Friday, June 8, 2018

European Collodion Weekend 2018 - Tintype Trip


  For the 6th year in a row now, collodion artists from various corners of Europe gathered for a few days to say hi to old friends, make new ones, and pour some plates together.  Known as European Collodion Weekend (ECW), this year it was held in Luxembourg on the weekend of May 12th.  I’ve heard of this event many times before, but it was not until I was actually already on the road to NYC, in late March, that I decided that this year would be the one when I finally go. 

  Since the destination was all about collodion, I wanted to make the whole trip overseas be a shooting adventure, and, during the long hours behind the wheel between Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, devised an idea.  A shoulder-style thing, which would allow me to carry everything needed to make tintypes including dark box, camera, lenses, trays, water, chemistry, dipping tanks, plates, and all other miscellaneous yet necessary stuff.   I thought about it a lot along the 7000mi road to New York and Back, and even drew it out once or twice, so when I got into the woodshop of my local friend Dave Smith it was pretty quick work.  Here are a few photos of my portable setup under construction, including one where I fit everything in it for the first time and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that calculations were pretty spot-on.

  Outer dimensions were calculated in such a way that a dark box, made from a folding storage container from Bin Warehouse, would fit perfectly on the lid, and would act as a stable base wherever I go.  Outline of making one of those blue-bin dark boxes for yourself can be found at on recourses page.  After the wooden box is stocked and dark box strapped to it, and with water at full capacity (2.5L), the whole package, in my case, weighs 44lbs (20kg).  In the future, I’ll attach backpack straps to it and it won’t so bad at all to carry it, but I didn’t have time for it before the trip and yeah…  it was bear to drag about.
  I also constructed some quick storage boxes for 4x5in plates.  Connor Franklin from Atlanta 3D printed me some slots according to my specs.  Each of these boxes has a 50-plate capacity if plates are placed back to back.  I felt like 100 wasn’t going to cut it for a 13-day trip and so I also brought 48 plates of ¼ plate size, nestled inside two boxed made by Mike Robinson, and in which he supplies his marvelous daguerreotype plates.

  Before setting out, I put out a quick call to see who in Europe would like to have a visit.  I did not expect the amount of enthusiastic responses that I received. Within days I had an itinerary and a way to get chemistry on the first day in Paris (you can’t fly with this stuff…).   I knew this was going to be a bit of a crazy trip when I figured out that in 13 days I was to visit Paris, Luxembourg, Trier, Berlin, Brussels, and then back to Paris for the flight out… 

  After an uneventful flight followed by a relatively competent navigation of Parisian Metro, I got to my hotel cubby (can’t call it a room – it was the size of an average walk-in closet, but it was clean and right next to Notre Dame, so it was perfect) on Monday morning.  Leaving behind the enormous suitcase, in which my 19x25in wooden box somehow barely survived its trip, I boldly stepped out on my way to find the wet plate studio of Melanie-Jane Frey, where I was to pick up the chemistry necessary for my own plate production.  The street was a narrow one-way mostly pedestrian kind, and was teeming with activity.  I made no more than 5 steps while trying to merge into the flow of bodies, when I felt the heavy weight of the box on my shoulder suddenly decrease to zero, as one of the strap locks slipped off its eyehook. Split moment later I heard the crack of splintering wood as the box plummeted upon hard Parisian concrete.  I stood dumbfounded amid a river of tourists, looking down in utter disbelief upon broken wood and bent metal… After a minute, I regained enough composure to pick up the pieces, bring them back in the hotel and pack it all back into the suitcase. With that load then, I navigated Paris metro and surface streets Melanie’s studio.  After the Metro, it took me a good while to find Melanie’s studio, tucked away in a back building on a beautiful quiet side street, which acts as a local center for the arts.  There, we laid out the patient before surgery and accessed our options. 

