Monday, September 10, 2012

My Trial By Fire and Challenges as a Newby Field Wet Plate Photographer


My Trial By Fire and Challenges as a Newby Field Wet Plate Photographer

My husband is an excellent wet plate photographer. The process intrigued me and I decided I wanted to learn the process myself so I could express myself artistically in a medium that is fulfilling and outside the mainstream.

Rather than rely upon Todd to teach me the process, we both thought it would be better for marital harmony if I learned the rudimentary basics from the experts – Mark & France Osterman. They are excellents artist who are also amazing teachers. Todd is helping me refine my skills.

While my artistic vision is completely different than that of my husband, we both, as mercenaries, want to leverage our joint experience to make images at the mega 150th Anniversary Civil War re-enactments. I am the back up. While I have a reasonable degree of confidence making ambrotypes with the luxury of a beautiful home dark room, I am far less confident in the field using a portable dark box making tintypes with people yelling for their dried and varnished images and visitors wanting to buy tee shirts that we’d agreed to market for the event organizers who were selling them for charity.

In my day job I’ve become accustomed to trial by fire. However, in my artistic endeavors I’ve heretofore had the pleasure of leisure and time to experiment. Re-enactors don’t have time or the patience for newbies.

My first image for pay was the result of a confluence of events that left me at the mercy of the gods. Todd went off last Sunday morning to make battlefield photos. I was shooting the breeze with a fellow wet plate artist, Del Hilbert, about the event. He then went off to talk with some cavalry customers. A young man that had come by on Saturday wanted his photograph. I tried to persuade him to use Del, who is an excellent photographer. But, this young man wanted to give me a chance.

Apparently the totality of events that included my pants splitting, my suspenders being altered so badly that my waistband was under my arm pits and my hem above my ankles, people yelling for tee shirts and to pick up varnished images completely un-nerved me. I forgot everything I’d been taught. I couldn’t focus the camera. The image was “off”.

I suggested the lovely young man just go over to see Del. He declined. The photo was okay – but not stellar. When he came back  to pick up his image, Todd had returned and suggested that we re-shoot it. The customer was agreeable. I had to regroup. The entirety of my morning experience had compromised my confidence. It was imperative that I hopped back on that horse.

Todd helped me focus the retake. I prepared the plate, took the image, developed it and fixed it. Overall, the image was good.

I realized I must be prepared for the experiences of working in the field. There are so many variables that create challenges. Fortunately, I have a cadre of supporters, including our wonderful friends in the wet plate community, who are encouraging and willing to offer their experience.

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