Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Summer Trip - Homecoming

  Aside from its natural beauty, the reason for going to Washington State in the first place was seeing Daniel Carillo, a daguerreotypist and collodion artist, based in Seattle.  I've had enough big-highway driving, so from Spokane west we took Highway 2, a little one lane road that runs amid the seemingly endless high desert plains. Not a lot to shoot there at all unless you are into abandoned structures, which wasn't what I was after on this trip, but it was a very pleasant drive nonetheless.  It's a long drive to Banks Lake and so we reached Coulee City only after dark and spent the night there.  The fires burning just west of there, made the area smell rather ominously.
  West of Coulee City, there's the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and from Hwy. 2 one can cut south to I-90 via a windy mountain Hwy. 97, which is what we did.  Just as I turned onto 97 I noticed a weeping willow next to a shack, and couldn't resist that composition despite my above statement about abandoned structures.  The wind was swinging the long branches much too perfectly. 

  After rejoining I-90, on top of one of many long climbs, I saw mountains peaking up from behind some nice clouds and took an exit to try to catch that, but by the time I found a spot to park and set up, the clouds all but disappeared.  I still made a couple of plates and here they are.

  Before going to Seattle though, we decided to swing by Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where we were invited to stay over by a budding wet plate photographer, Charles Allen.  We were very glad for another chance to get a good night’s rest, and spent a night with his lovely family in Port Townsend.  In the morning, all present pitched in to fill a small jar with blackberries, which Jozlynn turned into delicious jam just a day or two later.  We then moved on to the Olympic National Park – a place I heard a lot about for many years, but which seemed to always be out of the way whenever I found myself in that part of the country.
  Olympic National Park is apparently a hiking park – almost no roads lead to the interior of the forest, so the only option I had was to find spots to pull off on right on Highway 101, which runs around that parks perimeter.   Still, I stopped at a lake on the approach to there first, and then found a great place for some tree plates.

  Next morning, we all had an exciting experience of taking a ferry to Seattle.  I don’t think Gilli-the-bus has ever been on one before and she thoroughly enjoyed floating.  The neat thing about our arrival to Daniel Carollo’s place, was that it happened to be coinciding with International Photography Day – August 19th, the day on which in 1839 Daguerre revealed the details of his invention to the public.  At the suggestion of Daniel Carillo, I made a flier promoting a portrait event in the park near his house.  We both promoted it here and there, but, but because this was his home turf, most of the folks who showed up were his friends.  I made about 10 4x5 tintype portraits and that helped to offset the ever-climbing gas costs.   Here’s the flier and a fairly decent copy of one of the portraits from that day.

  It was a special day though, and Daniel and I agreed that it would not be complete without a daguerreotype session.  We packed some stuff from the bus into his SUV and headed into the city, where Daniel owns a great framing shop and, in a separate location, shares a studio and darkroom with another analog photographer.  There I had a pleasure of watching him make a plate of me and after that I showed him my method for doing the same while using him as a subject.  Our plates turned out rather similar in quality, even though the actual steps we both took to arrive there were as different as they would be between any two practitioners of daguerrean arts.

  I wanted to show Jozlynn some of the beauty of Oregon coast, so after Seattle we moved a bit south before heading west.  By then I was totally out of 8x10 aluminum, so I put out a call on the web and was glad to hear that Kyle Dillehay, a photo teacher at Tacoma College, had 3 uncut 12x24 sheets, which would give me a possibility for 9 more exposures. After picking up the aluminum in Tacoma, we paid an all too short visit to Greg McGonagill - retired photographer living in Puyallap, who is slowly but surely working his way to having a full wet plate setup.  Then I drove and drove and ended up connecting with someone I went to SJSU with back 15 years ago - Julia Bradshaw, who now teaches photography in Oregon State University in Corvallis.  Julia was kind enough to offer us a spare bedroom even though she and her husband just got back from a road trip and we didn’t get to them till 11pm.  It was great to catch up and see their new home, since when I visited them in 2013 they were still looking around and were in a nice, but not too spacious of an apartment.   Now the walls of the new place were decorated with lots of great art, some of which I actually recognized from university days.
  Next day was spent driving to the coast and along it – the drive and coast are gorgeous, but anything photographic would require a serious hike up or down the beach, so I didn’t really get to shoot at the ocean.  Only at Oregon Sand Dunes did I stop to make an 8x10 of a small river, which had a very pretty bend to it right by a perfect cliff.  By the time I was done, it was too dark to copy it, but I’m sure you’ll see it in the summary post to follow in a bit after this one.

