Last update was written from Minnesota and I was planning on going to Madison WI. I decided to avoid being in the city since it is no fun to be in one while driving a 35ft bus with no particular destination - streets get narrow fast and plus the traffic drives me nuts. Instead I took a smaller highway and headed to Winona MN. On the way there I made this image - the only one for July 21st.
As I mentioned above - I need to post these updated more often because according to my Facebook update on July 22nd at about 1pm I made these images of the lock upon the mighty Mississippi, but the timeline somehow doesn't make sense because I know that I got to Winona on the night of the 21st and these were made before that... So much happens I can't keep my dates straight - sorry.
I do remember that I made it to Winona at night and found a nice bar where to get a pint of local brew. The bar happened to have been owned by a Ukrainian guy and so we had a nice little chat. Well, I was mostly talking to his lovely fiance, who was helping him behind the bar, but it was nice nonetheless.
In the morning I drove to an island in the middle of the river to get some shots of the floating houses that someone at the bar recommended I check out. They were truly unique and I spent quite a good amount of time shooting these unique structures. Apparently no new ones are allowed to be built, so there's a finite number of these odd flotillas.
While on the island I saw a beautiful lady by the name of Elena, who occupied one of the structures. We made conversation and that resulted in me doing one more plate. Unfortunately she was sitting on a floating platform and her dogs were playing next to her and that resulted in a rather blurry image. It wasn't so bad that I wanted to scratch it out, but it wasn't up to the standards of the collections, so I decided to leave it for the model. I also showed her how the plates were prepared and processed and she said that she happens to be a model and works sometimes with a photographer in La Crosse WI who has done some wet plate images of her in the past. I was excited to hear that and asked her for directions to his studio, which she gladly provided, so my next destination was clear. Before setting off from Winona I did go back into town and made these two plates by the light of the setting sun.
La Crosse is not too far from Winona and so I was able to get there pretty quickly and spent the night at a local rest area. In the morning I looked up directions given to me by Elena and drove over to the studio. The sign on the closed door read that the gallery/studio was 'open by appointment and chance' (love that sign!). I thought to myself "what are the chances of me making an appointment for right now?" I called the number provided on the sign and spoke with the owner - David Bass. He was at his regular job, but sounded very excited by me showing up and agreed to meet me on his lunch break and show me the space. I was happy with that arrangement and went to get lunch myself.
David showed up right on time and we had a great time, though it was short due to his work commitments. SG1311 is a space he opened up to the public after the original owner (a painter by the name of Willian Vafeas) passed away in 2011. Now David shows a lot of local artists there, does photography right in that space and shows the wonderful works of Mr. Vafeas as well. David has made tintypes in the past, however he confessed to me that he hasn't done them for a while, but does hope to dig up all the equipment and get back into it soon. I truly hope that he finds time to do that and to see some wet plate work appear on his blog. Meanwhile David collects tintypes and after looking through my most recent plates he expressed interest in purchasing a plate of Aleasha and Ford Fiesta that I made back at Buttercup Ranch in Lake Nebagamon. He also asked if I could make a tintype of his gallery for him and I was happy to oblige. Here is that plate and the one I made along with it of the buildings right next to his. Actually SG1311 is located in a 1898 building that used to be a butcher shop in the olden days and it's really cool to have David now cleanse the space with artistic vibrations. Do check out SG1311 blog - David has already put up an entry about my visit and there's much more about his artistic ventures. David also blessed me with a really nice print of Elena, seeing how I met her and she was the one who brought us together.
After leaving the varnished plate in an vintage Kodachrome 5x7 box along with the shot of Aleasha I moved on down the road. Along the small highway I was traveling by I saw a scene that I couldn't pass up - an American Legion Post 13 in Richland Center WI. Here are some plates from there.
