Friday, January 14, 2022

Chess - Contemporary Daguerreotype Series

 Daguerreotype Chess Series

 During the summer of 2021, I found my interest for the game of chess revived with a new sense of vigor.  I learned the game as a child in Russia, but haven’t played much in the last two decades.  Early roots of chess stretch back 1500 years, and the game is simultaneously poetically elegant and surgically precise.  Throughout history, chess was often used to teach military tactics and to aid in development of strategic thinking.  With seemingly straightforward universal rules, it offers each player’s creativity room to develop a deeply personal style.  There is also an element of art in a well-executed chess game; it is a thing of pure beauty, akin to an imperial Faberge egg.  The more I played recently, the more I realized that the game of chess in many ways parallels the art of making daguerreotype images.  In order to yield timeless results, both operations rely on planning and high degree of precision.  While both pursuits have rather stringent and limited rules, both offer an absolutely infinite range of possibilities achievable with same starting toolkit, and a good result in both is a manifestation of skill level of each individual artist of player.  Of course the game of chess is played against an opponent, and it is a battle of two minds.  The process of making a daguerreotype is a solitary pursuit, where one uses skill combined with imagination to battle natural elements like humidity and light and to build silver particles in just the right way to distill and translate a beautiful ephemeral vision or idea.

  There’s one key difference between chess and daguerreotype that deserves a closer examination; it was in fact that difference that inspired me to start making modern daguerreotypes in ways varied from tradition.  Checkmate positions are quite self-evident, while an uninspired poorly made daguerreotype takes quite a bit of extra thinking to recognize.  The game of chess evolved over fifteen centuries, and is more popular today than even.  New approaches to strategy have had plenty of time to sprout, organically replacing the old ways because they led to winning positions on the board.  Today, the sophistication exhibited by the top players is truly masterful, and the level of play is still constantly progressed.  Millions of people around the world play chess and keep sharing and building communal knowledge.  On the other hand, fewer than twenty people today make contemporary daguerreotypes on at least somewhat consistent basis. During the 1840 and ‘50s, when daguerreotype reigned as the supreme photographic method and tens of millions of images were produced, strong competition demanded photographers to pursue higher and higher quality outputs.  Some 19th century artists sought ways to make their images have personal innovative styles, and a few intriguing explorations into artistic realms were indeed made by those rare individuals.  However, a combination of several factors played a role in those early bursts of innovation not being pursued to their fullest possible extent: the short period during which daguerreotype method was practiced before being replaced by a cheaper and easier collodion method, the overwhelming mass demand of the time for purely representative images, the fact that serious discussion of photography as an independent art form was yet naturally in its infancy.  All that and more resulted in this incredible medium being basically frozen in time.  It is by no means easy to make a perfect representational daguerreotype in the ways of the old masters, and so most who attempt to do so today simply strive for those results, reaching happy homeostasis once a certain level of consistency has been achieved.  Even the most adventurous contemporary daguerreotypists of today are simply revisiting the century-old ideas of abstraction, or simply going for larger and larger image surfaces.  It is as if the status quo of daguerreotype method has been established in a simplified form; it seems that given a chessboard most are happy to stick to checkers.

  While chess is a very Zen activity, photography has always been the fuel to my passion for life.  I play chess as a hobbyist and don’t expect to ever draw a game against Magnus Carlsen, but looking for ways to take my images to the new heights, ones yet unimagined and unexecuted by anyone, is a constant insatiable urge.  Incredulous at what vast uncharted territories are still left untouched within the daguerreotype medium, I continually express my experience of existence through art.  These seven images were conceived and executed in order to highlight the relationship between the infinitely complex and beautiful worlds of chess and daguerreotype.






Friday, December 10, 2021

Daguerreotypes of Jack Murphy Stadium Demolition

 San Diego Stadium was built in 1964.  It was known as Jack Murphy Stadium from 1981 until 1997, at which point the naming right became purchasable by highest bidder. After a long battle for a new stadium, Chargers football team, who were the primary users, moved out of San Diego in 2017.  Subsequently, the building was slated for demolition.