  Last destination in Oregon was Crater Lake.   I’ve been there several times before and each time the experience is drastically different, though always beautiful.  It can be hot as a sauna up there, or you can be faced with a road carved like a tunnel into 10ft tall snow banks.  This time the weather was great, but the smoke from fires all around was so terrible that you could not see the other side of the lake at all and could just barely make out Wizard Island, which is in the middle of it.  At first I was sorely disappointed, having hoped to shoot some distant panoramic views, but then I noticed that the heavy haze actually created some very strong atmospheric perspective and presented some unique chances for images that could not have been made on a clear day, so I concentrated on that and through the day made about 10 plates in 4 different locations.

  After Crater Lake, it was down into eastern California.  I’ve driven up and down the coast route as well as the big I-5 at least two dozen times in the past, but have never really explored the eastern side of the state, which is nicely seen from Highway 395, so that’s what I wanted to take on my way home.  Along that road there’s quite a few cool things to stop at and first is Lava Beds National Memorial, in Modoc County.  We found a really nice lava tunnel to hike into (very cool experience - if you haven’t done it I very much recommend it, just make sure to have a backup light and watch your head, those stalactites are hard and sharp!).  The entrance to the cave provided compositions for my next plates.  The lava is brownish black, but it is a bit shiny, so it came out pretty neat once given a 1min f22 exposure.

  Soon after exiting that park we rounded a top of some hill and were faced with a quite apocalyptic scene – the smoke from one of the enormous fires, same fires the smoke from which I’ve been complaining about this whole trip, was straight ahead and the smoke rising from the horizon was overwhelmingly scary.  Luckily the road curved a bit to the left of the actual fire, so when a clearing presented itself I pulled over right on the side of the road, and from the roof of the bus made the following plate.

  After a night and a long drive, we got to Reno, Nevada.  There we rendezvoused with Gregory Belle – analog photographer with whom I’ve been in touch for a while prior.  He recommended some excellent Hot Springs (Travertine Hot Springs – look them up, super nice), so that was out only stop on the way from Reno to Mono Lake.  
  Mono Lake is fantastic, but again – no way to get to any photographically significant places in a large vehicle, so no photography took place there.  We just spent the night at a really sweet little spot, and then moved into Yosemite, the eastern entrance to which is just outside of Mono Lake area.

  The skies in Yosemite were a bit clearer than in other places visited on this trip and I was able to make some solid plates with the famous monoliths towering over idyllic Merced river, as well as at a few other stops.

  After wrapping up the shoot by the river, at the hottest part of the day, we decided to take a quick dip, which was most enjoyable.  The river there is knee-deep and amid the rocks making up rivers floor, I noticed a pretty large crawdad.  After calling Jozlynn over to have her see it, I jokingly darted her to catch it, thinking that as most females I have encountered before she wouldn’t dare approach a creature like that.  To my utter astonishment, it took Jozlynn about 20 seconds to skillfully pluck the little guy from his natural environment – apparently, her mom taught her how to do this when she was younger and they used to catch delicious dinners in that manner.   We let this little guy go of course, but if I wasn’t allergic to creatures who dwell under water, and if we were in a place where we could legally catch them for food, I’m sure we would have had a good dinner worth of these in no time.

  Some of the plates I made that day were starting to show artifacts that I associated with my silver bath starting to get tired, so, right from the floor of Yosemite Valley, I called up Will Dunniway, who lives less than an hour south of the park.  He’s an old-school wet plater who was practicing well before the current wave of new collodion artists came on the scene, so I knew he’d have a bit more silver with which I could bring my bath up to speed for the last shooting day in Sequoia National Park the next day.  Will invited us to stay the night at his place, again a super awesome offer to anyone who’s been on the road for 6 weeks straight.  We got there very late, had dinner in the bus, I varnished some plates and then we few some leftovers to a pair of large friendly neighborhood dogs, who showed no hesitation when boarding the bus in search of treats.
  In the morning, Will and I checked specific gravity of my silver bath and saw that indeed it was a bit on the low end.  Will is a traditionalist when it comes to silver maintenance.  One of the things he advocates strongly for is having a bottle of super-concentrate on hand, and, every once in a while, topping off your bath with extra silver (so a few glugs of 20% solution into your 9-10% bath).  He pulled off his concentrate bottle from one of the shelves and let me splash about 200ml of its content into my tank.  When I was about to leave the darkroom, Will graciously handed me the bottle with the reminder of concentrate and told me to keep it!  I was honored to the point of speechlessness – maybe I’m more sentimental than some, but this was the man’s glug-glug bottle for god knows how many years and it still has a silver-stained calligraphic label, made to fit into the Civil War reenactment environment in which Will shot so many times.   This will now be my glug-glug bottle for as long as I can make it last.

