My first Calotype, The Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
I had the great pleasure of spending today with Fionnbharr Ó Súilleabháin, a photographer whose work I 've been following for a few years now. Currently on holiday in Scotland with his family, Finn brought his old English half plate camera along with him, keen to make several images in a process that he's been working with for a few years now: Calotype.
I first noticed Finn's work through our shared interest in wet-plate collodion, another historical process which has seen a resurgence in recent years, and when he offered to take me through the steps of making a Calotype ( a process which predates collodion to 1838) I couldn't say yes quickly enough.
After making a quick stop off at old friend Carl Radford's to pick up some of the chemicals I needed for the process, I made my way to the West End of Glasgow in what was slowly turning into a beautiful Saturday morning.
It didn't take long for Finn and I to get to work in his makeshift darkroom, with him slowly walking me through the various steps of the process, explaining the intricacies of preparing paper, sensitising, loading, exposing and then developing the negatives. I'm not a chemist by any stretch of the imagination, however having worked with collodion for a few years, the various steps involved made sense, and the foul smell of glacial acetic acid is one that will stay with me for some time!
We loaded the dark-slide with our sensitised paper and made our way to the Botanic Gardens to make our exposures, the warm sun beating down on us and the clock ticking (we had at best an hour to make the images before the paper dried, and was no longer receptive).
We set up the old camera, drawing some curious attention from local kids and adults alike, exposed each neg for 1.5 minutes, and then made our way back to the darkroom. With the lights out save for a single candle, we developed the negs, and I had that familiar joy of seeing an image appear out of the gloom, the sign that it had worked!
Next we would make a portrait of myself which took an eye watering 5 minutes, and reminded me of what I put each of my own sitters through when i make a tintype!
Today also brought a new found respect for the work of those earlier Scottish practitioners such as Hill & Adamson, and confirmed in my mind that this is a process that I hope to experiment with more in the future.
The work of D O Hill and Adamson is already something I have been exploring in recent years, however today I felt slightly closer to the images which up until now I had admired in galleries and archives - and for that I'm very thankful to Finn!
You can see more of his work here: www.handmadeimagery.com/