  I moved to San Diego in mid 1990s, and still remember seeing this structure for the first time.  Built in brutalism style and surrounded by a seemingly infinite parking lot, the stadium dominated the once fertile valley of San Diego river like a fortified castle.  Over the decades, its cold towering concrete coils managed to evolve into a familiar and even somehow welcomed sight, as I seeing it upon return from a long road trip meant that I was nearly home. 

  One December day, while driving by on I-8, I was stunned by a sight of crumbled walls, twisted rebar, and dust rising up to the sky like a spirit offering from an Aztec fire.  I was finally able to see inside the ring, as if gaining first access to the belly of the beast.  Seeing this iconic landmark beginning it’s ultimate demise was more of a shock to me than I expected.  The scene immediately conjured up visions of what the Coliseum must have looked like when it’s walls just started collapsing, decades or centuries after the lions and gladiators left the building.  Before the scene was gone from my sight, I decided to make a 4-plate daguerreotype series documenting this momentous occasion. Making four plates seemed befitting, as I’ve spent some time living in Japan, and there this number is associated with death, being phonetically similar in their language.

  Evoking the spirit of Thomas Easterly, I timed my returns in such a way as to show the various stages of demolition work progress.  Along with the building itself, I wanted to give future viewers a sense of its surroundings, and thus choose to make my wider views from different, carefully selected perspectives. Plate #2 had to be made from a shoulder of a one-lane overpass connecting freeways I-15 and I-8.  With cars, trucks, and busses zooming by at 60 miles per hour just feet behind me, that was likely the fastest I’ve ever set up and broke down a 4x5 camera.

  Seen below are the silver plates that will now hold upon them a glimpse of a time when old yielded to new.  Though their physical weight is not as grand as of concrete that made up the Jack Murphy stadium, these unique images were the last to be sculpted by the light reflecting from it. 


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Daguerrean Dream Series Finalized

  Daguerrean Dream is a series of 43 4x5in daguerreotype plates, which I worked on since the autumn of 2018.  Consisting of four parts, the series was tentatively finished in 2020, but a few plates in Part III didn’t feel quite right, and I gave myself until my 44th birthday to create replacement images to replace those.  In the end, I chose to switch out three plates, and so below are the three new daguerreotypes and the short stories behind them. 

  Innate creativity and innovation are for me preciously holy concepts, ones to meant to be protected and fostered.  Concerted implementation of ideas yet untried joyously grants fantasy a tangible form.  The image below came to me while pondering fragility inherent in the process of each truly original image gaining existence, and the artists struggle as they carry their creations forth along that rocky path. I have my lovely and very patient model Jozlynn to thank for providing the hands for this image.

  As it happened, right after the series was originally released, the world plunged into the uncertainty and dread of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Isolation became a major theme in lives of many, and I too spent a greater amount of time than usual in the calming solitude of my darkroom.  Quarantining in a bubble while reaching out to other souls via electronic means, increasing the chasm between Nature and us with every keystroke and Siri request, we soldiered on, while our insecurities kept us constant company.


  This last image was conceptualized about three months ago, but the technical challenge of superimposing myself unto the sky within a daguerreotype and without of course resorting to any digital means whatsoever was daunting, and took a good while to work out in my mind.  In this image I wanted to pay homage to my humble workspace; the second floor studio and darkroom that I have been occupying now for exactly a decade.  Floating in the ether of space, as if reflected there, I close my eyes and think of all the experiments and discoveries that happened there, all the chaos and uncertainty that occurred, and all the resulting intricate beauty.  I close my eyes and tip my hat to this unassuming building, which temporarily hosted my spirit within its confines.

  For those who may be looking at my daguerreotype work for the first time I'd like to mention that I never use any computer generated materials or aids in my work and none of the plates seen here have been hand colored either, it's all a part of the way I reworked the daguerreotype process.  I will now wait a few more months before engraving the backs of all plates with proper information, such as names for those that have them and each plate’s placement within the series, and thus within the custom presentation box.  Meanwhile I am excited to have finished two fuming boxes as well as ordered the last parts I need for the creation of 8x10in daguerreotypes (I needed to expand the gilding stand to accommodate plates of that size).  I can’t wait to start working with that size, which I am sure will present a new set of challenges. 