  Last stop before home was Sequoia National Park.  You can get to it from the north through King Canyon National Park, or you can drive around that through the town of Visalia, putting you closer to the grove of largest trees, which is what we decided to do.  On the way there, we stopped at an antique shop, recommended by Will, and I picked up a book by Beaumont Newhall.  Then there was a brief dip in a nearby river in an attempt to lower overall body temperature, but there was still plenty of time as the park was just a few miles away.  Well, at the entrance I was confronted with a rude awakening that in this park, like in Glacier in Montana, large vehicles can only go so far, and that ‘so far’ was in this case 12 miles, all going through regular boring dry California brush and grass hilly area…  The only way to get to the trees was to circle back around and go through King Canyon, which we passed hours ago.  Grrrr… For a second I contemplated not backtracking and just heading home, but the trees were calling too strongly, so I chose the closest route and drove about an hour and a half on one of the windiest roads I’ve ever had a displeasure of encountering.   It was super scenic, with barns and oaks and river and cliffs, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the road for more than a split second without a high probability of hitting some giant rock on one side of the road or rolling into the creek on the other…   Once on a supposedly more major highway and in King Canyon park, the road improved only in surface quality, but not in straightness, so it was another hour or so until we stopped by the first enormous trees we saw close enough to the road.  By then, the sun was about an hour from hitting the horizon, so it was well below the tree line and on top of that starting to hide behind some distant clouds.  A large portion of remaining light was swallowed up by tall conifers, which densely surrounded my already naturally reddish subjects, so I knew it was going to be a bear of exposure.   Knowing that I only had one sheet of 8x10 aluminum left, I tested the light with a 5x7 before making the final 8x10 composition of this long and windy trip.

  By the time everything was cleaned up it was total dark and I was left with a tough choice – find a place to rest and then refreshed sit in Los Angeles AND San Diego traffic on the way home (something that can make a 6hr trip turn into 10 or 12), or get some coffee and drive through the night, skipping rest altogether.  I chose the latter and got home at around 10am.

  I have not released here anywhere near all the plates made during the trip (which was about 150 or so).  Now the plan is to organize and scan all the plates, select ones I can let go of as originals and then make limited edition prints of ones I want to keep.  Then I have some serious wet plate tests that I thought of during the 100+ driving hours.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Summer Trip - Part Two

  As planned, we did find a really nice camping spot in Caribou National Forest, Wyoming.  Waking up next to a beautiful little brook babbling through a grove of aspens, I got inspired to make an 8x10 tintype.  Then, not satisfied, fired up daguerreotype equipment and made a little 1/6th plate (sorry for the copy quality below on that one). 
 To give some context to the travels, here’s not only the plates made there, but also some photos of our camping spot.  We were thinking of setting up a tent a little into the forest, 5ft in from the meadow.  We looked around pretty carefully at the flat spot there, but then decided to be closer to the fire pit and Gilli.  Well, to our surprise, in the morning, right where we wanted to set up at first and maybe 15ft from were we slept, there was a very sizable freshly dug borough, which some animal, judging by the size probably badger, decided to make into their home in the middle of the night. 

Then we continued our northward progression toward Grand Teton National Park. We stopped at Bridger Teton National Forest, at a high overlook by Snake River.  It was too nice, so I took out the banquet B&J camera and made a 7x17in plate and Jozlynn also made a 4x5.  After not pouring for a while she did great.

While driving Gilli-the-bus, every once in a while, it’s a good thing to pull over and stretch, which is perfect for hopping from one photographic location to another.  Western Wyoming is beautiful country and next quick stop was at National Elk Refuge to shoot two 4x5s at Green River Basin. 

From there it wasn’t far to the foothills of Grand Tetons.  Pulling into a campground, I noticed that the light was getting toward dusk and the scene right behind our parking spot was nice, so it didn’t take long to make this view.  In fading twilight, my exposure was around 2min f22.

Next morning was spent shooting Tetons from a couple locations.  First 8x10 was challenging because I decided to shoot it from Gillis roof.  After not having climbed onto the roof in years, it took a bit to find the easiest way up and down, but I think the view was worth it; there were small trees along the road, which would have greatly changed the frame.

