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MUSINGS FROM THE ETHER

Dale Wilson ambrotype Canada Canadian collodion dale wilson historical photo processes wetplate

If, like me, you have scrubbed and scoured the internet barren looking for information on wet plate collodion. 

If, like me, you have tired of digital processes and want to return to the tactile processes of analog image making.

If, like me, your exploratory in photo history has taken you to the beginnings of black fingered art.  

If, like me, you discovered there an awful lot of experts on the internet often times contradicting  each other in fact and fiction.

With full recognition that this writing will also thrust me to the realm of cyber purveyor, I can only add the following series of entries are my musings gleaned from several years of learning, and some might add inhaling too much ether. These points are fully intended for the novice, and I fully expect to be assisted with comment by way of contrary minded feedback.

I will take my chances on the criticism with the hope that that I can bring a Canadian perspective to the collodion process.  

Beginnings

First, I am a proud Canadian and will not apologize for this. This makes a huge difference in how I proceed, and how Canadians should proceed.

Based on sheer population, accept the fact that most things related to wet plate photography are driven by American commentary. Our laws regarding chemicals —procurement, use and disposal—are different in Canada. The Canadian dollar is typically weaker than the US dollar, yet the vast majority of purchases made are on US based internet providers which is oblivious to the state of the Canadian economy.

Apparently, according to a majority of sellers offering brass lenses for sale, theirs is the rarest of rare.

Consequently, it can be challenging for the Canadian entering the wet plate world to know if they are getting a good deal. If you have purchased from a US chemical provider, for example, rest assured the delivery dude standing at your door is going to want what seems a Queen's ransom before completing the delivery.  

My advice:  Just accept the fact that mistakes will be made, and hope they aren’t too expensive.   

 I also find it disappointing that Canadians all too often look abroad for heritage and expertise when it exists within our homeland. Sorry.

 

Sherbrooke Village Ambrotype Studio located above the Cumminger general store 

 

Here are several facts to support this assertion.

  1. A demonstration of a photograph having been made was reported in an 1839 Halifax newspaper.
  2. William Valentine opened a daguerreotype studio in Halifax in January, 1842. This studio would become the first recognized permanent studio in British North America.
  3. Thomas Coffin Doane, one of Canada’s earliest (first partnered with Valentine) and most celebrated daguerreotypists was born in Barrington Passage, Nova Scotia. You can find his likeness printed on a Canadian postage stamp.
  4. Thomas Henry Blair (Blair Camera) was born on a family farm near Truro, Nova Scotia. He relocated to Boston in 1877 and, among other things, pioneered the manufacturing of commercially available roll film. He eventually sold his patent to George Eastman (soon to be Kodak).
  5. By the 1870’s, Montreal based photographer William Notman had a 14 studios with at least 55 staff in eastern Canada and the United States.
  6. In contemporary times, in 1976 Sherbrooke Village Museum re-opened a studio in the same location, and using the same equipment and formulae, as did J.J. Kingswell until his death in 1903.
  7. The current Sherbrooke Village studio is believed to be the longest continuously operating commercial ambrotype portrait studio in Canada, and quite possibly North America.
  8. Collectively the two ladies working in Sherbrooke Village Museum have been working in collodion since 1997, and have “sold” 8,000 ambrotypes. I am aware of no other that can match this level of experience.

With this having been said, Canadians have every reason to be proud of our photographic heritage.  As grad-student Jim Burant wrote in his 1977 Carelton University dissertation Pre-confederation Photography in Halifax, Nova Scotia…they had proved themselves to be abreast of the rest of the world in terms of technique, ability, and achievements.

Next installment: Is collodion right for me?



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