  Luckily a small hardware store was not too far away.  Some wood glue, screws and brackets, and after a few careful manipulations and borrowing claps from a studio next door the box was back in action.  Melanie had to run home, so she left me behind as I was mixing up the chemistry.  Once full of chemistry though, that box should not be tilted too much, and so there was no good way to put it back in the suitcase.  I had to make my way back to the hotel with a large heavy box on one shoulder and what must be one of the largest suitcases on the market in the other hand… Paris has one of the oldest subway systems in the world, and there are seemingly endless tangles of staircases long and short, corridors that stretch for eternity and, worst of all, those three-pronged turnstiles at the entrance AND exit.  Somewhere out there, in the archives of all Paris Metro CCTV cameras, there is footage of a perplexed tourist with way too much to carry and his turnstile battle.  Having inserted the fair ticket into the machine, he stares ahead for a minute in obvious confusion, pondering the obstacle he must traverse to continue his journey.  He then plunges ahead with great determination.  Picking up good speed, he thrusts an odd heavy-looking wooden case over the top metal bar and with the leftover kinetic energy pushes the said bar over with his body.  After that ensues a brief but fierce struggle to lift and hurl the much-too-large rolling suitcase, which he had to previously turn sideways as it would not fit between turnstile stands otherwise, onto the same side as its persistent and desperate owner.  Thankfully this was not rush hour…

  After I emerged from the tube on the other side I was so happy to be back on the surface that I set up my box and chemistry in sight of the first architecturally intriguing scene I saw and made this plate.

  I was very pleased with the way that this first plate came out.  After all, in collodion, working with absolutely all new chemistry is about the surest way to run into some sort of issues. How well the chemistry was working gave a boost to my spirits and I decided to try my hand at shooting Saint Michele fountain, which was located right by the hotel.   There I first ran into the problem that would plague me for the next week, and the solution to which I wouldn’t find until I was half way my trip and already in Berlin.
  For this trip, I specifically bought two brand new traveling tanks – one for silver nitrate and one for fixer.  I’m not going to name the maker here because I still think that his tanks are very good, and he’s been very nice in our recent correspondence, but basically the lid on my silver tank leaked light like there’s no tomorrow.  During the trip, I also had to refill the silver a few times (300mlk total volume replenished by 40, 50 and 20ml at a time) due to the tank dripping.  Basically, the lid doesn’t sit quite perfectly right on the tank sometimes and allows light to enter and liquid to escape.  This happens in a rather unpredictable pattern and so sometimes I would have a good plate, and after that 3-4 plates with major leaks on them…  I tossed about 20-25 4x5 plates total because of that, and was very happy that I brought the smaller ones for backup.  Time, materials and nerves wasted are now behind me, but yeah, it would have been better without that light leak.  The leak did contribute to a creation of one plate in the ‘happy accident’ range, which I really love, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.
  Next morning, I set out on a personal pilgrimage.  The mission was to walk to the base of Eifel Tower from my hotel by Notre Dame.  On the map, it’s just about 4.6km (1.75mi) and, when free of baggage, it’s only one hour of walking, but with a 20kg box on the shoulder, and wanting to stop a few places to make plates on the way, this promised to be a serious endeavor.  First stop was the fountain where the night before light leak issue prevented me from securing a good image.  While setting up, I noticed a couple sitting right by my tripod.  The woman kept looking in my direction, so I struck up a conversation.  Turns out she recognized me from 15 years before when she was working at student services at San Jose State University and I visited their office a few times to bring paperwork for the Photo Guild club I was reviving.  Mazing memory some people have!  I invited them to watch the process, but promised nothing based on my previous experience.  This time luck was on my side and the following picture emerged in the fixer tank. 

  After that I walked (lumbered on would probably be more accurate) in general direction of Eifel Tower. I stopped along the way to make a few plates; once on a random little square and twice when I saw the tower in the distance.  Both times I was plagued by light leaks and had to remake a few plates.  When I reached my destination, the sun was starting to set, but I was still able to make a few decent exposures. 

  After washing the plates, I sat down to relax and admire what I could see of the tower through the trees.  To my surprise and delight my eye was caught by golden letters underneath the lower deck – last names of important contributors to French and worldwide culture were spelled out there in large old font, and among them, looking right at me from the small section of names I could see, was the name Daguerre.  I took that as a sign and vowed to pursue my daguerreotype efforts upon returning home.
  Next day I met up with Ding Gerrous – another wet plate photographer based in Paris.  Right after I woke up though, I made my way to photograph Norte Dame. 