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Daguerreotype Accelerated Aging Test

  Two years ago I produced a few extra daguerreotypes while futzing about with a new development system that in the end didn’t work out for me.  Those few extra plates however did give me a chance to conduct a rather oversimplified accelerated aging test, and to test the two materials I usually use for mats to see how they would perform under stress. A while back I promised someone I would post results of my aging experiment, and so here it is.

  It should be noted here that proper storage of daguerreotypes would of course involve not having them in places where direct sunlight repeatedly hits their surface, and that they should be kept away from excessive heat and moisture.

  Daguerreotype image is made of silver/gold/mercury amalgam particles resting atop a layer of pure silver.  Having essentially no protection from air, that silver plate is sealed under glass with some sort of a spacer that acts as a mat, separating image from glass.  Material chosen for that spacer and the kind of sealing tape one uses are two major factors in how well the plate will survive overtime. Any harmful chemistry trapped in the mat, and any air or moisture leaking through the sealing tape will result in tarnishing.  High temperature will of course accelerate any chemical reaction, and UV light is also known to be a catalyst.   Without going into too much detail I will say that most tarnish on daguerreotypes can indeed be cleaned with careful modern methods, but it is my aim to have my plates go as long as possible in their original state and without need for restoration.  With how little was known abut archival methods 175 years ago, and how poorly plates were sealed back then, it is remarkable how many daguerreotypes survived all those years in incredibly clean condition.  It is my hope that with better quality matting supplies my images will exhibit only a minimal change in at least 200 years.  

  Here is how the two 1/4 plate sized images looked when they were made in March 2019.  

Plate 1

Plate 2

  I sealed the plates on July 6th 2019.  Plate 1 was sealed with the regular paper mat, while plate 2 had a plastic frame spacer instead of paper mat.  I didn’t bother adding the finishing tape that I normally put over the actual sealing tape to make presentation look complete; that tape is very easily removed and maintained, and it lives outside the enclosure, so won’t affect anything tarnish wise.  Here is how the plates looked right after sealing.

Plates sealed in July 2019

  For the next two years I kept them in same position.  In San Diego there’s on average about 150 days per year without a cloud in the sky, and about 120 days with very light partial clouds, so for at least 270 days each year the plates were bombarded by direct sun.  Every once in a while I would take a temperature reading from the back by using an infrared thermometer, and even on mildly warm days in a closed car the plates would regularly heat up to 140-150°F (60-68°C).  I have also taken these plates into subfreezing temperatures on multiple road trips.   Morning dew point can be pretty brutal when living only a few miles from the ocean, and with windows of my car often left rolled down, I’m sure there were many times when these plates got rather soaked. 

Plates left under windshield for 2 years.

   Not being a trained conservator or archivist, I can’t say with much precision exactly what the conditions to which I subjected my plates were equating to in terms of normal recommended storage.   I do suspect though that subjecting my plates to intense heat and direct sunlight for two years probably sped up any tarnishing or other deterioration by at least a factor of 50, so I unsealed them on July 6th 2020, and here is how they appeared, showed here side by side with their original condition.

   When unsealing the plates, I was reassured that the tape I use will withstand pretty much anything; after all that heat it didn’t come undone even a tiny bit in any spot around the perimeter. I was surprised to see that the paper mat that I know to be the safest for daguerreotypes still left a mark, while I see almost zero trace of the plastic mat. A few tarnish spots also seem to have appeared; they are rather minor and I suspect my washing and drying procedure may be partially to blame.  Overall though, if this is how much change my plates are to expect after 100 years of normal indoor storage, I’m happy. Seeing that chemical reactions within enclosed environment tend to slow down and eventually seize altogether, it is not outside the realm of reason to suggest that whatever tarnish is seen after 100 years, won’t actually look twice as bad in 200 years, but in fact may just look 10% worse or not at all. 

