Category Archives: Portraits

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, chemicals..it 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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8×10 Camera Portrait Project

Well, I’ve finally decided to get my 8×10 camera project off the ground.  I’ve got a wonderful Horseman 8×10 camera that I’m going to be taking out in the field, and shooting in the studio.  It’s going to be a mixed media project that will include polaroid(made by polaroid), Fuji Instant Film, and of course, 8″x10″ film.  I think most of it will be black and white, but I will also shoot some color.  The objective of the project is going to be getting a wide range of New Yorkers in front of my lens.  Getting out into the field with this camera is not necessarily easy, but it is do-able.
So I thought I should start with my lovely and mostly patient wife, Maria.  She kept saying, “How long does this take”??  lol…Yes, this process takes longer than your usual portrait.  This will be one of the challenges of getting strangers to pose for it on the streets of New York.


So here’s a photo of the rig I’m using to get the camera around.  Basically, it’s a set cart, a tripod, and the camera.

Here’s a shot I took of myself in the studio.

Here’s Tomaz from New York Models.

So the project begins.  I’m really excited to shoot 8×10 film.  I think that part, and the film processing side is going to be a fun exploration.  I’ll post more as it progresses.

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Christy Turlington Cover Shoot!

Ok, so here I am in the Dominican Republic, on my Honeymoon, enjoying this beautiful weather and perfect scenery…

…and then I look down at my phone(I know…I’m on my Honeymoon, I shouldn’t be looking at my emails…lol)…but what would that have gotten me?…Ha!  Anyway, there was an email from  Women’s Running Magazine asking me if I’d, “Like” to shoot Christy Turlington for their March/April 2012 issue.  Ummm…well….you know…Yea!

To shoot one of the original Supermodels of our time, and a personal favorite of mine…. Aaaaamazing!! It turned out to be a really wonderful shoot.  She’s absolutely one of the nicest people I’ve ever shot.  Beyond being physically beautiful, as has been captured for her entire career as a model, she’s also a great human being.

Much of the feature in the magazine covers Christy’s foundation, www.everymothercounts.org.  It seeks to help increase education and support for mothers and their children’s health.  Did you know that a woman dies every 90 seconds from complications of pregnancy?  Neither did I before I met Christy.   You wouldn’t think that in today’s world, this could still be happening. Please check out the foundation link above for more information.  Christy also directed a documentary film, “No Woman, No Cry”, in which she travels to four parts of the world where maternal care is desperately needed.   You can see more about her film here, “No Woman, No Cry” Film.

It was truly an honor to meet and photograph her.

Can you believe she’s a mother of two?  Insanity… 🙂

Here are the results of our shoot…

Here’s a little behind the scenes video of our shoot. 🙂

I must thank my wonderful team for their amazing work here.

Team:
Photography:  James Weber, www.jamesweberstudio.com
Hair Stylist: Giovanni Giuntoli, www.giovannigiuntoli.com
Makeup Artist: Tamah K, www.seemanagement.com
Art Direction:  Melissa Mellert
1st Assistant:  James Sullivan, http://www.1prophoto.com
2nd Assistant/Videographer:  Jesus Baez

Thanks to David Zimand for the portrait of me in the contributor photo.  It was taken at the May 5th, “Art for the Cause” event for my foundation, The Leukemia Needs Foundation.  www.leukneeds.org

It was nice of the magazine to do a little behind the scenes of the shoot.  We had such a great time shooting it.  It all happened in 2 hours.  Hair/Makeup/Photography, and even a small interview during hair and makeup.   It’s amazing how much you can get done when you have to. 🙂

We had some fun at the end of the shoot with her in her, “Every Mother Counts” t-shirt.  I LOVED her energy!