  Ding lives just a bit south of town and came to help me navigate public transit system to his area.  I would have surely been lost without him.  After dropping my suitcase in a hotel there we went around town and found a nice little church where I made the following plates.

  There was still plenty of daylight left, so we jumped back on the bus and made our way back into the Paris.  After making a few plates at the first location that seemed picturesque enough, we walked along a boulevard and kept looking for more compositions. I almost stopped a few times, but something kept pushing me along.  Once again, I was rewarded with an unexpected presence of the Father of Photography when we reached Rue Daguerre and Daguerre Café was announcing the name in bright bold neon letters, so I had to make a plate.  The sun was way down by then, but a 40sec exposure worked out.

  Next morning, I met up with Ana Tornel, yet another Paris-based collodion artist, and she gave me a lift to Luxembourg.   It’s a 4-hour drive and I slept almost all the way.  Waking up in the forests of Luxembourg was really neat, they remind me a lot of nature I saw as a kid outside Moscow.  We got to ECW campsite in early afternoon and found Severin Peiffer and Joel Nepper, event’s hosts, busy setting up and directing people to their work areas.  I found a table and quickly made the following plate of Joel, which I think was the first plate poured at the 4-day event.

  For the rest of the day, there was a lot of furious activity in event area, with Eskimo ice fishing tents popping up everywhere like mushrooms after the rain.  I didn’t make too many plates, if any.  By the evening, majority of people have arrived and there was a lively gathering around a fire.  Along the way in one of the hotels, I seemed to have forgotten a bag with two sweaters I brought on the trip, so I was shivering for a while before giving up and heading to bed.  Seeing my misery, an extraordinarily nice couple gave me a ride into town next morning, where I bought the first warm sweater I saw and it came in very handy all through the trip.  
  Second day of ECW is designated as ‘working day’ – everyone was pouring and learning from each other.  Most people ended up shooting each other as well, because, even though the site for the event was excellent for camping, there wasn’t a lot in terms of ‘things to shoot’.  There’s a lot of trees, but those can only take one so far…  I tried this and that and came up with the following plates.  Mainly I was just in awe to finally meet all these wonderful people I’ve known through collodion community for years now, what a blast.    

  Equipped with a sweater, I stayed up till past 2:30 around the fire and bar area.  Conversation around me flowed in many different languages, with laughter and love for collodion as strong unifying factors.
  The group portrait you saw at the start of this post was made on Saturday at 11am.  4 photographers, including yours truly, volunteered for the mission.  Cameras were set up almost side by side, and the plan was to dip all plates at the same time, run into the frame, and then have a bystander take the caps off cameras for set amounts of time.  In the midst of pulling my plate out of the silver, I heard foreign language emanating from the Eskimo tent nearby, where Joel was prepping his 8x10 plate.  I didn’t understand it, but from intonation knew it was some kind of mild swearing.  When Joel switched to English to clue in the rest of previously positioned and awaiting group, he explained that the piece of glass he just sensitized was a hair too large for his plate holder.  Speaking from experience, I can tell you that during the whole collodion process there’s only a few things that can happen to you that are more annoying and frustrating than your sensitized plate not fitting in holder…  Joel made an honest, and to me unimaginably tricky, effort of cutting a sliver off an already silvered plate, but in the end had no luck and so can be seen in the group photo holding the uncooperative plate. 
  If you look at the plate again, you’ll see an 8x10 portrait being held up – it is there to represent collective gratitude and love toward a member of European collodion community, who has very recently passed away.  Rasto Cambal lived in Prague, and was the founder of Mamut Photo company, which supplied collodion ingredients of all kinds all across Europe.  I first learned of his untimely demise on collodion groups a week prior to the trip, and from posts and comments felt the depth to which he touched everyone he met or interacted with.  When at ECW, his name was mentioned repeatedly, with all the best adjectives attached.  It seemed like everyone knew him, because for the first 5 years of ECW Rasto made the pilgrimage from Czech Republic and brought chemistry and gifts.  I also had something to be personally thankful to Rasto for – collodion that I was shooting all through my trip was mixed by him only two month prior, it was really quality stuff and every time I poured a plate a bit of ether was sent upward to Rasto’s spirit.
  Saturday was also ‘open to public’ day.  Everyone was still shooting away, but now there were visitors from all around the area who heard about the event through local news channels.  Promotions put out by Joel and Severin brought out a lot of great people, and I even had a pleasure of making a portrait plate of a lovely couple, which will now reside in Luxembourg. 
  Amid all commotion, I managed to secure the following plates.  Dandelion plate took me quite a bit of trying, 3:1 or so macro with wet plate…