  On the other hand, here are a couple examples of what happens when if an incorrect mat is chosen.  The bare plate you see with no mat on it was one of my early Becquerel developed images, and I sealed it with a regular mat that is advertised as fully archival.  It was stored in the dark at room temperature, and unsealed 3 years after, revealing major tarnishing around the cut edges of the mat.   The second plate is not shown whole, as it is the work of another modern daguerreotypist.  This plate was made and sealed in 2018, so it has been in contact with this mat for 3 years.  It hangs in my studio, on a fairly dimly lit wall with no sun anywhere near it.  When I got it, I didn’t see any of that tarnish around the edges of the spot in the sky.  Mat choice is very important; if only 3 years can do this much damage while storage conditions are generally favorable, imagine what plates sealed with such mats look like in 100 years. 

Tarnished Becquerel Daguerreotype

Tarnished Mercury Developed Daguerreotype

  I hope this information will inspire caring artists to look more closely at how they finish and present their work.  Those who are in this for the long haul may want to consider running similar tests on materials they prefer or would like to consider using.  When working with daguerreotypes time slows down, and so a coupe of years of waiting is nothing when it comes to pursuit of higher quality. 



Friday, June 4, 2021

Claude Glass Sees California

  While collecting ground glass loupes featured in my last post, I did meet a few good people around the world, and those kind folks helped that collection grow.  Last year, knowing that I make ambrotypes, one of my loupe friends from United Kingdom emailed me saying that at a local car boot he found what appeared to be a blank black ambrotype, still in its case.  I was perplexed, as I’ve never seen such a thing found, but in his photos that’s exactly what it appeared to be, and so he sent it to me with the next couple of loupes.   Upon receiving it and examining its carefully curved surface and precisely ground edges, I started suspecting it wasn’t actually just a blank glass ready for an image.  With time I addressed some experts, and was surprised to learn that what I had was indeed a pre-photographic object called Claude Glass.  

  What is a Claude Glass and how does one use it?  

  This simple but beautiful viewing device is named after 17th century miniaturist Claude Lorraine, and it is basically a black mirror.  They came in variety of shapes and sizes, usually about 4in across in order to fit comfortably into someone hand.  To protect their reflective surface Claude Glasses came in protective cases much like those used for housing daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, but with a metal hinge.  The case also had a loop to enable user to hang it in perfect position for viewing and have both hands free to enjoy a glass of wine and a cigar, or indeed to paint the scene while referencing the glass.  

Claude Glass

 I have found very few references to how exactly they were made, and some of those explanations didn’t seem to make much sense.  To the eye it looks like a highly polished piece of black glass, and the back surface surely does look like a solid unworked piece of old color glass, but one detain within the polished surface side has me puzzled.  At a certain angle and with the aid of strong light one can see a faint perfect circle ‘emerging’ up to the surface, as if two pieces of glass were glued together and that’s the seam, but the finish is exactly the same within that circle as outside of it, the ‘seam’ is absolutely perfect, and the circle is cut off by the rectangular shape of the device itself.  So I’m still not exactly certain as to how they were made so perfect and smooth as to give a flawless reflection.  Below images show this ghost circle; in order to have it show up I had to exaggerate exposure and contrast a lot, as that circle is barely visible even to the naked eye in most situations.

