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.