  Toward the evening the rain started to fall and that made for a very fun and cozy late-night conversation around a table that was brought under the cover.  We stayed up till 3, absorbing each other’s creative spirits and sharing stories and dreams.
  Sunday was packing day.  I watched people hug and say goodbye, sometimes till next year, sometimes who knows for how long.  The warmth and friendliness experienced at that gathering of collodion brethren will carry on with each attendee and I feel it in me as I write this.  Severin and Joel did an amazing organizational job – the food, the beer, the tent, the logistics, and so much more that goes into putting something like this together, which I can’t even begin to imagine, was perfect.  They both worked tirelessly the entire time and their energy was noticed and appreciated by all.  I hope that they do choose to be the ones organizing next year’s ECW, but I sincerely hope they will find a way to delegate at least some of the tasks to others for the sake of their own sanity and health.  I’d like to say Thank You to both of them for making it such an enjoyable and relaxing time.  Thank You to all who came as well – I may have not gotten a chance to truly connect with all of you, but without exception, those who I did connect with even briefly were all incredibly kind and easy-going.  The smiles seen are burned in my memory and laughter heard still ring in my ears.  Thank You!
  As people were packing up, I was waiting for Tom Klein, who lives in Trier, just over the Luxembourg-Germany border, and is now celebrating his 2-year anniversary of working with wet plate process.  He attended ECW on Saturday, but had to leave Sunday to shoot a Sherlock Holmes event in collodion (I saw the plates later and they were simply marvelous).  Before he made his way back from Trier (about an hour drive west of Luxembourg), I made two more plates under a grey misty sky.

  On the way to Trier, Tom made one more stop in Luxembourg by the beautiful Vianden Castle.   This is how I imagined Europe – full of majestic hilltop castles rising up among the mountainous terrain.  Tom took the photo of me while I was developing one of the below plates.

  We got to Trier in early afternoon and there was still time to explore the town.  Trier is the oldest city in Germany, it was one of the major outpost cities set up by the Romans at the height of their rule.  Architecture there often dates back to 12th-15th centuries with may structures going all the way back 2000 years.  During the visit, Tom took me to dine in a basement of a restaurant – house itself was from 15th century, and the basement predated it by a few hundred years at least.  The 15+ft ceiling in there was held up by stone columns, which connected as arches overhead – amazing atmosphere.  Among other things, Trier is famous for being the birth place of Carl Marx, and all throughout Trier there are many tourist trinkets with Marx’s likeness upon them and both Tom and I wondered what would the great promoter of egalitarian ideals would think of that…  As it happens, Tom’s studio was on the same block as the house in which in 1818 little Carl took his first breath.   Below is a plate I made of that house, which is now a museum.

   Next morning, Tom met up with me by the hotel and we headed to the center, only a couple of block away, to shoot the Black Gate – still formidable ruins of what during the Roman days was the entrance to the walled-in town.  The stone was black, hence the name, so very difficult to photograph.  To top it off, the light leak, which completely disappeared during the entire 4 days of ECW because my dark box was set up in the shade, was back and this time with a vengeance.  I wasted a lot of Tom’s and my time trying various things, but in the end, we decided to walk back to his studio and try to fix the silver tank.  At a nearby hardware store we procured some glue and a local shoemaker donated a scrap of hard foam used for repairing soles of shoes.   I cut strips from that foam and glued them under the tank’s lid, in hopes that an extra angle needed for the light to enter would now make it light-tight.  We were now on the opposite side of town, so we walked slowly back, stopping to make a few images.  Light leak seemed to be gone.  When we reached the Black Gate, it was nearly sundown and I attempted to make some plates there again.  Light leak was back!  After I made the first plate, the weather, which was very pleasant for the first part of the day, suddenly turned violent and a good thunderstorm soon covered us up. I was not very happy after not securing a truly great plate, but there’s only so much one can do...  It was humid and cold and I had to force dry the plate with a lighter while hiding from precipitation under the ancient structure.  With his phone camera, Tom was trying to capture this unusual natural behavior of a wet plate photographer in the wild, but a split moment before he pushed the shutter button an intrigued tourist tapped my shoulder from behind and Tom ended up capturing my immediate micro-expression spurred by an interruption in a rather delicate procedure (seen below).

