First off here are the two promised tintypes from Spokane WA. For some reason the iPhone refuses to take god copies of these, so these images are still a lot less sharp than the original plates. Oh well - I really probably should have brought my 5DII on this trip, but I wanted to make this as analog of a trip as possible and since the 5D would only be used to copy the plates I figured I should leave space for real cameras instead. Now I kinda wish I had it since the iPhone liked to pick up color where there is none and it's really nowhere near as sharp as the Canon. I'll have to make good copies of all these plates when I make it back to San Diego and post them on my website - that will be a great reason to actually update that thing...
After seeing the sunset in Spokane and making the above plates I drove east until I reached Post Falls Idaho. There I filled up with diesel (which is a bit cheaper in ID than in WA) and found a dead end street that I thought I wouldn't be bothered on if I park there for the night. It was out of the way, behind an industrial park and close to a river with only one house farther up the road visible on GPS satellite image. I actually did some varnishing starting at 1am and so I didn't get to sleep until about 2:30. I like to keep on top of the varnishing process not only because it will prevent my plates from oxidizing, but also because it's quite a time-consuming process in itself, and if I were to fall behind on it and collect more than 10-15 plates it would take forever and a half and I'd inhale more alcohol fumes than I really would like to. Unfortunately my calculation about the street being quiet didn't pan out and at 6am exactly someone drove by at high speed while blasting electronic music like it was a mobile rave or an art car at Burning Man. I tried to go back to sleep, but not 5 minutes later they drove back with the same song still on and after that the sun was starting to hit the windows and it became too bright to sleep. I like to get more then 3.5 hours of sleep per night, but what's a guy to do?
I decided to explore the town where I ended up in, especially considering that my trek through Idaho was not going to be too long - I-90 goes right through the skinniest part of the state and if I didn't stop I could have been done with the whole state in 1-1.5 hours. Upon taking the side streets I found the following scenes right by a mill. The camera has to be set up for a while, so a manager came out and asked me how come there was a camera pointed at 'his building'. Apparently he thought I was an environmentalist of some sort and that I was collecting evidence... I asked him if they were polluting and he said they didn't. I didn't have time to do a full inspection and neither am I qualified to do that, so I had to take him at his word on that fact. The tintype of the building actually came out really great - one of the best tonal ranges I have gotten so far.
I wasn't done with the area just yet and, wanting to see what river life was all about, looked up a street that goes by the water. The street turned out to be a gravel private one, but there was no way to turn Gilli around and so I had to creep by the really nice waterfront houses at 5 miles per hour as the handwritten sign at the beginning of the private part requested. It being a private street I felt like I should ask someone if I could set the camera up on their property, so I stopped at a boat repair shop thinking that they would be OK with me walking out on one of their many docks. Not so. Apparently it's too much to let someone make art on their property. As I drove away I got a phone call and paused to talk with my engine still running. A nice old lady popped out of the house in front of which the bus was idling and after explaining what I do and why I'm on a private road (not being able to turn around was my excuse), she let me park by her garage and use one of her docks to make the following two exposures.
After those I felt that Post Falls has been explored enough and got back on I-90. Not far was a beautiful lake by the name of Corte d'Alene. I had a great chance to gaze at it because the highway makes a pretty steep climb and I was going about 30mph. On the slope down I was picking up speed, but still looking at the lake with the corner of my eye. To my surprise and delight I saw a very cool looking statue of an old-western looking photographer with a large format camera. I knew I had to stop and make a tintype of that. What followed was a serious effort to get the plates.
First off, as I mentioned, there was a good hill that I just got over and I didn't remember seeing an exit right on top of it. The next exit was about a mile and a half down the road and after taking it I pulled over to see how I'm going to get to this statue. The previous exit was indeed all the way back over the hill and quite a ways back, so I decided to take a side road that wound around on the other side of the highway and eventually seemed to pop right out by the lake again. Just my luck - the road turned out to be a mountain dirt road! Gilli took it rather well and I got to see some great property lots for sale and a few castle-like cabins on those lots that have already been sold. When I got to the paved road that runs around the lake, which I thought would lead me to the statue, there was a sign proclaiming that the road ended in 2 miles. I wanted to know how close to the object of my photographic desire those two miles would take me. The road ended in a large parking lot and the statue was nowhere in sight. There was a foot and bike path that went on from there, so, having already gone this far I parked and walked on to find the darn thing. I found it, but after looking back I thought to myself 'is it really possible to make a wet plate image with a darkroom being about a quarter of a mile away and it being about 80°F outside and what felt like 10% humidity?'. I was not going to give up easily though. Walked back to the bus, set up the chemistry, got the camera, walked to the statue, set up the camera and took this shot. Outlined in red on the right side of the frame is the roof of Gilli-the -darkroom-bus.
