Friday, September 21, 2018

Gilli Bird – Daguerreotype Ghost

  During the last trip, over 200 driving hours were spent exploring highways and smaller side roads in Photo Palace Bus (affectionately known as Gilli).   Gilli is no race car, she’s a 35ft 40 year old school bus, and even though she functions gloriously as a traveling darkroom, she doesn’t like to go fast at all…  Driving Gilli is what I imagine steering a boat would be like, it’s smooth, slow, and you really have to plan your turns well ahead of time.  On the highway though, Gilli assumes a steady speed of 55 miles per hour and with a constant hum of her giant 3208 Caterpillar motor puts the driver in almost a hypnotic trans state.  I was in one of those driving stretches somewhere in the beginning of the trip, when, coming from somewhere behind me, I heard a soft thud against the metal.  This wasn’t the first time a bird hit Gilli, I think it was second or third.  I said a quick sorry to nature and did the only thing I could at that point, which was to keep moving at constant speed and with no sudden moves involving a 26.000lbs vehicle.  
  Thousands of miles down the road, just after halfway point of our travels, in Billings Montana, Gilli was taken in to a shop for routine maintenance.  During that procedure, I asked the mechanic to see if the air filter needed to be changed.  Now, as you can imagine, an engine of Gillis size takes a lot of air flow to feed, and so the filter resides in a cylindrical housing that’s about 20in wide and 30in long.  Another important detail is that it’s in the back, and the actual air intake opening is on exact top rear right corner, under a visor which used to also house one of the blinking lights from Gillis days of real school bus service.   Well, apparently Gilli decided to hang on to the unfortunate areal traveler who smacked into her side.  She sucked that birdie in and so we found it in that air filter housing, perfectly dried out and preserved.  I asked mechanic to respectfully save it, to which he obliged with no questions asked.
  When I got home, I wanted to pay a tribute to the life lost due to my quest for art and choice of Gilli as a vehicle that helps me in that pursuit.  At first I was thinking of making an ulra-macro wet plate image, but then decided to step it up a bit.  Since the trip was the first one when I was making daguerreotypes on the road, I wanted to immortalize the bird in that most noble of photographic forms.
  I decided to do two compositions.  First one would be on 4x5 and would depict the bird amid the chaos of industrial surrounding to reflect how it met its untimely end.  The second plate would be smaller, more precious and light, like a bird you can hold in the palm of your hand.  It would be on white plain background, which I wanted to have hints of blue in, so to evoke the feeling of flight, which this creature enjoyed while still alive.
  While making the industrial composition in 4x5in size, I made two plates.  The first one seemed a little too high key to me, so I set it aside and made one more plate.  Then I actually gilded them both, to see if many when gilded the first one would gain some play that it lacked before.  Indeed, when gilded I really came to like that first plate and now both survive.  The second plate came out perfectly how I wanted it from the very start, but for some reason I noticed strangely shaped marks in the body of the bird, right under the wing.  I couldn’t exactly make out what they were and resigned to thinking that I might have been irregularities in fuming or maybe plating of silver itself.  It wasn’t until much later, a few days after sealing it, that I walked by the table where the plate was laying sideways to my glance and out in peripheral vision, and from the very corner of my eye I was confused by seeing what I swore looked like trees somewhere.  I took a step back and peered closer into the patterns on that second better exposed plate.  In a moment, I realized what I was looking at!  To make this image, I reused a plate upon which a previous attempt to capture Grand Tetons in Wyoming failed, and I guess I didn’t go hard enough with the buffer when erasing that image, because the outline of Grand Tetons mountains and the forest in front of it were now clearly visible all through the body of the bird and in surrounding tones!  It’s as if the spirit of the forest lived on with the bird and now is forever tied to the image of its previous occupant.
 Below are both 4x5 daguerreotype plates.  #1, which is slightly brighter than the final #2, and then an exaggerated crop from plate 2, which I turned on the side for easier viewing and outlined the ghosts of trees and the mountain in red.

Postindustrial Paradox
4x5 daguerreotype - Plate 1

Postindustrial Paradox
4x5 daguerreotype - Plate 2

Ghosts of trees in Plate 2 above

  The second composition was much more serene – just a bird in the sky, or at least dreaming of such.  The very first 1/6 plate I exposed turned out beautifully.  It was slightly overexposed, but that just gave the whole thing a high key look, which seemed to really fit the subject and concept.  I finished it by sealing it with a vintage brass mat and preserver.  Upon posting it on social media, I immediately found a buyer for it, and there was also a very disappointed person who saw it just after it was sold and who really wanted me to make them a similar one, but one size larger of ¼ plate, so below are both of those images.

Gilli Bird At Rest
1/6th plate daguerreotype

Gilli Bird At Rest
1/4 plate daguerreotype

  I think now the bird has had an honorable tribute paid to it, so it will now be buried in the prettiest forest I can find around San Diego.
  The two 4x5 daguerreotype plates above are still available for purchase, please contact me if you are interested in acquiring one for your collection.

Thank you,

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