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Using a Plate Camera

What started off as an experiment;
“Can I make a photograph in this 100-year old camera?”
has become a passion for making pictures that more hand-crafted, more genuine, more honest than the sea of artificially-perfect images prevalent today.

My first camera

My first camera in this experiment was 120 years old - Sold under the brand of Boots the Chemist. Pictured here after its new bellows were fitted.

It has a single extension: the bellows stretch to magnify the image by moving forward. This has the disadvantage of moving the lens closer to the subject making framing and composing a challenge! 

First Plate Camera.jpg
Galia moon.png

First Pictures

More by accident, for the sake of minimising costs, my first efforts were with using photographic paper as if it was film. That is: taking the paper that would normally be the final photograph and putting that in the film holder. It takes much longer to respond to light and doesn’t react to red colours so the images it produces mainly have to be of static scenes, are negative (light & dark reversed) and “different” because of its treatment of red objects. But I had stumbled upon a medium that opened up a whole range of creative possibilities. 

 

Fruit and vegetables made ideal subjects/models with galia melons, pineapples. fennel and pak choi being my favourites. 

 

The ambiguousness of the images is appealing having been described variously as “medical” “astronomical” and Tim Burton-like”. 

​Exploring more film types - soon followed. Ordinary film is too expensive to use for experimenting, so my learning journey continued with X-ray film which is available as sheets, is 1/4 of the cost of ordinary film, processes much more quickly and, like the paper, doesn’t react to red light so can be maniplulated and processed in a dark room under a red light. ( The dark room being our utility room with a window blacked out). By trading up (repairing, using and re-selling) I have added a few more cameras to my collection in sizes of plate (film)up to 10”x8” .

This large size means prints can be made by contact printing and no enlarging process is needed.  

Using photographic paper as film a negative and its positive Melon

​Dry plates: I found on-line that it was possible to buy unopened packets of dry-glass-plate negatives to fit the cameras that were 50 even 70 years old. 

Antique Ilford Dry Plates Packets

​Sometimes these plates give good clear images, sometimes they have “artefacts” such as snowflakes which could add to the image being made and sometimes they were a mess!

Birnbeck pier dryplate from 1950s with  snowflakes
Pear ambrotyope-Wetplate Collodion on Glass

Lockdown gave me the time to learn how to make wet-plates with collodion, just as would have been done originally with the earliest of this type of camera. The images formed in this process have a totally different - live - quality that can only be appreciated when hold them in your hand and see the way the light interacts with the silvery image on the glass.

See me at work in a video made by Radio Bristol in 2022

See (and buy) my work at Studio3 Gallery, Clevedon Craft Centre and learn more about the cameras and process on my website www.oldaprson.art.

Follow the latest works I make on Facebook and Instagram where I am known as oldparson.art

3 Pears-Wetplate Collodion on Glass.jpg
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