Jonathan A Lewis Photography

Archive for the 'Daguerreotypy' Category

The Other Camera Test

February 09th, 2009 | Category: Cameras,Daguerreotype Equipment

I titled this entry The Other Camera Test to distinguish it from Andy’s recent Camera Test. Alas, my test wasn’t of a castle, nor of anything remotely daguerreian.

Camera Test

I got a new camera with the idea of using it for daguerreotypes. It’s an old plate camera from India in the format of 6 1/2″ x 12″. I put in a lens I pulled out of a photocopier a few years ago and attached it using a foamcore lens board. With a foamcore shutter/lens cap I made the exposure 15 second exposure on to a piece of VC RC paper. It came out quite nicely, no fall off and the focus seems pretty good. It ended up a bit contrasty but who knows what you’re going to get when using VC paper without filters. I’d like to try an exposure focused at infinity but I’ll have to wait for a spare moment during the day.

A heat removal device is currently under construction to help relieve the heat that builds up in the plate during development. At the moment it’s looking more like a small time travel device…



January 25th, 2009 | Category: Daguerreotypy,Plates,Troubleshooting

DagWell the first image taken on one of my new plates was less than a masterpiece. It was overexposed, underdeveloped, fogged, and out of focus. At least there was an image… and the framing was close to what I intended. I’ll just go down the list of problems:

These plate are significantly faster than the pure silver plates I was using before. I had somewhat anticipated this and reduced the exposure by a little over a stop but it wasn’t enough. Reciprocity also might have something to do with it. I have yet to find a reciprocity curve for dags and I’m sure it’d be a rather onerous task to produce one. The amount of UV might be yet another problem.

This bit of info was given to me by John Hurlock on the DagForum. I was a somewhat surprised but it makes sense now that he pointed it out.

This is also a product of the new plates. They’re much thicker than before and thus absorb much more heat during development. When I took the plate out after 3 hours under the light, it was so hot I couldn’t touch it. To fix that I’m going to make a heat sucking apparatus that I’ll talk more about once it’s complete.

The thickness of the plates causes the surface to move out of the focal plane of the lens when I have it taped to the back of the film holder. This is especially a problem since the depth of focus is so small when the lens all the way open. I suppose I could stop down but then my exposures would get much longer. I’ll have to think about this one…

There are lots of things to change and fix but that’s all part of the fun. Plus, this was only my 14th exposure…

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Inaugural Plates and the New Era

January 23rd, 2009 | Category: Plates,Resources & Links

I’ve been very busy with all things daguerreian the last few weeks. Unfortunately a lot of it is only indirectly related to my daguerreotypy. Alan Bekhuis, Andy Stockton, and I launched the redesigned and revamped resource for contemporary daguerreotypes: We took and and combined them into one, well organized, ever expanding website. In addition to the galleries, resources, and forum, we’ve added a wiki which promises to be an invaluable addition to the site and daguerreotypy in general. Check it out, it’s well worth a visit!

The copper plates I was polishing in the previous entry were sent off to the platers on Tuesday and I just got them back today. My very first silver plated copper daguerreotype plates! No more of those tiny pure silver plates, these are beefy 16 gauge copper quarter plates plated with a 1/2 mil. of fine silver. You could take someone out with one of these plates! Can you tell I’m excited? Anyway, I’m very pleased with the results. The plates look beautiful and with a 4 day turn around time (including 2 days in transit!) I just can’t complain.

As for cost, I have figured that they run about $20 each (excluding shipping). The copper cost me about $7 per plate and the plating came to around $13 each. Looking at the prices that people sell plates for on the forum I think it’s a pretty good deal. Mike Robinson was selling his clad sixth plates for $27.50 a piece and Eric Mertens was selling quarter plates for $35 a piece. Though if I had the extra money to spend I would certainly consider buying pre-made plates. Polishing the copper takes quite a bit of time and effort as does wrangling all the various materials and services together. Also, the plates that have been pre-made come from people who really know what they’re doing. My plates can’t make such a claim.

