Category Archives: Fine Art

Eden – Wet Plate Nude, Series #1

Now that I’ve got all the necessary materials, I can finally green light this project.  I’m going to do a series of nudes on glass negatives and various metals, tin and aluminum.  I’m really enjoying the process, but it’s very strange ending up with only a few plates from each shoot.  The setup + taking each shot is around 30 minutes / plate.  In the first plate, below, we shot it three times to try to get it right.  There goes an hour and a half. :)   We shot 6 plates and I ended up with these three that I liked the best.  It certainly makes you take your time before you take the shot.   Here is the lovely, Eden…

Eden I:  In this first shot, I was trying to get it a little sharper, but after 3 attempts, it was just too hard of a position to hold for 10 seconds.  I used a 2k hot light here, which is usually a lot of light for normal film or digital cameras.  In wet plate, which is around 1 ISO, you need a lot of light to record an image.  The shot grows on me the more I look at it though.  I think a lot of these images are going to have a different feel to them due to the process, and it’s one of the things that I’m really enjoying about it.

Eden II

Eden III:  I’m not quite sure what caused the white areas in the top left and right, but they’re in the image.  It can’t be wiped off.  My silver nitrate is new, so I’ve heard of such things happening with that…more mysteries in wet plate land. :)

That’s all for now.  Look out for the next one soon…


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Rediscovering the Magic of Photography

[The group of us at John Coffer’s Farm studying Wet Plate Photography.  I’m on the left in the back…]

I’ve been a professional photographer for around 18 years now.  In that time, I dedicated 6 wonderful years in the U.S. Navy as a photographer.  This is truly where I fell in love with photography as a process and an art.  Back then, it was all film.  Black & white, color, darkrooms, was crusty and dirty, but it was fun!   :)  The processes were harder to do, but really satisfying when it was done right.  When I was in the darkroom and I saw the image coming up from a print in the developer, it really was magical.

Well, time has marched on and things have gotten simpler and more accessible to the masses.  Digital has come of age and photography has become…truly…easy.  Now, I’m not saying anything about anyone’s talent, or eye, or anything related to their photography being good or bad, I’m just talking about the process.

We’ve come a long way, but there is something to be said for taking the long road, or the road less travelled.  Taking your time and doing things by hand.  I was in search of just such a thing when I visited the farm of John Coffer to learn from him the skills and techniques needed to shoot Wet Plate successfully.

Instagram has proven to society that what it wants is what we once had…what once was.  Borders on images, light leaks, scratches on film, different color temperatures, square formats, polaroids…all of it.  We, as a society, are eating it up.  What we are trying to get is what we once had, but easier, simpler, NOW.   We are living in the very spoiled age of instant gratification.  Anything we want is at our fingertips, to a point that if something takes too much time, it gets discarded and a faster, easier route is looked for.

I found out about wet plate photography and was completely enamored with it.

It’s name, Wet Plate Photography, comes from the fact that you have to put a wet chemical, collodion, on a surface(glass, tin, aluminum).  Then, you have around 10 minutes to shoot and develop that plate(time depends on the heat/environment) before it dries up.  After it dries up, you don’t get an image.  So it’s challenging in the field, but very do-able.  The final result is so unlike any other form of photography.  It’s beautiful.

Each glass negative, ambrotype, or Tintype made takes around 30 minutes or more to make from start to finish.  It slows you down and makes you think about what you’re shooting.

My trip to John Coffer’s farm in the woods was born out of a desire to get back some of the simple joy it is to see the image come up again in front of me, get my hands dirty, and create something from nothing.   I didn’t realize I missed it until I started buying polaroid and film again.  The analog nature of it was giving me something that digital just didn’t.  I didn’t want it, “simple”, anymore.  I wanted to put the magic back into photography.

So what this post covers is my journey to John’s farm and some of the experiences and photos taken during my time taking his class.  What I can say unequivocally  is that is was a profoundly eye opening experience and one that I would like to share.

