for a little under a year i have been playing with dry plate tintypes+ambrotypes.
my glass plate history began back when i was in a directed study photography class at tufts university.
the photography department ran out of numbered courses ( photo 1, photo2 &c ) so after photo “5” i designed my own classes ( 2 directed studies ) where i made and used old school silver emulsions. i had bought a photography annual at a bookstore and thumbed through the pages and came up with what seemed like a simple recipe. i bought silver nitrate from the photographers formulary ( i think it was them, it was a long time ago in 1987- )
and some gelatin and mixed up a batch in the middle of the night in our kitchen using pots + tools purchased at goodwill, so i wouldn’t contaminate any of our actual cooking tools … it worked OK, i guess, it turned black in room light at least, but it wasn’t the best of emulsions. rather than spend all my money on emulsion making stuff that sort of worked, i opted to buy rockland colloid’s liquid light. it was already made and was a emulsion that worked … so i started teaching myself the art of making dry plates // there was no internet or workshops or peer to peer groups back then that could help me learn. it was all by trial and error and i eventually made
some great plates. the next semester ( spring 1988 ) i continued with making giant glass images and printing them on photo paper. it was a lot of fun, and some of my best images were made that year. unfortunately, i have lost some of the giant plates ( i moved around a lot between 1988 and 2014 ) or they were damaged ( fell and broke into a thousand pieces ) but i never stopped making glass images. between 1988+93 i made maybe 20 small images, and eventually i slowed down and stopped. until last year … now i have started to make bigger ones again using the rockland emulsion and their tintype/ambrotype kits.
thanks to the internet i have found a handful of people making their own dry plates ( glass negatives ) but there aren’t many who use this old process to make positive images. most people who make tintypes or ambrotypes do the WET plate method. they use collodion that has been treated with salts and then a silver nitrate bath, to sensitize the plate, and then a developer and cyanide based fixer ( or speed fixer if they want a colder toned image ) there are some great photographers who do this process seemingly effortlessly. while i have played with collodion back in the day .. not to make wet plates but as a potential material that the silver gelatin emulsion could stick to when i was teaching myself the whole dry plate process, not knowing then that if i waited for the collodion to DRY it probably would have worked, but i was using it WET still .. hindsight is 20/20 it seems ! … anyways … instead of collodion and cyanide fixer, i opt to use the more finicky less popular dry plate tintype process. and enjoy it a lot …
after the 1870s when silver gelatin emulsion and dry plates became the new mode of photography, people devised a way to turn the images into a direct positive, much like photographers were doing with wet plate images … singular images, no negative, and what appeared to be a positive. street photographers started to use pre coated metal, glass and paper plates in cameras and process them in a special developer that both developed the image as a negative slowly and bleached it and fixed it and as a result, the processed plate ( glass, metal or paper ) was a direct positive. sometimes these cameras ( like the mandellette post card camera ) appear on ebay. they have chemistry tanks under the camera. the photographer stuck his arm in a long sleeve and took the exposed plate and dipped it into the chemistry and at the end into a bucket of water …
ive found recipes online in old journals ( much like the annual i got my emulsion recipe out of ), but i haven’t gotten great results from them. the rockland kits come with a special tintype developer so i have used that until recently. my developer went bad after the summer ( it doesn’t last as long as other paper or film developers ) so i had to try to concoct my own recipe.
first my developer was too strong and the reversal part was too weak and i got a NEGATIVE image on my metal plate. at least i knew my emulsion was good, it was coated onto the plate in april !
then i did a very long exposure ( 4 mins ) on an dull overcast day and changed my developer a little bit and it worked pretty well.
i’ve got to tweak it a little bit more and hopefully it will work great. it is pretty simple, based on a vintage formula but i add in my own little bit coffee developer
because, if metol or hydroquinone can do it, caffenol can do it just as well …