After a quick stop at Jenny Lake I went looking for a good spot to set up for a while and make a daguerreotype.  It was early afternoon and all parking was taken, especially if one is looking for a spot for a 35ft bus.  Finally, I spotted a tiny lot with 10min parking spots by a campground entrance.  There was a guard ranger, watchfully relaxing in the shade inside his ATV at the entrance to the lot.  As I rolled by him into the lot, he came alive and gave me a mellow turn-around signal, to which I gave an uncertain nod of agreement.  Behind him though, I turned around in just such a manner that I was lined up perfectly in a thick shade of some tall pines, while not blocking any of the parking spots, being clear of the gate leading to camp sites, and away from the cabin, where the actual campground attendant lady held her post, so basically an ideal parking spot.  Leaving the bus running, I walked up to the ranger and gave him my best sales pitch for why he should let me remain parked in what basically amounted to being part of the middle of the road. There were a few moments where I thought I might lose him, but in the end art prevailed and he admitted that it’s not often that he’d be able to allow for a creation of a daguerreotype.  As I pulled out the long cord for the generator (dreading firing it up amid such natural splendor), I heard a friendly voice of the campground lady asking me if I’d like to plug straight into the outlet in her mini-cabin.  Score!  I stayed there for a bit, polishing some extra plates for the future and making the following dag.   The air was hazy from all the summer wildfires burning in neighboring areas, so afternoon light created a glow that I wanted to capture as best as possible.  Again, dags are super hard to photograph with an iPhone, so I'll have to copy it well when I get back...

  In the morning, we were in Yellowstone already and wow, what a place.  We didn’t have a lot of time to spend there as we had to be on the way to Bismarck, but we did see the Old Faithful go off at about noon and then just drove about a bit and headed out the eastern side.  We both agreed that we’ll have to come back for a bit longer.  On the way out, I did pull over a few times for some plates and here are some of them.  One of the stops included three attempts at imaging a beautiful large elk, lounging in tree-scattered sun about 20 yards from the road.  Exposures were perfect, but it was super late in the evening and they had to be 8 sec each – during the one exposure when the animal was actually at its stillest, a ranger came by behind me to tell me to move back a bit and the elk moved because of that – darn…  I didn’t copy those plates at the time, so you’ll probably see them in the trip recap post in a few weeks.

  Road leading east from Yellowstone leads along the windy North Fork of Shoshone River and the cliffs around it are truly unique.  Even though it was getting late, I couldn’t help but to stop and go for another 8x10.  For some reason, I decided to go with black glass this time and when I was taking it out of the silver bath it slipped from my hand and was about to land face down into the sink.  In the slit-second decision I grabbed it by the corner with a very contaminated glove, scraping off some collodion in the process and adding god knows how many of what type of chemicals to the surface.  At that point, I assigned that plate to be my exposure test, thinking I’ll wipe it later, so after making the exposure I wasn’t as attentive to details as usual while developing it, creating yet more artifacts.  From the fixer though emerged a rather interesting image, but I didn’t have time to decide whether or not it’s a keeper, so I did a cleaner tintype of same composition.  When looking at them next to each other I thought that the ambrotype and all its collodion markings had its charm, so I decided to varnish them both. 

We made it all the way to Billings by the night.  When checking into the hotel room there was a small bizarre incident.  During the long drive, we made reservations in a chain hotel we know all too well and got there pretty late.  Well, to begin with, there’s two of those hotels in Billings - one directly across the dug-up road, with potholes the size of a county fair watermelon, from the other.  Of course, we tried checking into the wrong one first, but that’s beside the point.  Upon arrival to the correct one, we were checked in as usual, and given two electronic key cards to the room.  As I slid the key in and out of the lock I saw a yellow light flash; not the happy accepting green or the flat-out rejecting red.  Door wouldn’t open though.  Try again, again yellow.   Darn, let’s go back to the front desk.  Attendant was very apologetic and programmed a new set of keys.  With those though - same yellow light!  In frustration and after a long drive I tried sliding the card in and out and jiggling the door handle a few times in a row expecting a different result I guess (I think heard that’s a sign for something…).  Right as I gave up and rather suddenly, the door opens from the inside and a sleepily suspicious man in bed-wear appears though a crack.  Shocked, I mumbled a quick sorry and backed down, forgetting to find out why he is in a room we were hoping to soon be resting in.  The hotel lady seemed surprised, but somehow not exactly shocked as she checked and saw that the room is indeed listed as vacant in the system.  While being very courteous, she actually offered to comp us a room for the night, which I quickly accepted; hey, you can’t argue with a free room.  She went to refund me the charges, and in the course of short time-passing conversation mentioned that this was the second such incident that night, meaning there’s at least two rooms in that hotel occupied by nobody knows who.  What’s going on, Billings?