Ghost Circle Within Claude Glass

  To use a Claude Glass, a person would turn their back to the scene they wish to view, and view that scene via that reflection instead of observing it directly.  Now why would someone do this?  Once we take into account culture and emerging trends of the period, there are actually several good reasons to be discovered.  Certainly the aesthetic of the image seen in such a way is indeed reminiscent of oil paintings; the color palette is slightly subdued and shifted into the same hue, which is usually slightly less warm.  After centuries of seeing nature through oil paintings, quite often miniatures as those were quicker to complete and thus more affordable, audiences of 17th, 18th, and early 19th century were not quite accustomed to seeing Nature in all its true glory and brightness.  Additionally, the vastness of Nature was still a very imposing thing to face for our ancestors; most often referred to as a wild beast in need of overpowering and taming, Nature was still much too powerful for them to consider.  It was one thing to sit by the fireplace with a glass of brandy and hold a view of the Alps in your hand, and a whole new thing to step out of your carriage onto a side of some cliff and to look out at those mountains with your own two eyes. Heck, I know I get overwhelmed when I’m alone on the edge of Grand Canyon, and I’ve met people who experienced panic attacks at that place.  Staring at the glass held in hand gives one a level of control over the scene behind them, and the familiar oil painting color palette makes it even friendlier and more familial to the eye.  I see a strong parallel here with the behavior of modern day folks and their phone cameras.  First thing most of them do when seeing something interesting is snap a picture of it and start staring down at the screen while applying filters to it, in order to make Nature more palatable for their eye; I don’t see how this is much different, if any at all.

  Claude Glasses can obviously be very useful to an artist trying to paint a scene. Its image presents an easy way of visualizing which colors and light values are predominant in the scene.

  Another fun use was to have a larger version in your carriage fixed in such a way that it pointed out the window.  This way you not only wouldn’t need to turn your head in order to see the passing scenery, but it will appear to you as if passing on a screen (sound familiar?) and in its own specific colorization, not unlike Kodachrome or Technicolor having their own distinct looks. 

  In addition, the image seen through the Claude Glass is pleasantly dimmer than a sunlit scene one may be facing, and so there’s less strain on the eye.  Here’s how the image looks when you just opened up the case, and are starting to line up the correct cropping you wish to view. 

Claude Glass on Location 

  After a good deal of looking, I found a number of good articles describing philosophy behind the use of this device, and several of them have been written rather recently.  However, almost no sources had good and clear examples of what actual images taken through it could be like.  This inspired me to take my Claude Glass on the road, on a very quick trip around some of my favorite spots around California.  I figured that this intriguing relic was worth taking to places like Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, redwood forests of Northern California, and the beautiful coastline stretch above San Francisco. 

  Images were made with an iPhone 11Pro as seen below; I had to shoot them at quite a strong angle to avoid having the phone showing up in the scene. Lining things up within the frame this way is no easy task, and so do forgive the few images where I couldn’t quite correct the keystone effect all the way.  All editing was done on standard phone camera software, as I haven’t had Photoshop for the past few years and really don’t miss it at the least.  Reference images on the left were left nearly untouched, and Claude Glass images were adjusted at the time of capture to represent what I saw as closely as possible. 

Shooting Through Claude Glass on California Coast

California Coast 1

California Coast 2

California Coast 3

California Coast 4

Eagle View 1, Sequoia National Park

Eagle View 2, Sequoia National Park

General Sherman Base, Sequoia National Park

General Sherman, Largest Tree on Earth, Sequoia National Park

General Sherman, Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park, View of Sierras

California Redwoods
(I have made a daguerreotype of these incredible trees before,
they exhibit 'natural rafting' after falling in a fierce 2005 storm)

River View

Flowers at Sequoia National Park

Merced River 1

Merced River 2

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls and Merced River

Half Dome at Sunset

Merced River in Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley Tunnel View 

  For those who know my work I’ll confirm that going on such a beautiful road trip without either wet plate or daguerreotype equipment is unfathomable to me, and so of course I brought along my smallest and most maneuverable tintype setup. There wasn’t much time for its use, and it was rather hot, dry, and windy in most all locations visited, so I only brought back about 20 plates.  Below is one of my four or five top favorites.  I love the way the wind picked up during my short exposure, made with 1860s Dallmeyer Triple Achromat, and was trying to brush away the mighty waters of Yosemite Falls. 

Yosemite Falls, 4x5in Tintype

Thanks for reading and supporting independent artists,


Friday, May 7, 2021

Tintypes Made Using Focusing Loupes As Lenses

  This personal project was born of lifelong pursuit of charting new paths upon the broad field of artistic landscape, combined with an unexplained passion for vintage ground glass focusing loupes.  I’ll never seize looking for magical yet unexplored ways in which to see the world, and translating those findings into the language of photography; this is but one such journey.