  Next morning it was onward to Berlin, to meet up with Maximilian Zeitler, very good collodion portrait artist who loves near the center there.  I had to make a quick train change in Cologne, but there I missed my train by a matter of seconds.  Next one was in one hour, so walked out to get a pastry and some coffee.  Right outside the exit of the main train station there I saw in front of me a cathedral that had to be photographed.  All Germans I spoke to about it said that they were very grateful that allied forces in the Second World War coordinated and agreed to spare that building from bombing.  In the end, the whole city of Cologne was reduced to rubble, but in the middle of it towered a magnificent 13th century cathedral, almost completely untouched.  

  Due to the light leak and having to make multiple attempts to get the above plates, I actually missed the train again and so had to wait another hour.  I was glad to have gotten those images because when I got to Berlin the weather turned sour and no more plates were made that day.  In the evening though we did hang out at Max’s studio and for the fun of it I wanted to make a portrait of him (especially seeing how in just two days he was getting married and this would likely be his last portrait as a single man).  Max shoots 8x10 mostly and I was glad to get a chance to pour a larger plate while in Europe.  Working with other people’s studio and darkroom equipment, plus all different chemistry is always a fun challenge, but below is the resulting 8x10.

Scan courtesy of Maximilian Zeitler

  Next day Max took me around Berlin for some shooting.  The first thing that really caught my eye was the Soviet WWII memorial, which was built just months after the end of combat right in the middle of the city.  My grandfather, who was the inspiration for me becoming a photographer, was in the Soviet Army, and so were all his male relatives of that generation, so the echoes of war rung loud in my family, which is why I just had to stop and make plates.  The first one had a terrible light leak (despite me coving up the silver tank with Max’s focusing cloth – a solution he came up with the night before, and one that did save me from having light leaks for the rest of the trip after I started doing it more carefully).  When I saw how bad the leak was as it cleared in fixer, I just tossed it on the grass without bothering to wash it (water is a precious resource when carrying it all on your shoulder).  After making the next plate and it coming out well, I looked over at the reject laying on the ground and saw that some magically colorful chemical things have happened due to interaction of unwashed fixer, silver and strong light and heat.  I really liked what it has become and so I washed and saved it.  

  Afterward we went to see the last remaining unpainted section of Berlin Wall.  There’s a memorial and museum there now and a lot of activity, but I wanted to capture a view as close as possible to how it would have appeared back when the wall was up and people looked over it into a separate country, rather than just looking at the continuation of the same block of their city.

  The view from Max's 5th floor apartment onto a cute little inner garden squeezed between buildings was too neat, so, after we got back home, it inspired me to do this composition. 

  Max was getting married on Friday, so Thursday he had to attend to a lot of business related to that momentous occasion.   I still can’t believe he invited me to stay over just days before his wedding and both he and his wonderful bride-to-be were ever so patient and accommodating.  Thursday though was an on-my-own day, so I decided to do the simplest most touristy thing possible – take one of the many hop-on bus tours that you find in every popular city in Europe.  It’s great way to explore a new place – the busses have about 20 stops at major attraction point and you can get off, explore for a bit, and then catch the next onward.  Best thing about it for me was that this mode of transport would deliver me and my unwieldy dark box to photogenic spots all around Berlin and I wouldn’t have to walk much.  I made a couple of plates while waiting at the initial starting point of the tour and then hopped off and back on the bus 3-4 times.  At my final stops, I deliberately missed the last bus (there was just too much to shoot there) and from there walked along the river to yet another beautiful church I saw in the distance in order to burn a plate or two more there.   