This is just the first step, the first experience, in what will be an ongoing exploration of this early art of photography.

It all started with a long drive, just me and Delilah(My Zipcar)   ;)

Definitely one of the things I miss living in the city…trees, mountains, fresh air, wide open expanses.

At the lodge now…loving the sky.

I‘m off to Coffer’s now.  You know you’re getting close when you hit the dirt roads.  He’s a little bit off the beaten path.

We have arrived.  This is also John’s only form of communication.  He doesn’t have a phone and he’s proud of it.  U.S. Mail all the way… ;)

So This is where it all happens.  The tent in the middle has a darkroom, a sink, and is filled with all kinds of historical cameras, lenses, and old tintypes.  This is where he did most of the teaching, although we shot all over the farm.

This is what John rode around in for 11 years pulled by Oxen at 2 miles an hour.  He was recreating the life of a 19th century photographer.  It’s got a full darkroom inside.  If this thing could talk…

The deep sink for washing and fixing the plates.

This is called a, “Dark Box” and is what you use in the field to develop your plates.  It’s basically a portable darkroom.  I need to build one that can fit in the back of an SUV so I can take this show on the road. :)

These are all the chemicals you need to do wet plate.  On the left, in the box is your Silver Nitrate bath.  The yellow liquid is your developer, then the little bottle is Collodion, and lastly, a jug of water to pour on your print to stop developement.

Here’s a few shots of John’s home and some shots of the farm…

This is John fixing the plate he shot of the class.

This is the first portrait I did of John.   It’s also my first plate.  We started out small as it’s easier to get a handle on how to put the collodion on the plate that way.  It’s a 4×5 tintype.  You can click any of the images in this post to see them bigger.

This is me fixing the second plate I did of John.  It was shot on Ruby Glass.

This is the image in the above video that I shot of John.  The Ruby Glass prior to me shooting it(below).

John, shot through the ruby glass filter…teaching away.

In general, the farm is awesome.  As I live in New York City, I need my nature fix to get me balanced.  He’s got many animals on the farm.  Horses, a donkey, cows, bulls, a cat or two…and lots of chickens.  I have come to appreciate how cool chickens are during my time at John’s.  They will just randomly follow you  around the farm.  They’ve just got one thing on their mind…food.

I found out they like Doritos, donuts, pretty much anything that we consider food, they’re good with.

With that in mind, for one of my plates, I decided to dedicate one to, “The Chicken Whisperer”.  See below.  The chicken actually stood pretty still for this…lol.

This is the glass plate negative(clear glass) that I shot and the albumen print  made from that glass plate(below).

Below is the albumen print, “cooking” in the sun.  Very cool process to create your own photographic paper from egg whites(albumen) and silver nitrate.

Here’s the “Chicken Whisperer” getting fixed.  I had thought I was shooting vertically, but I had put the plexi holder in horizontally.  Fortunately, I had framed him up in the center and still got a good image…lol.

So after lots of instruction, we were off shooting what we wanted to on the farm.  I set up a few shots in the woods.  This is the first time I’m getting to use the camera I bought.  It’s an Anthony Climax Imperial Camera, 8×10 camera.  As I have not gotten a tripod for the camera, I used one of John’s wooden benches to get some lower angle shots.

Getting my Luke Skywalker in the swamp moment.

Another little solarization in the bottom right hand corner.   You can see the nice swirly bokeh in the top of the shot.  That comes from the Petzval lens design in the old brass lenses.  This lens is a Voightlander.   I love it as I plan on doing portraits with it and it has a very short depth of field when the bellows is extended.

So John was telling me, when I asked about putting the camera back into the bull’s pasture to be careful as they like to, “investigate” things as a bull had knocked his camera over once before.  Of course, I didn’t listen.  Now, I had to go get the bench, place it, then go back and get the camera.  This  is what I saw when I got back.  They were “investigating” the bench.  It’s a good thing I had not brought the camera out there yet. ;)

My last two plates I shot at the farm were of John and his girlfriend Ann.  I’m very excited by these as I’m looking to do more portraits via glass plate negatives and tintypes.