  A lot of people have used a plethora of things in place of a lens to make photographic images.  Prior to this project I can’t say I employed anything but a real photographic lens for this purpose.  A couple college experiments with pinhole was enough for me to know that it’s not my cup of tea, and image samples I’ve seen from DIY optics so far failed to excite my imagination. Online I have found endless number of instructions for all sorts of homemade optics, including those using a regular simple magnifying glass.  Even drinking straws have been used to capture an image.  I have not however found any mention of anyone using photographic loupes, whether those meant for ground glass focusing or negative examination.   

  Employing wet plate medium for this project was a natural choice.  Incidentally, I picked up my very first loupe in spring of 2013, the same month that I learned wet plate.  Next year, Will Dunniway, a prominent figure in the world of wet plate, really catalyzed my interest in loupes, and through the years helped the collection grow. Sadly, Will Dunniway passed away in early April of this year, the same month that my collection did in fact reach goal number. That prompted me to start writing the larger post and to finally make these images.  Many shall miss Will, and these two posts are dedicated to his memory.

  Technical challenges in creating these tintypes weren’t too numerous.  Main task was affixing those loupes to my camera.  Without a universal iris clamp it would have been a minor nightmare to try out as many loupes as I did in order to select the dozen examples shown here.  I’m glad to have experimented with plenty of vintage lenses in the past though, and for that task having a clamp like this is essential.  Having it meant that I could swap my loupes in and out in matter of seconds.  Working distance was also a bit of a trick to overcome.  Most loupes have miserably close focus of about one inch or so, and so their bottom edge needs to be almost right on the focal plane.  This meant that the bellows on my 4x5 needed to be compressed as much as they could be, and still with some lenses I couldn’t achieve focus on infinity.  That’s ok though, I wasn’t set on making landscapes or portraits anyway.  Also, due to such short focus, this optics turns out to have a very fast working aperture, and that means an extremely shallow depth of field.  This worked nicely though to exaggerate bokeh when getting up-close with various small organic objects I picked up along my travels, with the flower having been the only object specifically gathered for this project. 

  Above you can see the studio setup for most following close-up images, minus the large soft box out of frame view.  I started by working outside, but a few plates had odd ghosting effects, caused by light reflecting from shiny brass or lacquered black surfaces.  Keeping some of those plates, I later moved indoors for a more controlled environment.  Since the glass in these is almost never symmetrical, in order to see possible differences, two images of each object were made with same loupe: one image through top, and one through bottom. 

  Below images show two tintypes and the loupe they were captured with, with images positioned by respective end through which they were shot.  Each plate is 2.75x3.25in, which is a traditional 1/6th plate size; from that you can judge circle of coverage as well as approximate scale of loupes pictured.   

Early Dallmeyer


Emil Busch

C. P. Goerz


E. Krauss

E. Anthony



SOM Berthiot


Zeiss Jena

  In the end, I picked 20 images to make this collage in a 12x18in frame, and it is now available for your collection.

Twenty 1/6th Plate Tintypes in 12x18in Frame

  A great deal of thanks is in order for all the wonderful people from around the world who helped me grow my collection.  I’ve had help from U.S., Poland, U.K, France, Germany, and even Thailand.   You know who you are folks, and you know how much I appreciate you.  Thank You!
  Readers should note that I am not yet done collecting loupes, and am always looking for examples that I don’t have. 

  If you have an old focusing loupe made of metal, and you don’t see it in this post or its companion, please do send me a picture of it; I would be glad to tell you whether I have it or not, and if  I don’t have it I’d love to talk sale or trade.  Of course I’m not counting on being able to find every variation of every generation loupe made by every company ever, but I’d like to grow my collection by another 42% or so before I can call it quits for good.  With a bit of help from decent kind people that goal isn’t as unattainable as it may seem.

  Brief History and Development of Ground Glass Focusing Loupes is a companion post to this one, and can be found by clicking HERE