  Navigating Berlin Metro was super easy – the map actually looks exactly like Moscow Metro. Overnight train for Brussels was taking off just before midnight, so I met up with Max one more time for a pint of beer and after a heart-felt goodbye was on my way to Belgium.  It was a long day before this leg of my journey and so I fell asleep and missed Brussels stop by less than 2min.  Next stop was Paris, nothing before there…  sheesh.  Had to turn around in Paris and jump right back onto the same train as it reversed course. 
  In Brussels I met with Silvano Magnone.  His wet plate studio is located in the center of town on an extremely quaint little square and he was kind enough to let me stay there for a couple of nights.  Friday he arranged so it was a free day for him, and we ended up walking around Brussels and making the following plates.

  After dinner we settled back in his studio and talked and talked.  This was our only time to really connect, since Silvano had business to tend to on Saturday, so none of use wanted the evening to come to an end too soon.  Sometime well past midnight, a thought occurred to me that we should make some sort of a fun portrait of each other.  Since we were in a fully capable collodion studio with multiple cameras at the ready, plus I had my camera and kit with me, I decided to create and then take on a technical challenge.  The idea was for us to take simultaneous portrait plates of each other, while another camera captures that process and our ghosts as we move in and out of the frame.  In front of a background, we set up two 4x5 cameras facing each other and pre-focused on where our faces will be positioned.  Then an 8x10 camera with 5x7 reducing back was set up looking at our set at 90-degree angle.   We sensitized three plates at once and loaded up the cameras.  A cap was taken off the 5x7, in synchronicity we walked to our 4x5s, positioned ourselves where we previously focused, made 12-second exposures (with a pop of a flash at 10sec point), replaced the caps, backed out of the frame and stopped the exposure on the 5x7.   Fun exercise!  First try came out great, but the 5x7 was rather seriously over-exposed – the only place where true black value existed on that plate was in the rear of my tripod head under the camera, the rest of it was blown out to bits with deepest shadows having a solid three to four zones of value in them.  Disappointed we tried it again, but this time major oysters appeared of the 5x7 overview plate and at that point we weren’t about to try it again since it must have been close to 2am.  However, Silvano had a great idea – he suggested bathing the original overexposed 5x7 in potassium cyanide, which I use for fixer.  One of the wonderful properties of KCN is that, given enough time, it literally dissolves silver, decreasing density of your tintype overall and in the process bringing back to black overexposed or overdeveloped shadows.   I employ this quality of my fixer every once in a while, but use it only sparingly.  I usually only will try this when a plate was maybe ½-1 stop overexposed because in my previous experience if you keep it in there too long all sorts of odd stains and artifacts appear in the process.  This plate though was at least 2-3 stops overexposed, I mean it was bright as heck, so I didn’t think KCN would eat through it in any non-objectionable way.  There was nothing to lose though, I mean that plate was pretty much destined for the trash the way it was.  We threw it into cyanide and went to do some more smoking and talking.   After a while we forgot about it completely.  After a few cigarettes, we did go to check on it and to our delight saw that it was looking a lot better – a few shadow areas actually started to have black values in them and now more detail could be seen in mid-tones.  A few gentle agitations of the tray and we went back to finish up one more beer.  Time flew fast and conversation carried on, so by the time we remembered about the soaking plate again it must have been in the bath for at least 45min total.  The difference exhibited now though was drastic.  We both stared at the wet image in disbelief – it was as near to a perfect exposure as we could have ever hoped for.  There was even nicely visible detail in the white wings on the table (a prop that was found in Silvano’s studio in haste in order to fill the frame), and before the operation there wasn’t a hint of variation in the bright white tones there.  No stains showed up either, so experiment was successful beyond all expectations, I really wish you could see the way it was before, but it looked so hopelessly bright that I didn’t even bother to take a picture of it at that point.   Here’s the set of those 3 first plates.  Don’t know if you’ll be able to see this, but in the 4x5 plate I made of Silvano, there is a very sharp reflection of my face in the lens on his camera.