As we were in his house learning to do albumen prints, I saw him from the side and thought a profile photo would be nice.  You can see the head brace in the shot as well.  I think the exposure here was 4 seconds in open shade.

And one of Ann…

I love both of these.  Ann has such character.  The beauty is in the little details, and also in the  mistakes.  The top left hand corner of John’s did not get processed very well, so when I took it out of the dark box, the sun hit it, then I fixed it, solarizing the corner a little.  The blue line on the right is where the collodion was a little thick and did not quite develop.  So, technically, there are some issues, but that’s also part of the fun.  You never really know how it’s going to turn out until you develop and fix it.

Finally, we get to the Mammoth Plates.  John has a 20×24 camera that we each got to shoot.  It was much more difficult to prepare, shoot and develop.  I was wanting to go big, but I think I’ll be shooting 8×10 for a while.  There’s plenty of time for that later.

This is me pouring collodion onto the mammoth with John’s help.  Not so easy. ;)

Here’s my 20″ x 24″ Mammoth plate image.  So I was going for a little, “Cowboys and Aliens” here.  John was a good sport to put on the glasses, grab one of his vintage guns, and get into the act. ;)

At the end of the day, we all gathered around the fire and cooked up some brats, had a beer, and relaxed.  It’s a lot of work carrying around those cameras, tripod(or bench in my case), setting up the shot, getting the plates poured…going to shoot it…going back to develop it.  Finding out it’s not right, and doing it all over again. Then finally, Fixing it, washing it, drying it, and varnishing it.  It really is great fun and I’m already planning my future shoots.

Thanks for reading.  I hope you enjoyed this look into my first experience shooting Wet Plate Photography.

Now where’s that DSLR of mine…gotta go make some money to pay for all the chemistry and materials now!   ;)

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Evolution – Shannon

I had another wonderful Evolution shoot today with one of my favorite models, Shannon. We shot a few years ago and I’ve been trying ever since to get her to pose for the project.  It’s taken me a few years to break her down, but she finally agreed…so here’s to tenacity… :)

Even in a studio that I had prepped to be nice and warm, the moment you put the mud mixture on, it gets a little chilly. It’s kind of like jumping into water that you know is a little cold, you just have to get in and get it over with. She dove right into the mud treatment.  So she was a real trooper.

I shot these with the Hasselblad H3DII, 80mm lens, with the HTS 1.5 Tilt shift Adapter.  I like using the HTS as it gives you some of the controls of a 4×5, but in the Hasselblad system.  It changes the plane of focus, which can be a nice change of pace from the norm.

I used a few different lighting setups.  A few direct light, but most of it was bounced light through a beauty dish with grid or P-50 reflector with grid.  That leaves the background a nice gray and the light soft.

Here are a few of the images from the shoot…

This was one of the first shots in the shoot…it’s nice to start off with one you like right away.

On this one I did a little slow shutter and liked the effect…

I’m not sure between these last two which one I like more.  I’m leaning towards the last one…care to vote?

So there’s a few more for the Book and Show later on this year.  I’ve probably got three or four more and then I’ll close up the project for the moment and concentrate on editing and getting the book/show ready.  Until next time…and thanks again, Shannon for giving the project a second look. :)  These will be a fantastic addition…

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Evolution Project – Lyric

I’m finally getting back into Blog mode.  I actually shot this a few months ago and am finally getting around to editing and putting it together.  I’ll start with an Evolution update…

I found a wonderful model, Lyric, and thought I’d start off our series with a little different nude prior to getting all muddy for the Evolution work.  I had a roll of “toole” that I thought would be great for some artistic nudes.

