Will Dunniway’s picture diary of a Web Plate Collodion workshop in May 2009.
Greetings. Well it was years in the planning and almost a year in preparation once we decided that there was an interest in my return to teach the 19th century process called ‘wet plate collodion’ in the beautiful Yosemite Valley.
Now that the ‘Tour’ has been completed, I have to say that it was a grand time in this majestic place with my friends. All of us who attended have decided to call it the first Will Dunniway (and friends) ‘Dirty Hands’ Collodion Tour of Yosemite Valley, since the silver nitrate stains marked all of our hands (and some clothing). I reminded them that these stains were “not dirt, but rather art” a reference to a comment about Julia Margaret Cameron!
We began to arrive on Thursday, May 7th and found our way to our Lodge in the Wawona area of Yosemite National Park. Here we had rented a 16 person lodge. It was perfect. Once settled in, we migrated down to the 19th century Wawona Hotel in Southern Yosemite for dinner.
On the first day of shooting we headed north to the Yosemite Valley. The weather was perfect. 70° and clear. Prayers answered, no valley blue haze to speak of. Once we neared the Yosemite Valley I had all of us stop at the Tunnel View for a panoramic look from Inspiration Point.
Yosemite Valley is held by some as the most beautiful place on earth. I am one of those.
Our first view was the Yosemite Falls. We positioned ourselves across the Valley on a road turnout and shot through the trees as shown below. The cameras we used were;
- 1860 Samuel Peck tailboard, whole plate camera mounted with a Dallmeyer 10 x 8 rapid rectilinear lens.
- 1860 French field folding tailboard whole plate camera mounted with a Dallmeyer 8.5 x 6.5 (whole plate) rapid rectilinear lens.
- 1870 EA Anthony tailboard 8×10 camera shooting in a whole plate size using both a Ross 6 1//2 x 6 1/2; Rapid Symmetrical and a Darlot petzval lens.
- 1880’s American Optical stereo camera mounted with two matching Darlot pillbox designed single achromat lenses.
In our second location on shooting Day One, we set up next to the old Superintendent’s house along the Merced River. At this point we were joined by our unofficial host, Ranger Dean Shenk. As we arrived our lunch was catered to us by the best Italian Deli of Southern California, the Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica (Venice Beach). It just so happens that Bob and Cindi Garacochea own and operate this deli. They catered both lunches and brought many goodies for the dinners we communally cooked on Friday and Saturday nights, along with many bottles of wine! They went way overboard but we all agreed it all tasted wonderful! Check them out if you are ever down that way (1517 Lincoln Blvd / Santa Monica, CA 90401 or their web is; www.bcdeli.com).
We set up again with our two tailgate portable darkrooms. In this second location we photographed Half Dome as seen in the group image below. Also shown below is our Ranger, Dean Shenk and my assistant, Ted Roberts chumming it up on location after lunch.
After this shoot, we returned to our lodge for another evening of eating, drinking, cutting and cleaning our glass in preparation of our next days shoot.
Day one was a good lesson day as the students learned that the glass needed to be cleaner than they had cleaned it the night before. They each had many issues of pouring and exposure in making the images. They were taught not to use the waiter style in holding the glass plate while pouring on the collodion – This left very definable overexposed silver finger tip marks in the image area. Cantilever was the only way to hold a glass negative in this cold mountain valley air. All in all, they did very well. The collodion formula we used was a double bromide, potassium iodide mix that was bright and fast. The developer was iron based.
On the final day we arrived early to claim a spot in front of the Woskey Pond at the base of one of the most beautiful rocks in Yosemite Valley. Cathedral Rock. The day was as near perfect as a day can be. Again we were blessed with weather at 70 ° and clear. This time the students’ plate issues were minimum and they got a better grip on handling their plates from the pouring and exposure through the final development and rinse.
Here we all worked until 1 pm, breaking for another catered lunch by Bay Cities Italian Deli. We were greeted by another Ranger friend, Rebecca Lund and her boyfriend, John Phillips who works in the Yosemite Medical Clinic. Rebecca baked and brought us cookies! What a treat.
With our hands stained and our bellies full, we returned to our lodge in the Wawona woods south of the Yosemite Valley.
Here we varnished all the plates we had made the previous two days while the sun still shined.
This was a grand tour; a tour that was done in the spirit of those that had walked these same paths more than a century before – Charles Weed, Carleton Watkins, Edwaerd Muybridge. It was these men and many more, who introduced this magical valley to the rest of the world through their wet plate collodion glass negatives – Images that helped preserve this park as we all know it today. To these men I dedicated this Yosemite Collodion ‘Dirty Hand’ Tour of May 2009. (Yes, their hands were silver stained and dirty as well). This is what we do! Then and NOW, a full circle!
Thanks for sharing in another one of my journeys. Cheers!
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The veteran of collodion demonstrates in easy steps how to make plates.