Thinking of people who really know what they’re doing, Jerry Spagnoli managed to get an amazing daguerreotype of the presidential inauguration! The screen capture above shows it but you really must see the larger version here.


A New Year

January 04th, 2009 | Category: Daguerreotypy,Miscellaneous,Plates

DagThe holidays are finally over and the new year has begun. The image on the left is a daguerreotype taken during the last sunset of 2008. The fancy circular mat was made with a circular paper cutter on some heavy black paper. This is the fourth keeper of 2008 out of eleven exposures. It is also my first successful outside shot. ‘Successful’ being defined by the fact that I’m keeping it. It could have used a little less exposure but I like it none the less. I especially like the backwards numbers. Life always looks better in a mirror, doesn’t it?

My goal for 2009 is 100 keepers but I hope it ends up being more. On New Years Day I made two more keepers, that’s 2% of my goal. I took one of my girlfriend for me and one of me for her. They have yet to be scanned but I think they came out well. Only a minute exposure and I just couldn’t stand still. I got two more 2 3/8″ square plates from Santa Fe Jewelers supply for the shoot. According to their computer I had gotten 26 gauge fine plate silver but they sure seemed a lot thinner to me this time around. Perhaps I’ll get 24 gauge next time. My dad gave me 50 cents to try a sterling silver plate. We’ll see where that goes.

I get paid on the 16th and I hope to have my copper quarter plates polished and ready to plate by then. While my girlfriend was in town the weather was good enough to polish but now that she’s gone it’s gotten cold again. Perhaps I’ll polish a plate a day in the cold. I discovered that there’s a cellar type place beneath my apartment that has a couple of benches and has electricity. My girlfriend is convinced there are zombies but I’ve been down there a couple of times now and have found no evidence of their mischeif. I think it’ll be a good place to polish since I can do so after work when it’s dark out.

I got some new buffing wheels while at SFJS. They’re muslin wheels like I had but this time they’re 3″ instead of 5″ and they’re more gentle on the silver. I got a green compound that I’m using after the rouge for a final polish which also seems to help. I’m trying to keep it simple and not get too caught up with the millions of compounds and wheels. I did get a sample pack of polishing paper that range from 400 to 8000 grit. I haven’t played with any of it yet but perhaps they’ll be of some use.

Another 2009 goal is to start selling daguerreotypes. That’ll help alleviate some of the financial strain that comes from such an absurd (yet divine) form of photography. Naturally I live in one of the few places where there is already a daguerreotypist operating. I’ll have to come up with a way of differentiating my dags from his and hopefully make a little money.

In other news, Andy Stockton, a fellow daguerreotypist in the making, has posted a day by day list of his activities and acquisitions in the pursuit of daguerreotypy. It’s a fantastic resource and I need to go though day by day and see what I can learn. If only I could have been so organized…


Real Plates

October 31st, 2008 | Category: Plates

Mirror Image It’s time for real plates. Originally I got 4 6×6 plates of pure silver and in the course of my trials I have used 3. The fourth plate has a big dent in it and since I’m not fond of dents in my images I’m going to put it aside… for now.

A while back when I was in New York visiting my girlfriend I was lucky enough to be introduced to an old daguerreotypist by the name of Harvey Zucker. During the course of our meeting (of which I’ll talk more about in a subsequent post) he gave me a couple of his old quarter plates to play with. So far I have just used them as an example of a good polish with the exception of one plate. I exposed that one for my normal amount and it came out very over exposed. I’m guessing it’s because his polish is so much better than mine… or I sensitized it differently… or the moon was on the wrong side of the sky. It’s hard to attach an absolute cause to a bad plate. Though I solely attribute luck to my good plates.

So instead of using all the plates I have been given, I want to make my own. Harvey’s plates work very well and I want to keep them unused until I can duplicate their perfection.

