Onion Half-plate Alumitype September 11, 2016

Half-plate Alumitype
September 11, 2016

One year ago this coming week I started my blog. I vowed to post weekly no matter how busy life got, no matter how tired I might be after a full workweek, no matter anything! Here it is, Blog Post #52!

Now for that second goal…I attended a wet collodion workshop! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and after hearing about a good friend’s experience, and getting a taste of wet collodion one weekend in March (see The Best Kind of Learning Experience blog post March 26), I was hooked! And, for my birthday this year, Randy bought me a weekend-long workshop.

I attended the Wet Collodion Workshop at Studio Q in Denver with Quinn Jacobson. I can’t believe how much I learned, and how much this workshop really did confirm to me that my photographic future lies in the past.

On Day 1, we discussed making positives (alumitypes and tintypes for example), and the theory and history behind these processes. If you know me, you know how much I love the history. We had a great discussion on the evolution of these early processes and a further discussion on the “why”? Why do we want to continue to do this today? What will this type of art mean, and how do you put meaning into your creations?

We went from there into some demonstrations. Quinn made several plates, taking our portraits in his studio, and showing us both positive on metal, and negatives on glass. Through this process we saw him coat the plates with collodion, sensitize the plates in a silver nitrate bath, expose an image in camera, then back to the dark to develop the image and finally fix the image. In development, we learned to look for highlights, then mid-tones, and shadow details during a count to about 15. After 3-5 seconds, we should see highlights – if so, you’ve got a good exposure!

Speaking of exposure, your average light meters, and today’s UV-coated strobe lights don’t work well with collodion. Your ISO is about 2, sometimes it can be as low as .25 depending on the age of your collodion. And, the UV coating on strobe tubes lowers the color temperature of strobes to about 5500 Kelvin, slightly warming the light. Collodion is most sensitive to UV light; it actually likes the ultra-violet, violet, indigo, blue and green part of the light spectrum. Warmer colors are often rendered as black or not seen at all.

After learning more about equipment – cameras (oh, you have got to see those 8×10 cameras!), and lighting, we moved on to chemistry. Now, here’s where I had already read about things like Cadmium Bromide (lethal) and KCN (potassium cyanide, also lethal), so I was just a little hesitant. But, after a thorough discussion, safety information and actually using these chemicals, I relaxed. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a very healthy respect for these chemicals, but I also now know how to handle them properly and I don’t fear them.

On Day 2, we made plates! All day, my classmate Tom and I, made alumitypes – we learned how to coat the plates, sensitize the plates, load them into the camera for exposure, develop and yes, fix in the dreaded KCN (again, a healthy respect goes a long way). We made still life images, and did portraits of one another. I have two here that I’d like to share – my two favorite images of the day.

My portrait of Tom – he is an interesting psychiatrist from Little Rock who is an expert in mental health, and an artist! You can guess we had some very riveting lunchtime conversations! And I’ve added, Onion, my favorite still life from the day. I made a total of six plates on Sunday! I’m hooked…now it’s time to find my own 8×10 camera, and the coolest selection of antique Petzval lenses that I can get my hands on, and oh yea, a portable darkroom! I’ll need one of those to take this show on the road!

See you in the field, under my dark cloth!

Tom Psychiatrist, Mental Health Expert, Artist Full-plate Alumitype, September 11, 2016

Psychiatrist, Mental Health Expert, Artist
Full-plate Alumitype, September 11, 2016

My Disclaimer…

Digital reproductions (i.e., shooting these with my DSLR, and/or flatbed scans) are NOTHING like the original. I have not mastered the art of reproducing the beauty of these plates when held in my hand to translate into the world of pixels!

Field Trips

David; Field Trip; Fall 2015

Who’s wearing those Chucks?

Do you remember when your teachers sent you home with that permission slip? You were so eager to get a signature so you could skip the classroom and go straight away to a fun-filled day off of school grounds? I remember those, but more importantly, I loved the ones – sans the permission slip – that I attended in college. You know, the ones where you talked to industry professionals, and learned things from an outside-the-classroom perspective.

I love field trips, and since I’ve had this opportunity to teach at PPCC during the past seven years (yes, seven! Time flies!), I’ve incorporated field trips into just about all of my classes…wait, yes, all of them! My biggest field trip schedule is in my architectural photography class, because let’s face it; you just need to leave campus to explore all the wonderful buildings around our community and make photographs of them. And, for my large format class, we get to visit a local darkroom at Bemis School of Art for a true 4×5 film processing experience. Now that I am teaching the product photography course, I’ve talked my good friend, Don Jones, into letting us invade his professional studio for some great lighting demos, and I even had the chance, about a year ago, to take my history of photography class to the archives at the Pioneer’s Museum!

Fall 2015 Field Trip


All of these opportunities are so much fun. Students get to learn from experts, have docent-led tours that discuss the significance of the architecture of certain buildings that we visit, and it’s a chance for some teamwork, bonding, professional “outside-the-classroom” perspectives, and fun. Yes, is that a bad word today in education? Fun? I don’t think so, and it really is amazing the amount of participation and great feedback I get in return from my students for organizing these outings. I love this opportunity to watch my students in action – shooting, asking questions, and making beautiful images. And, when they use the 4×5 camera for the first time that is just the best!

