling that I’m actually creating something. Rather that just “importing the card, retouching it, and then FTP’ing it”. I guess that’s fine for commerce, but not so rewarding to keep that spark alive. I also love the “time travel” aspect of it; how you’re instantly transported back to another century, mostly by the effects of the optics of the old lenses. I am at Step One with all this now, but it’s very rewarding. I went to bed last night and slept well, after varnishing those plates, and feeling like I’d actually created something — something you could touch and hold; something that felt substantial in my hand; something that could be mounted on the wall.
And then I dreamed of 16″x20″, (and even larger). More to come…