  A few days prior, I noticed I was running low on acetic acid – integral part of wet plate developer.  I have about two gallons of it back in San Diego, but it appears that with me I only brought the small bottle of 100ml, nowhere near enough…  In Billings, I went to mix up whatever I could with the 6-7ml I had left, hoping to find a place to buy more in the morning.  As I went to turn on the scale to measure out iron sulfate, the scale display flickered in an unusual manner and the apparatus bit the dust.   Great, now I have no wet plate developer and can’t mix gilding solution for dags either.  Now there were two missions to complete – scale and acetic…  I turned to social media for advice and was directed to a camera shop.  Along with that, someone suggested a place that supplied hobby chemists, which is where I did in the morning procure both items needed (and the scale is best I’ve worked with so far).  A camera shop though is something I can never stay away from, so before moving east a stop there was a must.  Camera Cottage is what it’s called and it’s a great place to stop by if you’re in the area.   There’s a ton of film-related stuff with some excellently eccentric items, including, according to the owner, the one and only prototype 5x7 Burke and James made for a photo fair of 1897!  The thing sure did look real and really cool too.  I have been loving my 8x20 of course and have always admired their field cameras.  Even though they aren’t most compact or finely-finished, they offer the most movements of any camera I know and are extremely sturdy.  Well, one of the things that caught the corner of my eye as I came into the shop was a collapsible negative retouching table.  It was the kind which were made from all the way back in 1870s and I’ve had a number of them, and kept one good one for use, so I didn’t pay particular attention to it until making a full circle around the counter and back to the table it was on.  After it was in my direct line of sight though, I noticed something was different.  As I closed in, I noticed hardware I’ve never seen before, certain features that were greatly improved or strengthened, and even true opal glass instead of ordinary clear or matte.  Also, the thing looked brand new!   Sure enough – it was a brand new old stock example by our favorite Burke and James!  I never even knew they made them and I have browsed many B&J catalogs (that’s my idea of fun, don’t judge me).  And next to it on the table is an instruction and maintenance manual!  The mirror is still protected my three layers of original packing tape, but to my dismay the owner admitted to throwing away the original box.  He said it crumbled to dust every time one touched it and he’s an old-school shooter who knows his stuff, so I have no reason to doubt that the box was unsalvageable.  In either case – here is my new Burke and James Heavy Duty Retouching Desk Model 11.  Made for US Air Force in January 1959, this one is serial number 110 and has Spec MIL-E-4743 (USAF).  Contract number was AF33 (600)-38272 and I would love to know how many units that contract for calling for and also if B&J made Model 11 outside of special contracts…  Any help is appreciated!

It’s a long drive from Billings to Bismarck, and in a 40-year old bus it’s even longer, so the rest of that day was spent driving.  I did want to break up the haul and make a plate or two.  I picked out a town on the map by the name of Forsyth since it was about as far as I can drive in one shot.  Looking at the layout of town one can see a promising little park by a river – potentially a promising photographic location.  As it turns out the park is mainly wild growth and the road cutting through it all is basically two tire tracks through grass.  I drove all the way to the river, saw there was nothing there, made a 5-point u-turn, and started heading back.  The sun was going down and the road just looked too idyllic, so I stopped and made two plates literally looking forward and back down the road.  Here’s the one looking forward.

  In Bismarck, we were visiting Shane Balkowitsch – wet plate photographer whom I visited on my 2013 trip.  Back then we were both rather new to the process and so we kept in touch and formed a comradery on the basis of that and our mutual love for silver.  Since our first encounter Shane has really took off in terms of his productivity and quality and has gotten so deep into it that he built himself a beautiful large north light studio right in his back yard.  That is where I parked.  In the morning, I made a daguerreotype of Shane in front of his studio and then we shot a couple of quick portrait of each other in wet plate.  Shane had a full schedule and this all had to be accomplished while he was being interviewed for a documentary and having his image taken by a local photography for a kallotype print, plus he had to leave on family-related matters by 3pm.   In the rush of things, I totally forgot to make my usual phone copies of the plates, but here’s one of the portraits I did of Shane that he has scanned and one of his plates of yours truly.

  Bismarck was the farthest northeast point of the trip, so from there we headed back southwest.  Jozlynn wanted to see Mt. Rushmore and, as an American citizen, I could not in all consciousness deny such a request, so we went for a drive to see big heads on rock.  On the way, we stopped for a night in some unmemorable town (though the lighting show of a quick passing by thunderstorm will I hope remain vivid in my mind). 
  Next day the photo gods smiled upon me a bit.  There was an antique shop in one of the tiny towns we passed through on the way south, and something compelled me to go in.  The place, as most small town antique shops, was stuffed to the ceiling with junk of no particular interest.  There was a display case with cameras, but all were worth about $20 for the lot.  Behind the display case with cameras though, there was a tall cabinet with a myriad bottes and I’m always on a lookout for certain old photography-related bottles (no luck so yet on those…).  Among those I started noticing old chemistry bottles, still partly filled with original contents.  To my delight, I soon spotted a half-way full 1lb jar of potassium ferricyanide – a chemical used in Farmer’s Reducer, which in turn is helpful in correcting certain mishaps with collodion in terms of exposure and such.  I try to use it as rarely as I can, but it’s good to know it’s there and I discovered not too long ago that I forgot my crystals in San Diego, only brining a small premixed bottle that was running out.  The contents of this ancient bottle I found may be a bit rocky, but it’s working just fine.   