Scheduling my fall line up starts in mid-July! It’s a lot of work, making connections with local people in the community who support our program, and a lot of follow up, and, of course, thank you notes! See last week’s blog for details. But, no matter the scheduling snafus, possible fall-weather follies (that’s what giant golf umbrellas are for by the way), and hauling of equipment, I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

So, to mark the beginning of fall semester 2016, we visited Pikes Peak Regional Building on Wednesday – a great day! Hot? Yes! Lots of gear? Yes! Tons of fun? Heck yea!

Thank you?

Thank you Notes

My Messy Desk


This week, I’ve been thinking of several topics of interest to write about, but then, I sat down and wrote all my thank you notes for the thoughtful gifts family and friends gave me last weekend for my birthday. As I was writing these notes, all different sizes and designs scattered about my desk, it got me to thinking about the art of letter writing, and writing thank you notes.

What has happened today, that this beautiful form of communication and gratitude has diminished? Some people blame it on the younger generation, but maybe that’s not fair, because we were all younger generations at one time or another. And, some people blame it on technology. It’s just so much easier to send a quick email thank you, or even a text thank you. Does that still hold the same sentiment?

There is nothing like walking to your mailbox, pulling out a stack of mail, separating it into the requisite piles – bills, bills, bills, junk, junk, junk, then, what’s this? Your eyes light up, you quickly flip the envelope over but you know whom it’s from because you recognize the handwriting! Yes, handwriting. That’s something isn’t it? Everything else in that pile gets pushed aside and you open that special letter. Maybe it’s a birthday card, maybe it’s a thank you note for something you’ve sent, and sometimes, it’s just a wonderful letter catching you up on a friend’s life.

While you sit in that chair, absorbed in the note you just received, you’re transported somewhere else, to a friendly, familiar, kind, warm place. The piles of bills and junk recede from view, and you make a connection. Why not continue this beautiful art form? My mom required my brother and me send thank you notes for all gifts, from all occasions – birthday, Christmas, even a childhood Easter basket or two! And, we’ve both kept up the habit. It was a great habit to instill in us.

I talk to friends, like myself…my age and usually older, who appreciate and continue to practice this art form, but see many of their own family’s younger generations – grandkids, nieces, nephews – not acknowledge a gift sent. Not even a text. It’s not about receiving thanks for something you’ve sent as most of us send gifts out of love with no obligatory return. It’s more about the personal connection. It’s a time to re-connect with a cross-country relative. Yes, you can do that on Facebook and the like, I get it people! But when you take the time to write a few lines, say thank you and tell your great aunt, or grandparent how you’re doing, or what’s coming up in school, believe me, it goes a long way!

For a good read check out the book, More than Words. Illustrated Letters from The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art by Liza Kirwin. This is a wonderful collection of letters that include illustrations taking the practice of letter writing to an artful place. I bought two copies about a year or so ago…one for me, and one I sent to a good friend in Alabama. We still enjoy corresponding with the art of letter writing. And, yes, we still text, email, even FB…although me, very begrudgingly.


“Letter writing is probably the most beautiful manifestation in human relations, in fact, it is its finest residue.” – John Graham (1886-1961) Painter


What is home? According to the dictionary, it’s the place where one lives permanently. Honestly, I think there is a lot more to that word than meets the eye. When I think of home, I think of the familiar. I think of good memories, people I love, and people I miss.

After having read the book Hold Still by Sally Mann recently, I also watched a great DVD about her work. A friend bought me the DVD Blood Ties, which talked a lot about Mann’s early work, the images of her children that caused a lot of controversy, and her motivation for shooting imagery near and dear to her heart. I thought of home. Most of her images illustrate home to me – a place where her kids were comfortable – clothed or not – and played freely. A safe and secure place where memories were made.

I teach a lot of photography classes, and I can recall several instances where I’ve had students say to me, “…but I don’t go anywhere to get good photographs.” I’ve always told students to push outside of their comfort zones, get out of the familiar and shoot new things. But, then, I also catch myself brainstorming with them and saying, how can you make home interesting? How can you photograph your definition of home, and illustrate the warmth you feel, the people you love, the comfort within that brings you back each evening?

Here’s an image that illustrates home to me. It wasn’t made at my physical house, but at the home of my aunt and uncle in Savannah. Savannah is home. Vicki and Phil are home. This great lawn chair – my uncle’s chair that looks out on his yard – is home. All of these things, including this chair, are memories of home, warmth, comfort and love.

Hideaway, Pt. Wentworth, Georgia

Hideaway, Pt. Wentworth, Georgia

I’m working on a project and had a bit of a dilemma, as I want to shoot this project in a rather experimental way. I need to be close to home, and my darkroom, for my ideas. Immediately I thought, oh how boring…taking photographs around my house rather than on some exotic adventure. But, then I realized, home can be that exotic adventure…it’s all in the way you look at it, it’s all in your perspective. I’ll be glad to share those as well. Soon enough.

