There was no doubt in my mind when I applied for the MFA Course that I would be embarking on a journey filled with exciting discoveries and previously unconsidered directions.
What I wasn’t prepared for though was the numerous connections I would forge of interesting people and like minded souls. The dry plate workshop at Streetlevel in Glasgow being a prime example. Not only did I leave with the skills necessary to embark on my own dry plate adventures, I also made three new friends who have kindly shared their wisdom, experiences and spare equipment.
Last Friday saw me take delivery from one of my classmates the glass plate portraits of myself and his published book of the most evocative pinhole photographs (reminiscent of Sally Mann’s Virginia landscapes). Another of my classmates is sending me some medical grade glass plates to experiment with and the third I will be meeting in Edinburgh for cake, coffee and professional photography advice.
Desperate to begin experimenting with my glass plate camera the next connection I was required to fashion was a plate that would attach my camera to a tripod. Such items are hard to source and expensive when you do find them and so I decided to make the piece I required.
To begin this build I first needed to acquire the screw mount. Harder than you would think because it is an imperial size. Trusty eBay to rescue once again and I found an American seller with tripod mounts for large format cameras. The next hurdle was the 5/16 drill bit.......four shops later and I found a hardware store with old stock.
Well, it's not made of rosewood and is a little rough around the edges but it works! Dry plate adventures will be happening soon.
Yesterday saw me heading to University to receive my assessment feedback review from my principal tutor Mr Iain Irving.
I had expected my visit northwards to be a short trip but my day instead was filled with chance meetings and discourses that would each affect me.
The first of these was from Fiona, one of my classmates, who phoned whilst I was on the train. She invited me to end my journey at Stonehaven, to meet for coffee and then afterwards make our way together to Gray's. The commute to Aberdeen with my friend led us to revisit our year past and we both agreed at how quickly it had flown in. We acknowledged also how much the seminar programme had informed and influenced our practice. We agreed to meet in the summertime with our cameras and go exploring together.
Ten o'clock saw me first in line for review feedback. I was not nervous as I felt confident that I had for-filled all that had been asked of me and that I was also focused for the workload next year. My feedback was encouraging and helpful, inviting me to look at a number of sources to strengthen my practice and research. I was also reminded to remember to critically reflect on my contextual and practical studies. The observation made by my tutors that took me aback though was,........'There is actually quite a bit of performance in the work being produced, is this work about you?' I had to agree that yes it was. The work indeed was as much about me as my original intention. I then began to understand the importance of this course to me. Overcome with emotion I realised that for the first time in too many years I had put myself and my needs before that of others.
After my meeting I went for a walk along the River Dee. It was a warm sunny day and as I meandered downstream I noted what I think where small dragon flies. Making my way back on Campus and mulling over my feedback I bumped into my personal tutor David Blyth. It was good to see him and discuss the meeting and to glean more wisdom before I headed homewards.
My tale of wisdom gathering however did not end there as I was then accosted by Fiona again and joined by her colleague and friend, the photographer Anne Campbell. Anne's specialisms include traditional and experimental darkroom processes. A quiet and modest woman whose talents she keeps understated. I took the opportunity to seek advice about some process or other and was taken aback when she said that she had liked the Polaroid image transfers that I had submitted for assessment earlier in the year. I remarked that although I liked the quality of them I was frustrated by the small scale of the pieces. She then went on to say that that was the quality that made them interesting......that you had to get closer to engage with them. An intimate encounter that you would not get with a large photograph. Her observation was another eye opener for me.
That evening my mind could not switch off and I did not manage to get to sleep till after 1am.
Lecture by Robert MacFarlane. One of the writers I was invited to investigate.
This week saw me take delivery of the glass plate negatives that I had exposed in my workshop at Streetlevel Photoworks, Glasgow.
Although I had prepared 5 plates I was only able to expose 2 of them because the class had over run and I had to catch my train home or sleep on a park bench!
Very excited to view my glass plates I was disappointed that exposure in both is incorrect. The element that is perfect though was my model Mr Donald Tainsh.
Even though I am unhappy with the exposures I must conclude that I have learnt all that is required to continue my dry plate experiments in confidence and now that the summer is upon us I also have the time to play and perfect my new found skills.
Mr Donald Tainsh
Since writing this blog I received an e-mail attachment from Donald of a professionally scanned version of the above negatives. Because we had sat for each other in the dry plate class we had agreed to swap negatives so that we might take ownership of our own portraits. When I snapped the above photograph I had just laid the plates onto a light box. The scanned glass plate however does much better justice to the image.
It never ceases to amaze me how wonderful the world wide web is as a tool to access knowledge, connect with like minded individuals or to acquire goods and services.
The specialist knowledge of near lost processes are shared freely by practitioners whose aim is to keep alive the analogue tradition. Two of the most helpful sites that I have used to date are Alternative Photography and YouTube.
My most favourite website though is eBay and this week saw me take delivery of my latest purchase: accessories for my single plate camera. If it wasn't for eBay I am not sure how I would manage to source the specialist photography items i require or attain them at such an affordable price. For only £24 plus £15 p&p I managed to win the Lot below.........
This week we where invited to hand in sketchbooks and work in progress for an end of year review.
In just the short time that I have been studying at Gray's I cannot believe how much I have learned or how greatly the seminar programme has influenced my work. My accomplishments to date have far outstripped my expectations:
For all my practical work I have sourced equipment and materials. What I need to bring up to speed is my dissertation: exploring and deciding upon a working title and searching for texts.
Since the acquisition of my glass plate camera I have been waiting impatiently for my weekend workshop at Street Level Photoworks. On arrival I was warmly welcomed by Iseult Timmermans who is the Education and Development Coordinator for Street Level. The class in dry plate photography was led by Debbie Adele Cooper, Artist in Residence at WW Winter Photography, the longest running photographers in the country. With techniques that she has acquired through her residency at Winters Debbie passed on her skills by enabling us to masters the process, from the cutting and preparing of glass plates through to exposing in large format cameras then development.
The course was an intensive and exhilarating couple of days and it is fair to say that I learned as much from my three companions as I did from my tutor. In no particular order, my classmates where Arpita (a visual artist based in Edinburgh), Donald (an optometrist and pinhole fanatic) and James (a consultant doctor who is also an eternal student with an encyclopedic brain). Each of my classmates made me feel like I was back in the playground with my naughty friends and they enriched the experience tenfold.
Even though exhausted after my intensive studies my return train journey found me furiously writing down all the processes I had learned from the class. It has been an invaluable experience that has given me the knowledge and skills to begin my own adventures in large format photography. To all involved in the weekend, I am very grateful.