By the time I got to the darkroom the thermometer there read 90°F. Even before finishing the collodion pour I was sweating like I just ran a mile at full speed. While the plate was being soaked in silver nitrate I changed my jeans to shorts, shoes to shorts and took off my shirt in preparation for a run. I also prepared a plastic bag with water-soaked paper towels to keep the holder cool and in humid condition in hopes that it would keep the plate from drying. I don't run very often. I am a firm believer that we as humans were designed to run at full speed only in times of danger and even then only to a nearest tree that we can climb on, but this time I did run like there was a tiger chasing me and the camera was my safe zone. This run was up a slight incline and by the time I got to the camera I was starting to shake a little, but managed to unwrap the holder from the wet towel, stick it in the camera and press the cable release. After wrapping the holder back in the moist towel I darted back down and dove into the sauna/darkroom. When I ran out to the camera I actually started a timer to see how long it would take me to get back and when I got back to the bus I saw that it's been 3.5 minutes. The plate was as dry as I have ever seen a 'wet' plate prior to development, so I was not sure if my efforts were about to be annulled completely. As I was pouring on the developer my hands were shaking a bit and the dim red light seemed even dimmer than usual. Nonetheless I watched closely as an image started to form and was happy to see that detail is starting to appear. I actually had to add some developer because, either from the heat or from my hands trembling, by the 20 second mark there was no visible pool of it left on the surface. I think 30 seconds was the time I gave this plate and it seemed like the longest 30 seconds ever. After I rinsed and fixed it I thought that it was about 1 stop underexposed as I usually like my plates a bit brighter. Well, the camera was already set up and there was nothing left to do but to coat another plate and mentally prepare myself for another run. When I jumped out the bus for the second time I was sweating like a hog and looked pretty much like a mad man with purple gloves. I did notice that there was a a guy and his kids who were just about to leave loading up their truck and in the back of that truck was a bike. No bike has ever looked as good and I quickly proclaimed to the man that I would love to borrow his bike for a couple of minutes in the name of art. After finding out that I was making tintypes he quickly agreed, lowered the seat and off I went. The rushing wind has never felt so good against my wet skin and I was at the camera in no time. After adjusting the exposure and releasing the shutter I folded the tripod with the camera still on it and rode back downhill with the whole setup in my left hand while steering around a large and very spread out family with kids who suddenly appeared on the path. Besides kids there were two adults texting away on their phones and I must say that as far as paying attention to the surroundings they were wore than kids - kids jumped out of the way while I had to make road runner noises just to get the phone-glued adults to notice me. I think the time it took me to fold the tripod an the fact that on the way back the holder was no longer in a wet towel wrap meant that by the time I was back in the darkroom the second plate was as dry as the first. I again applied the developer twice and gave the same time. I think it was all worth it! Below are the results of this little story. I love both of the plates and have a hard time deciding which I prefer, but now am leaning toward the darker first one. I'll have to see how they take the varnish and give it some time to distance myself from the above experience in order to see these images more clearly for what they are vs. what I went through to make them.
I thought I was done shooting for the day, so I drove onward toward Montana on I-90. It didn't take me long to notice a tee-pee and to get yet another urge to make a plate or two happen. The place where the said tee-pee was placed is called Old Mission State Park and I got there just in the nick of time - it was 5 pm and the lady in charge of collecting visitors fees was seen walking away from her post. I selected a beautiful parking spot and made the following exposures.
After that I was definitely done for the day and drove into Montana with a sense of accomplishment. There are no big towns west of Missoula and I didn't feel like driving all the way there, so I pulled over and slept in a little no-stop-light town of St. Regis. In the morning I stopped by a coupe of antique shops and found a great little tintype that was made in 1930s. It loos like one of those tintypes that I've heard about - the kind that was made at a local fair and was given to the people in the shot within minutes of exposure. It has a really nice paper mat with art deco design and on the back are handwritten words reading 'Ain't we sweet'. The photo is badly darkened, probably because the photographer skipped on the archival processing in order to give the image to the customer as soon as possible and be on to the next one. In the shot there are two young ladies standing by a front end of a rather large automobile. I wonder if there is a way to brighten the image back up... I'll have to read up on tintype conservation and restoration.
The drive to Missoula didn't take long and I noticed a great little spot overlooking the city where there was a large dirt pull-off right on the side of the highway. I decided to come back there and did just that after contacting a photographer by the name of Brian H Johnson with whom I was hoping to stay for the night. Here is a plate that I got after going back on the freeway. I like how there is a letter M on the side of the mountain. There are not too many letters that can be reversed with no loss of meaning.
Having spoken with Brian I met him at his place where the neighbors were having a block party. The decorations and lighting caught my eye and I decided to do it justice by making a tintype as the folks neighbors on. I think this is a Very American plate.
Now it's past midnight and I should really get to bed. Tomorrow is an exciting day - I have a trip planned to Photographer's Formulary and can't wait to get up there so I can tell you all about it in the next post.