For now, here is another interpretation of home. My grandfather – I made this image in college, and just dug it out recently. A good reminder to not throw any of your old images away – you’ll look at them differently in 26 years.



Entrepreneurial Spirit

Jazz LPs


I’ve had a chance to play with some new ideas in photography this week, mainly, what might be classified as commercial photography. I’m working on how I can sell the fine art of listening through the visual art of photography!

Using a combination of strobe lighting and/or natural lighting through the ambiance of the space, I am working to create a mood that one might have as they fine-tune their listening skills via an experience in sound. Also, through photographs, pulling out visual cues that surround the space, adding to the anticipation of the experience.

The new venture is still under wraps. We’ll announce soon enough, but for now, it’s all about the photography and experimentation to get this new adventure off the ground.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word entrepreneurial. Here’s what the dictionary says:

            Entrepreneurial: (adjective) characterized by the taking of financial risks (I’ll say!) in the hope of profit; enterprising.

            Enterprising: (adjective) having or showing initiative and resourcefulness.

Now, there’s one of my all-time favorite words – resourcefulness! I push that in my studio classes, constantly. I admit I harp on it all the time.  My students are told on day one (which, by the way, is Monday!), do not tell me there is “nothing to shoot” in our prop closet. First, bring your own props…be creative and second, if I see that #$%@! blue vase one more time…

For as long as I can remember, Randy and I have been talking about owning our own business(es). We made this happen just over six years ago with Spotted Dog Excavating. You really do just jump right in and learn as you go. As a friend of mine says, it’s like jumping off a cliff and growing your wings on the way down. Learning everything from taxes to general liability insurance to worker’s comp to marketing has been interesting and fun. Not to mention, I know a whole lot more today about underground utilities and infrastructure than I ever thought I would!

This next, new business adventure is going to give me another creative outlet and, I’ll work hard to populate that new website with creative photography, and who knows where it will lead. I have a preliminary sketch of the new logo, too! But, alas, I’m not a graphic designer so I’ll give the big reveal once it is polished nicely by a pro!

Spendor Speakers


Creative vision, and all the great entrepreneurs who came before inspire me, and this week, we can celebrate one special entrepreneur, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. On August 19th, 1839 his invention, the daguerreotype, was finally made available to the world. Step-by-step his process was explained. Can you just imagine all the new photography businesses popping up all over the world?

Georgia…or Savannah on my Mind

Two topics that peaked my interest collided this week – a discussion about the book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and architectural photography.

Last Friday, Randy and I had dinner with some of his audiophile friends and their wives. The conversation came to Savannah, and then to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If you have not seen the movie, don’t! Read the book first…then see the movie. It’s an intriguing story about Savannah, and true…mostly…depends on whom you talk to in Savannah. Than again, most Savannahians wouldn’t admit too much truth in the words that grace those pages. Southerners, specifically Savannahians (let me be more direct – the ones I grew up around) don’t cotton much to the trifling words of Yankees. Yes, the author, John Berendt, is a Yankee. The story revolves around an antique dealer, Jim Williams, and four murder trials, the last with an acquittal, in the murder of his assistant (male prostitute, lover, you decide), Danny Hansford.

Anyhow, as I recalled the story, and the wonderful Bird Girl statue on the book cover that could be found in a cemetery not a mile from my teenage home, I thought about Savannah and how I photographed the Mercer-Williams House (the site of said murder) when I was in college for my architectural photography class.

As I was pulling together my architectural photography class handouts this week, and getting sucked into reading articles and thinking about my own architectural photography course all those years ago, I decided to pull my photos of the Mercer-Williams House and see what I did 25 years ago. I have not looked at these specific images in a long time, but being reminded of the story and the assignments I give my students each fall, I decided to take a look.

Blast from the past

Mercer Williams House, Savannah, GA

Mercer-Williams House, Savannah, GA

Pulled from my negative archives, I found two beautiful 4×5 images, each with exposure brackets. Now, with a 25-years-of-experience-critical-eye and my adjunct instructor’s brain to contend with, I decided…not too bad. I gave myself quite a critique. I listed all the things I’d mark off if I were my own student today, but I decided to scan them and share them here anyhow! 429 Bull Street…the site of a murder.

I shot these way back when on a Cambo 4×5 camera that my school offered, and used T-Max 400 film. The negatives were processed archivally, and were clean and beautifully preserved when I pulled them out of my archives. For my architectural photography students past and future (countdown…14 days), these views are a ¾ perspective, and a detail shot.

429 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia

429 Bull Street, Savannah, Georgia

Like many homes in Savannah, the Mercer-Williams house is haunted, and many say the ghosts of Williams himself, and Danny Hansford walk the halls, and that of a young boy who died at the home in a tragedy that preceded Williams’ residence. Ghostly or not, it is a beautiful house with a wonderful history and I’m glad I photographed it for an architectural photography class assignment!

Oh, and the name Mercer…that would have been General Hugh Weedon Mercer, the great-grandfather of the legendary songwriter, Johnny Mercer. And, Johnny? He’s buried in Bonaventure Cemetery less than a mile from the house I grew up in!