Down the road was a town of Harvard and I reached that place just in time to hear Johnny Cash blaring from the open doors of a small bar. That was a sign for me to go in. As soon as I walked in a guy sitting at the bar looked at me and asked me if I was a blacksmith. I answered that unfortunately I was not and that started a instant friendship. That guy happened to be an artist by the name of Gabriel Karagianis and after a quick beer he invited me to park the bus at the lot by his studio. His studio happened to be located in an huge awesome space called The Starline Gallery and I can't really even begin to describe how cool that space is. Gabriel is a great guy and we had a wonderful time talking about art, listening to Chopin and Felonious Monk, looking at his and mine art and even taking a meandering tour through the winding halls and stairs of the building at close to 3am. Here are some images of Gaberiel's studio and even a short video shot while some of his original music was playing in the background. I was also very happy to trade him one of my silver 8x10s for a high quality poster of one of his paintings.
We stayed up so late that by the time I went to bed it was getting light outside, so I woke up pretty late. In fact Gabriel's phone call woke me up and he brought by another artist friend of his (I am VERY sorry - if you are reading this I do not remember your name friend, but I did very much enjoy meeting you - please contact me and I'll update this little section to include your info). His friend actually happened to have been a photographer back in the days of film and with a glimmer in his eyes remembered the days of shooting 4x5 product shots by a boatload. He also said that somewhere in the attic of his garage there lay giant copy camera bellows and a set of lenses for that camera - he promised to send that to me and so I gave him my card with my San Diego address. It would be really cool if he did send that before I get back home as I can totally use those lenses on the new 24in camera that's waiting for me right now.
From Harvard it was a relatively short drive to a place I've been waiting to visit ever since I started to do Wet Plates - Main Trophy Supply in Mt. Prospect IL. This is the place that supplies aluminum plates to tintype photographers all over the country and even outside of US as well. I have ordered from them in the past and was very excited to actually be there in person. I was also running out of plates, so I re-stocked with about 25 12x24in sheets and had them cut me some more 8x20 plates for the next time I get brave enough to use that monster camera.
The company is small - only 5 employees and I met two of them - Dave (manager) and Karen (the lady who is always so nice on the phone while taking my orders). I think wet plate photographers make up less than 1% of their business - mostly it's companies that make trophies (as the name suggests). They carry aluminum and bronze sheets for plaque engravings in any color, thickness and finish that you can imagine. They even have iodized aluminum and Dave was kind enough to give me a sheet of that to try out. Here are some images from that mecca:
Now when I call up I'll have a wonderful visual of the location and the smiling faces of the people who work there and my readers can see where the support for the tintypes I'm currently making come from. I do wonder where they are actually manufactured... That's next on the list I guess.
Main Trophy Supply is located in an industrial part of Mt. Prospect and I shot the following two images in their parking lot. These images perfectly exemplify industrial parks across America, so I think they are entirely appropriate for my 'Landscape of America' series.
From Mt. Prospect (which, for those of you who don't want to look that up on the map is just above Chicago) I shot down past the windy city with its traffic, crazy road construction and the nation's highest murder rate and back to the small country highways that define America for me. I spent the night parked behind a small grocery store somewhere off the two-lane highway and was awoken rather early by the owners saying that deliveries are coming soon and I had to move... Nowhere near enough sleep was allotted, so in the morning, when I found myself passing a town of Fort Wayne IL and found more industrial parks there, I took a nap before making the following images.
Heading farther east on highway 6 I came upon a town of Waterloo where I saw a very typical mobile home park on the north side of the highway and an out-of-business building on the south side. That provided a perfect opportunity for the following two images. Middle America is full of mobile home parks comprising half of small towns and empty business buildings filling the other half....
These were made on the last of the 4x5 plates that I had originally started the journey with, so that indicates that I have made at least 100 tintypes by now as I vaguely remember there being over 100 to start with. As you can see in the background of the above images, by the time I was done drying these plates the sun has gone down and it was well into the dusk part of the evening. I decided to finally break down and find a motel for one night in hopes of getting some rest and maybe catching up on emails. I reached the city of Bowling Green OH pretty late at night and saw a glowing sign that read 'Best Motel'. Falling for this advertisement I pulled over and got a room. I should have known... Nothing that claims to be 'best' usually lives up to it's name - the room was rather dingy, there was no tub to take a bath (just a very minimalistic shower stall) and above all the internet was so slow and connection so spotty that I barely got to read and answer a few emails before becoming frustrated and falling asleep. I dreamed that a professor that I had in junior college actually bought the 8x10 camera that I could not find in the clutter of the Duluth house and now was trying to sell it to me for an inflated price...