Last week I got some copper from a local jewelers supply to polish and have plated. Easier said than done. The copper was so rough that I used my father’s buffing machine, which is much more powerful than mine, with a rubberized wheel to try to smooth the plates out. After about 5 or so hours I packed them up and brought the home for some more buffing. Upon closer inspection they still had major scratches and lots of little holes across the surface. I put those plates aside as well.

Today I ordered new copper plates from a print making supply company (suggested by daguerreotypist Jonathan Danforth) that are supposed to be fairly polished to begin with. I’m hoping this will alleviate my copper woes. If all goes well I should have some brand new quarter plates in a couple weeks!

Happy Halloween!

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October 18th, 2008 | Category: Daguerreotypy,Miscellaneous

Dag 2 Well I made another successful daguerreotype! After a rather underexposed attempt I re-polished the plate and tried again. So I have two (somewhat) successful images out of three attempts. Pretty good but I doubt my luck will last.

I’m still at the phase where the process is more important than the image. So after polishing, sensitizing, and loading up the camera I started looking around for things to photograph. It was nighttime again so I had to construct an image. Thus this oddly lit image of what I happened to have at arms length: two old cameras and a homie. I believe this might be the first ever daguerreotype of a homie! If I’m wrong please let me know, I’d love to see the image…

For reference this image was exposed for 30 minutes at f/2.8 and developed for 3 hours under rubylith and a 200 watt light at a distance of about a foot. The odd thing about this image is that I forgot to take off my camera’s UV filter. Perhaps the lights I used don’t use much UV.

A lot has changed since my last post. Most importantly I got a buffer. A 1750 rpm, 1/3 horse power buffer with muslin buffing wheels. It doesn’t have a lot of power but I’m not going to be polishing meteorites either. It has made a world of difference but I have a long way to go before my polishing is anywhere near perfect.

I have also gotten an enlarger and the rest of the paraphernalia that goes along with it. I love printing sliver gelatin and as soon as I get a couple more items I’ll be printing away. It’s odd considering an enlarger as the contemporary way of creating photographs.

Despite printing silver with my enlarger and occasionally eyeing a digital camera (the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II looks amazing!), I think my passion will lie with the daguerreotype.

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A Starting Point

August 30th, 2008 | Category: Daguerreotypy

First Daguerreotype! Last night, in a fit of impatience, I decided to try making my first daguerreotype.

Only hours earlier I had gotten some buffing compound and worked on buffing, by hand, one of the 6×6 pieces of silver I had purchased months ago. It was hard work and the finish was less than a perfect mirror (or even a nice polish) but I decided to try to expose it anyway. So I sensitized it to what seemed to be the second cycle yellow with a tinge of red, popped it in the camera, and took a picture. Well, the “took a picture” was actually a 45 minute exposure of my computer screen (the brightest thing around). Then I put it under some rubylith and a 200 watt light, turned on a big fan to keep it cool, and went to bed. Five and a half hours later (around 2 am), not being able to sleep anyway, I took it out, fixed it, put it in some water, and went back to bed.

In the morning I had a daguerreotype!

I was amazed that it had actually worked despite my general ignorance and abysmal polishing job. I cut up some thick black paper for a mat and with a cover glass I had had cut long ago I sealed the package with some Filmoplast P90.

It’s not a great image but it’s a starting point. My polishing will only get better and in the next couple of weeks I’m going to invest in a buffing wheel. The dag seen in person is much better than the scanned image you see here. The scratches are harder to see and the image brighter if viewed correctly.

Now the real work begins…


169 Years and Counting

August 19th, 2008 | Category: History

On August 19, 1839, 7 months after the announcement of Daguerre’s process, the French government purchased his patent and revealed the daguerreotype process to the world!!! Well something like that anyway. I probably would have missed it if it weren’t for Jonathan Danforth posting a blurb about it on his site. Though it really is an important day as it represents the transition of photography from a vague curiosity to a serious medium with social, artistic, and commercial implications across the globe.