  Mt. Rushmore is a pretty neat work of art, but really needs to be photographed in late morning, and we were there in late afternoon so the light was all but gone from the faces.  Still, I now feel a tinge more patriotic than ever before.
  Big Heads happen to be located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which, incidentally, is where the hero of a song by the name of Rocky Raccoon supposedly lived and died for his love.  I’ve fancied finding his home since I was a kid in Russia, learning English by translating Beatles lyrics.  Black Hills are amazing and, even though after driving around for a day and shooting 10 plates we I didn’t find Rocky’s home or the local saloon he had a room in, it was a great experience and I really can’t wait to properly copy those plates.

  From there we headed west on I-90 toward Yellowstone.  At a stop in a small town, I was messaging with someone and said that I was bummed to not have visited Devils Tower.  It’s one of the rock formations that have always looked very intriguing to me in pictures.  For some reason, I thought it was farther to the east, but imagine my joy when I saw signs for Devils Tower exit not long after getting on the freeway!  Next stop was decided that second.  The site is not far off I-90, and we actually made it there just as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.  I tried making a dusk plate, but basically ended up with almost a night-time representation of it with silhouetted trees and didn’t go for the second one because the mosquitoes were out in droves, plus the light was gone altogether.  Not far back we saw an outcropping of teepees on a barren hillside with a ‘camp in a teepee’ sign by the driveway.  That notion seemed novel, so we found our way back and were greeted at the gate by a very friendly owner, Juliana, who spends her summers there and winters in Sonoma County, California.  Her rates are rather reasonable and the teepees are great and very comfy, if you’re passing through there I’d recommend the experience, the place is maybe 5-10 miles south of Devils Tower Park entrance.  We got to talking with the owner and she was very excited about tintypes, so in the morning I made a tintype for her and asked for her assistance in making the plate below, which Jozlynn recommended we do.

  Devils Tower in the morning turned out to be pretty much what I expected – really spectacular and odd and also overran with tourists.  What I didn’t expect though is how hard it would be to shoot it and have the image translate the geology of it, while also retaining some level of detail in the foreground.  This thing is tall and so hazy blue and all the greenery around it is super dark, so translates really dark in collodion…  To top it off, after about 11pm a whole bunch of large fluffy clouds came by, so direct sunlight became very sporadic, and when there’s no sun the Tower looks totally lifeless.  I did shoot a few plates that were to my liking in 3 locations and here’s a couple of them.

  The fields of southwestern corner of Montana are relatively monotonous and seem to go forever and a half, but at sunset, about 5mi south of a small town by the name of Broadus, right off a two-lane rural highway 212, a tree, which stretched proudly from a tiny mirror-like pond, strongly called my attention, causing me to turn around and make this 8x10, which was copied in very late sunset light, thus the orange cast. 

  Next day was Gilli-the-Bus day – she’s been due for a tuneup for a while now and I decided to do it back in Billings, MT and take a day off from picture-making.  Gilli turned 40 earlier this year and yeah, she needs attention, which translates into extra expenses that come in unexpected chunks of amounts, varying from somewhat painful to outright astronomical.  This time it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but a transmission switch wiring was playing tricks with me recently, and diagnostics of that plus other minor things pushed sting from the bill into a solidly ouch territory.   Gilli needs it though, she’s a real trooper.  Oh, Gilli is also apparently carnivorous – I was standing next to the mechanic who worked on her when he opened a large drum containing a huge circular air filter for the beastly engine next to it.  To our surprise, we saw a dried up remains of a small bird that must have been sucked up, into there through the upward-facing intake somewhere along the way.  I don’t even know how long it’s been there – the air filer looked like it was neglected by the few previous waves of mechanics going through the motions of oil changes.