I think we started off nicely with this first series…now It’s time to get muddy.   We got our coffee and got started. :)

So the project continues.  I’m working on putting together a book of the work now, so keep an eye out for more…

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The Evolution Project 2010…

It’s been a While since I’ve shot for ‘Evolution’.   The hospital stay had put a little hold on the project, but it’s something that I can pick up and get back into pretty easily.  I’m working towards a gallery show of the work and still have a long way to go before I’m ready to show the work as a whole.  Editing down the work is another issue, but I digress…I got the bug to get back on the horse again and continue the work and am glad that I did.  My latest subject, Lisa, was wonderful to work with.  She understood the project’s need to let go and just get into character for the shoot, which is important to get really new fresh imagery.  We got some really compelling work out of this series.  It’s going to be hard to edit down from the selects, as I’m happy with many of them, but that’s a good problem to have.  As it goes for many of these shoots, it’s going to be a while from now when I can look back on them objectively and make the final selects.

Technically, there is something a little new as I used 2 cameras to shoot her.  I shot the first 1/2 with the Canon 5d Mark II, which always gives me great results.  To try out something different, I also shot her with the Hasselblad H3DII 31 mp body + 80mm lens + HTS 1.5 adapter(gives shift and tilt capability to the camera).  The HTS adapter was a real treat, giving me some of the controls of a 4×5 camera, but in an easy, compact solution.  I think those images are softer and have a more vintage feel than the ones taken with the Mark II.  The first four images were shot with the Hasselblad.   Another noticable shift in shooting medium format is shooting less and taking my time more to compose the shots.  I think it definitely helps me slow down and take my time with the setup.  Although, the speed of the Canon is also a benefit sometimes as well…

These first four images were taken with the Hasselblad using the tilt shift HTS 1.5.  The images below were shot with the Canon 5d Mark II.

So there’s the latest update to the “Evolution Project”.  I’m looking forward to shooting some more subjects this spring.  I’m also going to start including men into the project, which I think will balance it out some.  Check back here for updates…


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Dark City continues…

“Dark City” continues with a few new additions due to my friend and frequent stylist, David Widjaja. These were shot from his rooftop. It’s quite an amazing scene, as there are not any buildings right next to his so it gives a nice panoramic view of the city from within the city. I plan on doing more of the building, “looking down” images in the future(like shot 2). My hope is to get a shot of the empire state building(sticking the tripod/camera out of the grate and looking down the building). It’s a scene not easy to get…we’ll see if I can pull it off without the guards at the top giving me trouble…

Thank you again, David for showing me your wonderful rooftop. :)

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Darker Evolution

Evolution has taken a little darker turn as I’ve switched up the lighting and played in the shadows a little more. The project is coming along nicely. Give a warm welcome to Natsuko…

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I’ve been wanting to play with a smoking shot for some time now and recently had an opportunity to do so. Shooting smoke is a lot like shooting water. Every shot is unique. You just want to keep shooting to see what will come up next. It makes for a fun project. I believe I’m going to be playing around with this medium for a while and see what comes of it.

Makeup:  Dyana Aives

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Evolution Continues…

…and the Evolution Project continues…

See the “Evolution Revolution” Post to see the story behind the work and the first series that got the project started. I’m currently looking for a gallery home for these images and the many to come. I’ve got more models, men and women being shot in the coming months, so keep a look out here for updates.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with more talented models for the project. Every time I shoot someone new, something unexpected and wonderful comes out. Here’s a few more from the recent work.





Feel free to comment. More updates soon…
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I know, I should be shot for that title, but I’ve been naming fashion stories too long. How many times have you seen, “Flights of Fancy”….but I digress…

I bought these at a pumpkin stand in Long Island and thought their shapes were just really interesting. Not to compare these to “Bell Pepper No. 30″(Edward Weston’s classic image), but I wanted to shoot something in that vein. Fine Art meets the Gord Family…another project I shot just cause…

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