Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Los Angeles Tintype Trip

  Last weekend my girlfriend and I made a quick little bus pilgrimage to Los Angeles and thought it's deserving of a quick writeup. 

  The journey was prompted by my earlier experience - in the spring of 2016 I was invited to make tintype set and character portrait plates for an independent film production - https://www.aurorafilm.info/  
  It was a great experience and here are just two of over 100 plates I shot there. 

  Last weekend at a private gallery in Culver City the movie was premiered and there were some really nice displays set up with props from the movie and most of my plates, which I haven't seen in nearly two years. 

  We were actually invited to the opening in order to make tintype portraits of attendees.  It was a fun time (with me running back and forth between the gallery and Gilli's darkroom and Jozlynn being busy washing and keeping the plates straight).   I made 27 plates and here are a couple of those - the lovable monster Penge was a hit for posing with. 

  After that we spent the night in town and next day visited Getty Museum since Jozlynn has never been there.  There were some interesting exhibits, of which I'm sorry, but I don't have any pictures.  Not knowing if museums parking structure would accommodate 10ft tall and 35ft long Gilli, we actually parked on the street and walked up.  It was an interesting experience, since it made it feel a lot like a trek to the mountain to see some wizard of art.  Since there was a long line waiting for the electric trolley that takes people from parking area to actual museum grounds, we walked that part as well.  On the way back we were pretty tired, so we took the trolley back.  From its windows we briefly glimpsed Gilli as she patiently awaited our return.  Can you spot her in this photo?

  Los Angeles (and the surrounding dozens of smaller cities) comprise an impressive and chaotic sprawl of urban jungle that stretches seemingly infinitely when you're in it.   In fact, I bet there's a large percentage of residents who, after being born within the bustle and growing up knowing only the city, never set foot outside of that environment - after all, everything a modern human can want as far as civilization can be found in overabundance within the confines of the city.  However, surround this micro-universe is a beautiful mountainous area where San Bernardino and Angeles Nation Forests have been set aside as preserves.  It's amazing how small the number of visitors is to those scenic destinations considering that just below the hills, within 10-15 mile drive, there lives well over ten million people.  It wasn't totally empty up there, but still, this was a polar opposite of being stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway and it felt great.  We found a scenic overlook to stop for the night and in the morning I shot some plates there as well as at another location nearby.  I'm really starting to enjoy making panoramic compositions with multiple plates, so I shot one of those as well. 

  During the night before above plates were made a noteworthy story occurred. I thought I would try to make a night-time plate of Los Angeles since we had quite a view.  The lights were relatively bright, and the ever-present smog which hangs above LA was illuminated fairly well, so I thought I had a chance at capturing it in collodion.  It was about 65°F and 20% humidity, so I knew I couldn't go too long with the exposure or the plate would dry out.  First, because framing would have been perfect, I chose my trusty Tele-Fujinon 400mm f8 lens and tried a 15min exposure wide open.  Well, I got the lights of the city, but they were rather dim and appeared to be floating, because none of the foreground mountain outline or the fog recorded.  Then I decided to try a Voigtlander Petzval which I had with me, at f3.2 it's 2.5 stops faster than the Fujinon, so maybe with it I would have some trace of areal glow above showing.  I coated a 4x5 plate, dipped it into silver, and went to switch the lens.  After focusing I realized that on a 4x5 the image would be much too small because instead of the perfect framing that 400mm lens offered I was not shooting with a 175mm, so the next image would be much better tried in a smaller 1/6th plate size.  Skipping ahead I can tell you that even the 1/6th plate with Voigtlander didn't turn out - the lights were perfect, but again there was no trace of glowing atmosphere, however it was what happened before I exposed that last plate and went to bed that I think is more exciting. 
  Not wanting to simply waste that already coated and sensitized 4x5 I decided to make my first-ever collodion chemigram.   Chemigrams are made by combining various chemistry in a seemingly random fashion upon a light sensitive surface and seeing how things will turn out.  To make them really sing visually one would need to experiment a bit more extensively and be mindful of which chemistry produced which effects combined in particular order.   This being my first try I grabbed 4 things immediately within reach in the Gilli's darkroom and sprinkled and splashed them liberally on the surface of a plate still wet with silver nitrate.  Different chemicals made quite varied splotches and it was fun to watch them grow and mature.  After a while I poured on developer and in time washed that off.  After fixing this is what I was left with.  I'm definitely going to experiment further with chemistry and also with ways to control where each effect appears. 

  We drove back to San Diego that afternoon and were blessed with there being no traffic due to it being a holiday.  When back by the darkroom Jozlynn decided to cook up the rest of the food we had with us on the trip.  She made steaks with Brussel sprouts and mushrooms a side of potatoes.  I strongly believe that this is the best looking and tasting meal so far cooked aboard The Photo Palace Bus and so here is the plate just before being consumed by a hungry and tired me.

  More adventures to come!


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