Wired has also run three article about this day and the daguerreotype!

Aug. 19, 1839: Photography Goes Open Source
Daguerre to Be Different!
Make a Daguerreotype

Happy daguerreotyping!
Jon Lewis

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July 25th, 2008 | Category: Books,Daguerreotypy

A lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately nothing photographically related has really happened. I moved to a new abode that’s a bit closer to my work. Now I can walk to work and save on gas and get exercise and all that good stuff. It’s also nice to take a camera a long and shoot as I go.

Anyway, to the real stuff.

Earlier this week I got the first two volumes of the History of Photography journal consisting of 8 issues from 1977 and 1978. I got the set because it contains an article that was mentioned in the DagForum and I wanted to check it out. The article is The Daguerreotype in America and England after 1860 by Grant B. Romer. As the title indicates, it traces the practice of daguerreotypy from the demise of its popularity though to the present day (well, the mid 1970s). I have read here and there that “since its creation, the daguerreotype has always had practitioners somewhere” but I guess it really never soaked in. I really believed that the daguerreotype had completely died out in the mid 1860s until the likes of Romer and Pobboravsky revived it in the 1970s. This article describes how there was always someone, somewhere, fascinated and dedicated enough to pursue the medium. Like Houdini, no matter how hidden it may be, it was alway somewhere…

I particularly like this quote and even though it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my post. Although it refers to the end of the daguerreian era, I think this it holds true in the new digital age as well:

As Marcus Aurelius Root, the early champion of photograph as a fine art, sorrowfully observed:

‘… the majority of heliographers have adopted the vocation from motives purely mercenary. That is, the desire and the hope of making money more rapidly, and of avoiding manual labor….’


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Books of Photography

July 03rd, 2008 | Category: Books,Daguerreotypy

I like books. If the books have to do with photography or photochemistry then I like them doubly so. In my quest of becoming a daguerreotypist I have been searching high and low for books to do with daguerreotypes. I’ve mostly been looking for books on the daguerreotype process but occasionally I spring for a book on history or one with pretty pictures. Two books I have been completely unable to locate for my library are: Irving Pobboravsky’s A Study of Iodized Daguerreotype Plates (1971) and Ken Nelson’s A Practical Introduction to the Art of Daguerreotypy in the 20th Century (1977). These two books are much more recent than the mid 19th century titles I’ve been looking for but they’re much more scarce for some reason. Fortunately, I work for an institution with a library. I explained my woes to the librarian and she generously interlibrary loaned them for me. The first, Pobboravsky’s book, arrived today and I’m very excited to read it and take an absurd amount of notes before it has to be returned. Nelson’s book will arrive next week some time. If anyone has a copy of either one of these books that’s just taking up space or sitting under the short leg of their wobbly work bench let me know.

Another set of books that arrived today is The Book of Photography: Practical, Theoretic, and Applied, Vols. 1 & 2, edited by Paul N. Hasluck and published in 1905. This is a beautiful pair of leather bound books with gilded lettering and marbling. There is an absurd amount of information in these books but it is all information from the early 20th century. About the daguerreotype it has this:

Daguerreotype — An early process of photography in which the picture was obtained on a highly polished silver plate.

Although it does have a paragraph about Daguerre and Niepce in the section on history, it’s amazing how quickly the process itself really disappeared. I thought the mere 4 pages devoted to the process in The Silver Sunbeam was short, this description is less than 20 words!

I didn’t get these books for the daguerreian information. I got them for all the other information on principle that the more photographic knowledge I have, the better informed my photographs will (might) be. They contain information (as does The Silver Sunbeam) about two processes I’m very interested in besides the daguerreotype: they cyanotype and uranotype. It also has a great deal of information on the collodion processes which I’d like to try my hand at one of these days… after I start daguerreotyping.

Book of Photography

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