In the morning I had to cut the 12x24in sheets that I just picked up at Main Trophy Supply. I cut down 4 out of 25 sheets into 68 smaller plates - I'll be set for another couple of weeks now. I am very lucky to have this wonderful cutter - it came with a ton of junk for which I overpaid when I bought the equipment of my San Diego darkroom. This cutter rocks and saves me 35¢ for every plate that I cut. Furthermore it is a very expensive cutter and I would never be able to talk myself into buying it if I didn't have it already. On top of that this one can even be considered to be vintage by now as it was made in Western Germany - a country I grew up knowing, but that no longer exists.
While I was at work the bus drew the attention of the owners of the motel (an Indian family). I was going to make a couple of plates of the motel (as it was again a very typically American one) and so I offered them a rare opportunity to see the creation of a tintype. The kids jumped on the opportunity, but their father waited outside of the darkroom - I think the heat and ether fumes were too much for him while the kids were so interested that they didn't seem to mind those factors too much. Here they are watching the magic of a clearing plate come to life and the images created on the property of 'Best Motel'.
I really didn't drive as far as I planned before seeing a scene that drew my attention - ruins of a barn were being burned and a very interesting boat was sitting just by the raging fire. I turned around an pulled right onto the property, approached the owner who was idly watching the flames, explained what I was doing and was given permission to park anywhere and do what I needed to do. I was very interested in how fire would show up on tintypes. The answer came soon - NOT AT ALL! Here is a an image (Fuji FP100c with Polaroid 450 camera) of what the fire looked like:
And here is the resulting two plates. Notice that there seems to be no fire at all! The exposures were 2 seconds at f16 and 1/4sec at f5.6 (the sun was going in and out explaining the difference). I did suspect that I will not get much of the flames to show as collodion images are sensitive to UV and blue light, but I thought at least some glow will be recorded... Nope - daylight completely overpowered the flame and the scene looks more like a post-war smoulder than a full-on fire.
I swear - there were 3ft tall flames in both of these compositions... Collodion sees right through them though. Oh well, it was well worth a try and the experience. Plus the owner of the property got to observe a making of a tintype and then we had a very nice chat while I was washing the plates.
After drying the above tintypes I said my goodbyes and pulled out of the driveway back onto highway 6. While waiting for the cars to clear the way for Gilli I saw an interesting character walking on the side of the road heading west just about 40ft to the right of me. I think this is the first pedestrian I saw on a side of the road for a long long while, so I paid close attention when I passed him. he was pushing a baby stroller and on top of the gear loaded was a sign proclaiming that he is WALKING ACROSS USA! WOW! I couldn't believe my eyes, immediately pulled over, left the bus idling, grabbed my Rolleiflex, caught up to him and made one exposure before calling his attention (can't wait to actually develop that shot and send him a copy). Turns out that his name is Don Erickson and he's walking from NY to CA to raise awareness about organ donation for Iowa Donation Network. What an incredible coincidence to run into this guy! We hugged, wished each other safe travels and good weather and went on in opposite directions. Here is a shot of Don with Gilli in the background and the driveway that I pulled out from on the right. He also asked me to stand behind his stroller and took a very similar picture with his phone - can't wait to see it! Good luck Don! It's a great cause and you are doing a wonderful thing.
The rest of the day my mood was definitely uplifted by this most random encounter. I drove a bit north to the shore of Lake Erie and found a nice little park from where I could make some exposures of this great body of water. When I pulled in I saw a sweet-looking older couple sitting in folding chairs gazing at the water. I decided that my first exposure will be of them, but I wanted it to be as natural as possible - they were so engulfed in the bliss of the moment that they didn't even turn around when I parked the bus just about 40ft behind them and set up my 4x5. I really love the resulting plate as it really has a feel of a lot of my street images. After developing the plate I showed it to them and they told me that today was their anniversary! Here's to Mel and Carol - may you have many more happy anniversaries! I sent them a copy of this image - hope they print it out nicely, the plate is really nice actually - the shadow detail and the fact that the sunny background both recorded were slightly surprising to me, maybe I'm getting better at this whole tintype thing...