Tag Archives: james weber photographer

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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Memories of Japan

With all of the tragedy that has befallen Japan recently, I thought I would share some of my experiences during my three wonderful years there. There has been so much devastation, it seems that’s all anyone can talk about.  I’d like to share a little light on what it was like to live there for 3 years…the good things.

I had just finished U.S. Navy boot camp and then sent off to my “A-School” where I would become a Photographer’s Mate(Navy term for photographer).  I was sent to the Defense Photography School in Pensacola, FL, and graduated 2nd in my class.  Myself and the #1 guy got our choice of orders.  Everyone else got sent where they were sent.  Study hard kids…standings matter. 🙂  He chose Yokusuka, Japan, where the Admiral’s Barge was stationed.  I chose the other Japanese billet, Misawa, AB Japan.  I was there from 1994-1997, starting when I was just 20 years old.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel and live abroad.  It enriched my life more than I could have expected.  The Japanese culture is a world away from American culture and taught me many life lessons.

Where to start…well, I guess where I have a few photos to share the story…

The Japanese have festivals in cities all around Japan, for different events and different times of the year.  One of my favorites was the Nebuta Festival in Aomori-Shi, Aomori Prefecture.

Nebuta was THE festival to go to if you could make it.  It was a few hour drive from Misawa, Japan, where I was stationed.  The drive there was gorgeous, going through mountains and beautiful forests.  Finally, being a part of the celebration was wonderful.  Thousands of people showed up.

I LOVED the drums!  Some of them were as big as a semi-truck and had 4 and 5 people playing them.  They rolled through the streets and the sound was thundering!

Click the link below, “Nebuta Festival Sounds”(opens a new window) and then come back to this window.  It will give you a feel for the sounds of the festival…volume higher is better.

Nebuta Festival Sounds…

If the images look a little grainy…they are.  Every image here is either color, black and white film, or chrome as digital wasn’t even in it’s infancy yet…Click any image to see it bigger.

The Nebuta floats are made from historical figures in history…dragons, samurai’s, and other warriors in Japanese Legend.  They’re three dimensional figures built on a frame, then carefully papered, colored, and lit from inside so they’ll stand out in the dark night. How they are made

I got up higher to take this shot of the crowd and the Nebuta figure coming around the corner.

Here’s me taking part in the festivities…that bulge in my pocket…12 rolls of film…stop it you dirty minded blog readers!  lol….

These two images(above and below) are one of my first attempts at rear-curtain sync…



This is the, “young” crowd who bucked tradition by not wearing the usual festival outfits…even one girl in just a bra top left…little rebels…all of them. 🙂

At the end of the night, all of the floats would be put out on the water and a wonderful fireworks show ensued…


Here’s a map that shows where I was stationed in relation to Aomori City where the Festival was held.
Northern Japan in general was my playground.   Every weekend that I could, I got out and tried to see something new…

The natural beauty of Japan and her surroundings I never tired of.  My friends and I would just get in the car and drive.  Sometimes we had no destination in mind, just to get off base and get lost in the country.  We’d have a general map, but we preferred to take the roads where we did not know where they lead.

The cool thing about camping in Japan, is you could really camp anywhere.  No one cared as long as you picked up after yourself.  We’d take road trips and just pull over somewhere, set up the gear, and start cooking…

Pardon my feet here…just to give realness…lol. cooking breakfast in my Coleman gas grill.  Nothing like opening up your tent in the morning to a view like this…

This is my good friend(and boss at the time, PH1(SW/AW) Jim Schulz..getting his leg humped by a stray dog…too funny. This was one of our favorite camping spots on the beach on the east coast of Japan.

Ok, I’ll break down the military jargon for you…  the PH means, “Photographer’s Mate”, the “1” means 1st Class(or E-6 on a scale from 1 to 9).  The SW means he was Surface Warfare Qualified and the AW means he was Air Warfare Qualified.  What this means, in general, is that Jim was one bad ass Photographer, boss, teacher, and friend.  He taught me a lot of what I know today about photography.  Yes, he was at times a hard ass, but he must have done something right as I’m doing it full time today and enjoying every minute of it.  Thanks, Jim!  Jim retired as PHC(SW/AW) Jim Schulz (Chief Petty Officer).  A damn fine example of what is right about our military.

We liked to take some of those Coleman propane tanks(seen above in my cooking shot) when the fire was hot, shove it in…give it a few minutes and it would explode about 50 feet into the air…juvenile…yes.  Fun and satisfying…Oh, yea…lol.  Just don’t try it with canned air…almost took out the car’s windshield…very unpredictable…

The nights on the beach were gorgeous…

Continuing on…

Sorry about the length of this one…you need to go get a drink?  Take a piss?  Go ahead…I’ll still be here.. 😉

These are some random photos I took while traveling around Japan.  I’ll have to do another few posts to show the whole breadth of imagery I took…but that takes a scanner and time.  Everything I shot was on film or chrome and thus has to be transferred to digital eventually.  It’s a long term project of mine…


I loved the old temples.  They had such character, the likes of which isn’t created again in today’s world.

One of my favorite Temples is on the way to Lake Towada.

A winter in Towada.

There’s much more to the story, but that will have to wait until I get the negatives scanned in.  I shot thousands of images in Japan and it’s just a little daunting to look at it and want to get it transferred to a digital format now…

I hope this has been a little enlightening as to a tiny slice of life in Japan from one person’s view.

I grieve for all of the Japanese people affected by this Tsunami and resulting Nuclear Plant tragedy.  As someone who got to enjoy spending time with the people and the beautiful Japanese environment, I pray that they have the strength to put things back together again…

If I can, I’ll scan some more images and share some more of my experiences in Japan.

If you’d like to donate to the Red Cross’s Japan effort, you can do so here:  Red Cross Japan

Thanks for listening…James

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Smokin!!!

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.

Susie 



Tove




Jasmin 



Paola 



Feel free to comment. More updates soon…
James
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