  Saturday I decided to make a trip to Bruges, since so many people recommended it.  The word most often used to describe it was a ‘gem’ and it didn’t disappoint.  The whole little town is just perfect and spared destruction during both World Wars, leaving untouched palpable layers of historic atmosphere.  It deserves more time for exploration and plate making.  While my darkroom equipment was prominently setup on the main square (picture below) I had another pleasant surprise.  A young lad and his girlfriend walked up to me and with a glowing smile informed me that he’s been following my travels on my @photopalacebus account on Instagram.  @sammyfleks is a budding film photographer living in Bruges and it was so neat to run into him.  I was just about done shooting and was thinking of moving to another location, when a passerby suggested that as a challenge I try making a plate of the horse and carriage row, which patiently awaited customers on one side of the square.  After the first plate came out nearly perfect, but with the horse looking away while the whole time I was focusing it was looking straight ahead, I was hooked, and tried a few angles again and again.  By the time I arrived at a plate I was truly happy with, it was past 9pm, plus it was very overcast all day, so exposure on that last plate was 17sec. I walked back to the train station in the dark, carrying these fresh plates in the box slung over my shoulder.

  Early next morning, it was time for me to head back to Paris for one more day before flying back to US on Monday.  It’s only about an hour and a half train ride and in Paris I was once again met by Ding, this time joined by his wife and two sons and the dog.  Suitcase was left in the car and sent off with the family upon an unknown to me route and with just the box again, Ding and I made our way to Montmartre area.  Ding had a meeting there, so while he was busy I climbed the hills of that historic Parisian enclave and made a few plates.  When Ding returned, we walked together and stopped a to capture a typical little café scene and the famous stairs of Montmartre.

  At that point we were picked up by Ding’s wife, kids and dog were previously sent home via metro and other public transportation methods, and she drove us to the Louvre, which was to be my last photo-location in Europe.  The sun was setting and the air still and warm, and when we entered the interior garden area it was truly overwhelmingly beautiful.  I could have stayed and shot there forever, alas that was not to be.  Not only was the sun quickly sinking over Champs-Elysees, but also, while I was making the first plate, news came that Ding’s kids forgot to take the keys with them, and now were stuck, roaming the southern suburban neighborhood of Paris with a large dog on the leash.  The arch plate came out rather well, and there was only one last 4x5 plate left (I saved the last two 4x5 plates for Paris, couldn’t help it).  As I was exposing the glass pyramid, Melanie-Jane and her husband found us and agreed to a later dinner at Ding’s, which allowed Ding to jump back in the car with his wife and rush home to rescue the children.  I was very glad that this way I was able to make one more ¼ plate image, because the pyramid plate turned out much flatter than I expected and I didn’t want to end on a sour note.  When I saw the ¼ plate closeup view of a building clear in the fixer I knew I was done shooting – it was one of the best plates made over the past two weeks and those kinds of plates are great to call it a day on. 

  Dinner at Ding’s went on for a good while.  Ding and Melanie never actually met in person before, despite having been in the same city for years, I was glad to play a small part of a catalyst in that.  Also, it was my last dinner in Europe and so I wanted to soak up as much of the night Parisian air as possible…

  As it is said, all good things must come to an end, and so it wasn’t long until I found myself in a cab, train, plane, another plane, and being picked up by my girlfriend in San Diego. The trip brought such a flood of positive experiences, mainly due to the incredible kindness of every single person I encountered, that it took me a few days to even think about starting to recount it all here.  I apologize if I left out of the story any details or people - no matter how long or short our interaction may have been, I want you to know that it brought joy to my heart, of that I am certain.  I hope to return to ECW and Europe in general in the future, but in the meantime, I do hope that I’ll see at least some of the folks who made my journey so enjoyable in American Southwest – we may not have 2000 year old Roman walls and roads and castles and such, but I do know of a few little nature spots that I think are unlike anything that can be experienced in the Old Country.

  Thank YOU – not only to my European Collodion Family, but also to my readers for persevering to the end of this once-again monster post!



  1. Excellent tale. Enjoyed as if i was there. Great writing skills you have Anton.

  2. It sounds like you had a great trip and it's nice to catch up on what you did. I'm sorry there was no way I would come and meet you.