  Back to Yellowstone in a freshly-lubed bus we went.  When I pulled off the freeway to get onto a local two-lane and saw a huge refinery, glistening with steel in the last rays of a setting sun behind us, I couldn’t resist trying to make one tintype for the day.  I had to act quick as the light was fading like someone was operating a dimmer switch.  As I ran out to the tripod with a plate in hand, the railyard guys decided to start switching the barrels on tracks and set in motion a train of oil barrels that was crucial to my composition.  Not only that, but two agonizing minutes later they stopped it smack in front of my camera, blocking half of the refinery.  Ok I though, I’ll just make this plate to say it was done.  At that moment a truck pulls up and a security guard starts informing me that my photographic efforts are not exactly welcomed at this location.  The conversation started polite and friendly, so I felt I could prolong it for the duration needed for an exposure.  While amid a detailed explanation of what photography as an art form is all about and how Gilli fits into that in particular, I pulled out the dark slide and pulled opened the lens.  The light was gone and I was at f14 (old wide angle lens – that’s as wide as it goes…, really wish I would have brought the 90mm 4.5 Nikkor-SW…).   After a two-minute monologue (timed roughly in my mind by how many times I can mention silver in my lecture), I replaced the cap and wrapped up by apologizing and promising to be off their property as soon as chemistry is put away, which was the honest truth.   Here’s that plate, should have extended the lecture by another minute for an extra ½ stop exposure, maybe he would have liked to know about the efforts of certain people to revive autochrome…

 We stayed in Yellowstone for two days this time – still nowhere near enough, but there were some neat plates made and we also saw a bison.  One of the enormous and shaggy creatures was exactly as you always hear about of them – in the middle of the road at night, trying to cause a crash…). After narrowly avoiding a head-on collision, I woke up Jozlynn and we turned around to drive alongside the trotting beast for a bit.

  We then headed to Glacier National Park, but it’s quite a drive, so it took us better part of next day to get close to it.  Along the way, I did see a river to pull over by and make some plates.  It was hotter than usual, and I didn’t feel like going all the way to 8x10, so here's of the 5x7s from there.  The air was incredibly still, which is bad for staying cool, but great for exposures – the blades of grass held perfectly still during the 10 second exposure.

  After spending the night nearby Glacier National Park, Saturday morning we headed in.  It’s truly a beautiful place, but with Gilli there’s restrictions.  From the southern entrance, with a vehicle 21ft or over, one can only go 16 miles into the park, plus the road is very narrow and runs along a steep mountain, so pullouts are scarce, and more than half of those that seemed to have been there were under construction.   Still, I drove a few miles to turn around, when I spotted a patch of dirt just wide enough to where right tires were about a centimeter over the edge of a steep river bank and my left ones were just touching the pavement.  Gilli ended up leaning about 10 degreed starboard, and the first step was 4ft down from the stairs, leading directly into thicket.  In that precariously perched position I proceeded to produce five 8x10s.  Here’s one of the plates and the Zone VI 8x10 with Schneider Symmar 360 5.6 during exposure.

 I think I made a few 5x7s later as well, but I’ll have to see when I do the final count.  What I recall now, is that we spent the night at a very nice nearby RV park (those are nice because they are perfect for Gilli and to varnish in peace), where I was informed by a friendly Romanian truck driver neighbor that one of my break lights was out, so I better get it fixed asap.  Two days prior to this, I took what the maps app promised to be a score of a little shortcut.  That 3.5-mile road ended up being the bumpiest surface I’ve ever seen.  From about 300 yards away from the highway, to within the same distance from the other it joined, the road felt like a rough Halloween amusement park ride.  That ride shook Gilli up pretty good.   Break light went out, the examination light above my sink in the darkroom (very important!) went out and another thing was getting ready to go out, but more of that soon.
  Sunday, we were back in Glacier, but a fire has sprung up overnight on one of the mountains, so visibility was even worse than it already has been the whole trip.  To top it off, it got really windy, so the plate I was really excited about turned out only marginally sharp even after three attempts; the subjects were just too animated by the airflow…  The clouds turned out great, but even in them you can see movement during 4sec exposure.  After that I did make a decent 5x7, so that made up for the initial frustration with the 8x10.  Here they both are.

  On our way back from Glacier National Park, we stopped by Photographer’s Formulary, in a tiny town of Condon.  They have been a chemical supply staple in the world of analog photography for 40 years now and you can read about my first visit there on this 2013 entry.  They are great folks and lead many amazing workshops, with a bed and breakfast located on an idyllic farm.  I recommend them not only for photo stuff, but even if you’re just going up to that part of the country for skiing or fly fishing.  I wanted to say hi, plus I needed some more acetic acid.   It just so happened that Monday they had a workshop running and there were 12 students along with the teacher there.   Imagine my surprise when 3 of them turned out to be people from San Diego and Los Angeles whom I knew personal.  One of them I helped build a wet plate darkroom and one I went to school with in the 90s and a year or two back made a daguerreotype of.  What a small world.  For a second there it was a like a little reunion and I made a 5x7 group portrait for the good folks at Photo Formulary.  Then, amid relentless heat, Jozlynn had an idea of making a portrait of her with one of the horses.  It took two tries and a lot of running from the parking spot to the stables, but here's the resulting 5x7 - poured and developed by Jozlynn, camera operation by yours truly. 

