“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” -Henry David Thoreau
Alongside the river of my imagination I found an old camera. It comes from long ago. A deep brown wooden box with tarnished brass knobs. Its appearance at once intrigued me and filled me with fear of the unknown. It bears no makers mark and tells nothing of what it has seen. It’s fixed eye is only prepared to tell new stories of light and dark and the impressions they make upon silver. I have always seen the path of the artist as stepping stones we move across. It is not a fluid path. We constantly move forward and backwards like the tide. While most water rushes forward with the current (with the mindfulness of slowing down) some turns against the momentum and retreats into the darker recesses of the river. This is how I began to slow down and explore wet plate collodion photography.
I am under a black cloth peering into a luminescent upside down image of the world that appears upon the ground glass. My fingers slide the ancient bellows along their brass rails and the image comes into focus. I hold the tin plate in my fingertips, pouring the collodion into a generous pool then tilting it in a circle. The sticky syrup flows around the edges followed by a gentle rocking back and forth to smooth ridges and waves. Inside of the dark tent the plate is submerged into a silver bath. How silver sees is the magical element of making tintypes. Yellow appears as black so that a sunny dress might become somber. Blue appears as light grey or white so that a tattoo might disappear and blue eyes become pale almost translucent. With the plate in its wooden plate holder I return to the camera. Are you ready, I say, pulling the slide and removing the lens cap. I count slowly one one thousand, two one thousand and place the lens cap back on.
Back in the dark tent,I pour a small amount of developer across the plate and watch carefully as the scene shows before my eyes. As soon as mid tones appear I wash the plate with generous amounts of water. Water stops the developer prior to it going in the fixer. It is here in the fix that I see the photograph take shape before my eyes. I marvel at the wonderful marriage between art and chemistry. The hand of the artist is seen in every step from the way the collodion or developer flowed, the fingerprint on the edge, the dust in the air. Today I have made a photograph by hand. The process leads to many surprises and imperfections and that is why I love it. I am deeply grateful for this moment of creation and the wonders that making tintypes affords. I breathe deeply because for me slowing down, or trying to, has become an important source of creativity and the well spring of all beautiful things.
“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” John De Paola