Thanks so much for checking this out…more to come soon.  I’m working on a little video behind the scenes right now…check back later for that…

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Black & White Beauty

Beauty…

Most of us ascribe current beauty images with beautiful full color images.  Let’s be honest, though…most of these images are ridiculously retouched for most of the major ads.  In terms of what “sells” in the beauty world, it’s all color.   I’ve personally been told that black and white beauty images don’t sell.   What’s the point in creating or showing work that shouldn’t sell??  Well, maybe because I like it and who the #$%@ cares.  At some point in your life you have to create images for yourself regardless of  what other people tell you is right or appropriate.   I like the feel of a beautifully crafted black and white image.  I breaks it down to just the essence of the photograph.  Light, Shape, and Form.  In any case, I’ve been shooting some images recently and have been compiling a series of them that I think really take shape in the black and white environment.  Here are a few of them…













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Real People Rock.

I shot these for a pharmaceutical company recently.  It was a full day, shooting non-stop, but some great stuff came out of it.  Some of the personalities here just cracked me up.  I had a blast putting this together.  The kids were a lot of fun to work with.  I had to shoot everyone normal, then act like they had sinus pain, then act like they were “healed”…all better.    It made for some fun groupings.  Some of their expressions were just priceless.   To see them all you can go to my site here:  http://jamesweberstudio.com/#/Portfolios/Real%20People/1.

Click on the images to see them larger.This kid was my favorite in his, United Colors of Benetton shirt.  He’s a GAP ad waiting to happen.

This one was quite the little actress.  She’s going to do well.

I loved how this one went from zero to anguish in 2 seconds…lol.

Loved the devilish look in the middle and the mind meld thing happening on the right. 🙂

What more can you say, we’ve all felt like this before. lol.

Ok, he was giving me, “I’ve got to pee”…not quite what I was looking for, but he still gets the cutest kid award.

I think he just wanted to go home, but you know what.  That’s ok.

Just awesome.

Future CEO of something…just you wait.

Justin Bieber Lookalike 1

Justin Bieber Lookalike 2.  Total ball of energy…I’m sure Mom knows all about that…lol.

Mark Zuckerberg Lookalike

Loved this one’s energy.  I think he was shot and done in under 2 minutes.

He was too funny.  He walks up to me, shakes my hand, and says, “I’m Jaden.  Like Jaden Smith.  I’ve been in a movie too!”…and proceeds to be professionally cute on camera.  Awesomeness.

She was great.  She had that hair in her face and didn’t even try to move it out of the way.  She knew it made her look more miserable.   You know she’s pulled this routine on her parents before getting out of school.  Very believable. 🙂

Ok, not great in the anguish department, but very cute.

This one rocked the house.  Pain, anguish…Genius.  One of my favorites.

Not to be outdone, the competition arrives! 😉

He was a pro…great stuff.

Great smile.

Probably the best actor there.  Great stuff.  Can you believe he’s 18?  Thought he was shooting for our younger category.

I was actually a little worried here.  Thought he was choking for a second there.  He was pretty good.

Beautifully miserable…

He should try out for “The Office”.  He’d be a shoe-in.

Not sure what he’s giving me here, but I kinda dig it.

I’m seeing a Miley Cirus Love interest part in his future.

She was great.  Smile to anguish in seconds. 🙂

A lot of shooting, but all in all, a great day.  Loved all of the varied people and pulling these expressions out of them.  You can see more of them on my site at: http://jamesweberstudio.com/#/Portfolios/Real%20People/1

 

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Faces of Men I

I started a men’s portrait book a few years ago and have been slowly adding to it’s contents.  I’m continuing a series I’ve been working on, kind of like a men’s black and white beauty series.  I’ll be adding to it occasionally as I come across good new faces…I’ve got a few new entries to add to the collection.  The first is Kyle L.  from Major Models.  I shot two editorials with Kyle…the stories are in the works, so I’m holding off on sharing those for the moment, but we shot some portraits after the first editorial that I really liked.  He’s very chill and a great male model to work with on any shoot.  I highly recommend him.


Below are some of my other images in the series…this is an ongoing project.  Feel free to email me if you’re interested in shooting for it.



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