  Lake Inez is just south of there - a great place to take a dip and make an 8x10.    

   Next day turned out to be Gilli-day again.  I thought it was going to be easy to relatively easy – maybe just the light bulb or maybe a loose wire.  Well, when I went to fire her up in the morning the air wouldn’t build pressure - she needs need 80psi to move and was stuck at 70.  After many calls, a mechanic-looking fella was there to tinker about and succeeded in getting her to the shop on her own accord.  There, another questionable character poked around to run out the clock.  Conclusion was that a regulator valve on an auxiliary tank might have been jarred open a bit during the bumpy road, and, since it started working after a supposed quarter turn by the first hero of location auto care, there was nothing left to do than to believe this seemingly specious reasoning and pay up way more than I bargained for.   Oh, the stop light ended up being nothing – just the bulb was out…  We left Gilli running as I settled the tab and then onto the freeway we went.  After pulling off at a spot where we saw hotels, I immediately recognized it as one of the placed I pulled off on the way eastward in 2013 and a pleasant flood of memories came over me.  Back then I even found a nice little tintype in an antique shop across the street from where I’m typing this now.  Tomorrow morning will come the test of whether or not Gilli will pump the air up to needed numbers when not observed by people dressed as professionals, but I’m hoping to upload this blog in the morning, before starting her up, so this is kind of a cliffhanger I guess…

  Not too long of a wait, eh?  Gilli started up like a champ, pumping air at record speed, so I think that valve must have been unscrewed too far from the very start since he’s definitely building pressure faster now   The motel we were staying in apparently didn’t have wifi and neither did the entire town of St. Regis (at least not one I could get into to upload this), so I’m continuing for just a bit. 
  The town of St. Regis was really kind to me though this time around.  While I was sitting outside my motel room, a full size converted school bus pulled up and the driver struck up conversation with me based on our shared bus-ownership.  Upon finding out that I do old photography and use old equipment, he asked me if I have use for an old wooden tripod.  I can’t say no to offers like that, so he proceeded to go into the back of his rig and dug out what turned out to be a 1940s Otto Engineering tripod, a lightweight model that is almost exactly like the early Model A Reis tripods, but with a much more user-friendly leg locking system.  No head, but who cares – they are great legs and I’ll put something on there.
  Next though we went to the post office right across the street from the motel, and next door to the antique shop where years ago I bought a tintype (those are the only two buildings on that side of the street).  I mailed off a few things to happy buyers, but for some reason something kept pulling me over to the antique shop the whole time I was at the counter and I even darted over there without waiting for Jozlynn to finish her mailing business.  The antique shop is medium-sized, with 3 good size rooms, but as I entered my eye immediately shifted right, toward a china cabinet on along the wall on a semi-dim side of the shop.  In there, behind glass I saw three cameras – some random later plastic-body Canon 35mm and next to it a Yashicamat 124G and Rolleiflex!  I’ve been a Rollei fan for about 20 years now and at some point had an healthy collection of them going, so I didn’t need to look too close to see that it’s their latest all-mechanical F model and, even though the lens cap was on, I knew by the size of the cap that the taking lens was f2.8.  When I saw the price tag I really felt my heart skip a beat (very strange feeling actually, don’t know how to describe it…).  Upon examination, both cameras were working flawlessly (controls on Rollei are a bit stiff, but they’ll work out) and lenses were super clear (though the Rollei has a few tiny scratches from careless storage or cleaning, but they are super small and won’t affect the image in any way).  The sum for both cameras tabulated and then I asked if there’s any break she could give me – the number I had in mind was actually higher than the discount she offered, so I didn’t continue negotiations and happily pulled the plastic. I now am once again a proud owner of a 2.8F Planar Rollei – I think it was universe’s way of saying I shouldn’t have sold the one I had before.  I’ll probably pass on the Yashicamat to someone else, since I’m a Rollei man through and through.

  I felt an urge to explore the surrounding areas a bit more, so out of St. Regis I decided to take a small local highway going west, rather than getting back onto I-90.  The highway was boring, so I jumped left onto an even smaller local road that cuts over the mountains and there, while cruising at Gilli’s usual mountain speed of a turtle, I spotted a small creek that really called for a plate.   It was hot….  Darkroom was 95°F and I didn’t have time to cool it down as the light was fading fast.  The first horizontal wide angle plate turned out just how I wanted it, but I did struggle with the second one – the fog was relentless and I had to bleach it later to make it looks like it does now, which I think is rather acceptable and even neat.

  We spent the night in a sweet little mountain-top forest spot in Idaho and now I’m really going to upload all of this from a coffee shop in Spokane, Washington.